Pain and Perspective

June had a very hard ending for me.  In fact, it was one of the more intense weeks of my life thus far.

Where do I begin.

Last Thursday my health plummeted from crappy-cold to knock-me-off-my-feet pain.  I was awake all night screaming in agony with the worst stomach pain ever.  Tate was concerned it might be my appendix.  Luckily he knew some simple tests to check for a rupture and the results pointed away from that diagnosis.

I proceeded to spend the next 5 days in our Beijing hotel room in nearly unbearable pain.  Pain everywhere. Painkillers didn’t even touch it.  I was pretty sure that it was “just” a REALLY bad flu.

We talked about going to the hospital but the idea of dealing with a Chinese hospital put us both under even more stress.  Also, since it seemed to be a flu it couldn’t be treated with antibiotics anyway so what could they do for me?

But I kept getting worse.

And I was in so much pain.  And alternating fever and chills.  And very weak.

Our hotel room was decent but we had a shared bathroom down the hall, about 3 hotel rooms away.  The journey to the bathroom and back sometimes took me 10 minutes of shuffling my feet and convincing  myself I could remain upright that far.   Once a day I would make the marathon trip to the showers, about three times as far as the toilets.   I felt in distrust of my body.  I was unsure whether it would get me through such simple tasks as these bathroom trips.

During this time I had an unusual experience with food and hunger.   I maintained an appetite all week but I became so utterly disgusted at the thought of putting food in my mouth.  So I stopped eating.  I think this was in part a reaction to the pain but also because it felt impossible to get real, whole food.  I couldn’t bare the thought of putting MSG and preservatives and sugar into my already severely compromised body.

By the 6th night the pain had increased and Tate and I were both at our wits end.  At 3am we took a cab to the closest emergency room.  Just as we had worried about over the week, heading unknown into a local Chinese hospital is not a great idea.   It was a bizarre and unsatisfying experience.

The cab dropped us off around the block from the emergency room entrance (yeah, well, we don’t speak Chinese so well).  The night guard led us around the building on a series of dark walkways.  Now remember,  just to go through the hotel, out to the street, into the cab and arrive there was more than I had done in six days.  I was hanging on Tate and we were moving at a snails pace. The guard was like a puppy, going ahead and then turning around and walking back to us, and repeating.  But the really odd thing was that on the floor lining these dark walkway were people sleeping on cardboard.  I looked down through the shadows at one point to see a man sprawled out completely naked!

Oh the stares we got in the ER!

Tate found a doctor on duty who spoke a bit of English and she saw me right away, no sign in, no paperwork, not even my name.  She asked me maybe 3 questions, palpated my stomach, and told us that I probably had gallstones and needed to go to another hospital for an ultrasound.  She walked us outside and pointed us down a dark alley.

So Tate and I go off shuffling through this dark alley in Beijing at 3:30 in the morning.   Most places in the world this would be scarier than the pain I was in!

We found the other hospital after a lot of shuffling and a few piggyback rides.  The waiting room was full and muggy and people had set up camp with makeshift beds and plenty of “cup-o-noodles”.  Eventually we were approached by a doctor with a little English, who ordered my temperature taken and then told us we needed to go to another hospital.


So back to the hotel it was.

The next morning I still hadn’t slept and the pain still hadn’t let up at all.  We decided no more messing around.  Tate called the U.S. Embassy and off we went to the private foreign hospital.   Remember when George W. Bush threw up in the lap of the Chinese president?  He was treated at this hospital. And we proceeded to spend the next 10 hours there.

After examining me the doctor agreed that my suspicion of a violent flu and kidney infection was probably correct but he wanted to run some additional tests.  Ultrasounds and CT scans and lots of other very expensive sounding tests.   We agreed to start with the urine and blood work and go more extensive from there.

The blood work did indeed reveal a kidney infection and SEVERE dehydration of the kidneys.  I went on a fluid IV and antibiotic drip for the next two hours.  Throughout all of this I was still in extreme pain and suffering spiking fever and shaking chills.

The doctor strongly encouraged us to stay in Beijing a few extra days (our flight was first thing the next day).   He wanted me to stay on IV for a few days until I improved a bit.  We considered it briefly but we were desperate to get home at this point.   I also had the gut feeling that there was only so much recovery I could do while still traveling, it was time to bring the adventure to a close.

Traveling from Beijing to Portland was hard.  Luckily the antibiotics and prescription painkillers finally started to kick in as we left our hotel at 4am on June 30th.  I was still very slow but I could walk upright and had more strength, even though I hadn’t eaten or slept for days.

Touching down in Portland was one of the biggest reliefs I have experienced.  All week I had been experiencing this awful feeling of desperately trying to make it through the next hurdle.  Hurdles like making it down the hall to the bathroom, making it through the current pain wave, making in through the current series of chills.  And when we touched down all of that melted away.

It is now my 5th day of “recovery”.  I am in much less pain but still extremely low energy and weak.  My sleep is still really messed up and I have probably only gotten about 15 hours total over the last 6 days.   But words cannot express how good it feels to be back in the States.  After a year and a half away I have never been more thrilled to be American.

Well, there’s my long-winded story.  My health was compromised by a thousand factors at that point in my life so it was definitely an extreme situation but I encourage everyone to know the early signs of urinary tract infections and deal with them ASAP.   Kidney infections are brutal beasts.