Buckle your seat belts, the opinion train is riding by.
I have a lot to say.
There is a large aspect of my life that I have not mentioned on the blog for about a month because of various reasons. Well in keeping with my "trying to be as open as possible" theme so that when I'm old and gray I can laugh at all this - today is the day I want to talk about this issue.
A month ago during a routine medical exam I tested positive for latent tuberculosis.
I am in "treatment" for 6 months. (5 remaining).
When I initially found this out I was told by my doctor that I needed to stay home. After several calls to the health department, she realized that she had overreacted and that there is no travel restriction on my condition - as I am not sick, just carrying around some random germs that can't infiltrate my body. Now after significant research I have realized that this is not such a big deal. Health care professionals test positive all the time.
My doctor prescribed the medications to rid my body of the germs and I have had to make some significant lifestyle changes because the medicine is freakishly strong and harsh on the organs. I am now caffeine and alcohol free. I also cannot eat vinegar, soy sauce, chocolate, or some fruits.
I have not knowingly ingested caffeine for over a month. I am also abstaining from alcohol. Both of these are drastically changing the way I live. I have had a bottle of diet coke chained to my wrist since college and I have kept many Chin.ese bars open with my patronage. Also, many teas have caffeine (green, red, black) and I live in the green tea capital of Chi.na. Try explaining that you can't drink tea to Chi.nese people - doesn't go over well.
Without caffeine I get tired in the afternoon and cannot stay up really late into the night. I feel very natural. I tried to go hang out at one of my old stomping grounds last Saturday night and had myself a Sprite. But explaining myself over and over again got old. And my British friend whom I was chatting with slowly started to fade away and I got sick of being there. I biked myself home around 11pm - bidding adieu to Chin.ese nightlife. C'est la vie.
Without stimulants in my body I feel very clear headed and my emotions have been in somewhat more of a stable state - I honestly see this as a very good thing to come out of this health issue. Ridding my body of caffeine dependancy has not been easy, but when you have a paper telling you you could die if you don't - it sudden becomes not so big of a deal to forgoe a diet coke. I'll drink to that (water or sprite, of course).
In the beginning of the pills I would become nauseous. I threw up several times, even once in the backward. That was an awesome moment. Since I have come to China I have had no problems though. I feel a little funny after I take the meds, but in a few hours I forget about it.
A very frustrating thing about health systems in general is that doctors feel the need to protect themselves and therefore my doctor in America would not give me my 6 months supply of pills. Because the risk of liver failure is so high, I have to get a blood test every month to test my liver before I can get another batch of pills.
I begged my doctor to trust me that I would not misuse the pills because the thought of doing all of this health junk in Chi.na was daunting. But alas, she would not give me any more than one month's worth. Which means I had a little under 2 weeks once I landed here to figure everything out and get more pills since I cannot miss a day on the medicine.
Luckily, my best friends here are doctors. Talk about being provided for. One of the first things I thought of when I found out about all this crap was that my friends can help me. I skype called Dr. Xu when I was in Amer.ica and told him the situation in a mix of chinglish. He did all the ground work for me. I am so blessed. He also told me that I could do my blood work at his hospital for free.
Today was the day I was to go test my blood since I only have 4 pills left in my inital batch. After class I taxied to the hospital and begrudgingly went to the office where my friends work in the infant cardiac department. Stone and Michael were working and I gave them some chocolate bread as a love offering.
Michael was all business as he lead me to the back "injection room." I shared it with a family who was carrying around a child with an IV in his head. The hospital is always an interesting experience.
The nurse came in and started to tie the elastic band around my wrist. I immediately freaked out. I DO NOT like things around my wrist. I just bought my first bracelet, I do not wear a watch, I cannot even take my own pulse. There is one main rule in my life - do not touch my wrists. And here this 4 foot 2 Chine.se girl was trying to tie an ELASTIC BAND around my wrist. That was a problem.
I shook and freaked out and sweat bullets and told Michael that Chin.ese people were weird (he is so patient when I am so insensitive at times). The nurse explained that I was too fat to give blood from my inner arm because she could not see my veins. So around my wrist the band went - and a minute later she had enough blood in her little cannister to test if my liver is kickin'.
I apologized for being a baby and she laughed and we all made friends and everything was fine. I survived, they survived, and I was given the honor of being the first foreign blood taken in the hospital. Michael told me they wanted to test it for everything to see what I am like inside. I gave him permission. Ha.
I went back into the office and hung out for a bit, chit chatting with random families who were pointing and staring at me - until Michael could write down for me the translations for the prescription I need filled. Stone overheard this and freaked out and decided to leave work early to take me to the other hospital. So off we went in a taxi to the Red Cross Hospital.
We finally found out way to the isolated TB clinic and after getting my own legit Red Cross patient card I was admitted to see a doctor. I could not have been there without my friend Stone. The doctor did not understand my prescription from the US and she did not want to treat me since she never saw my test from my doctor in the US. She said that if someone tests positive but has a negative chest xray (means the TB is not active) that in Chi.na they do not treat it because the meds are too harmful for the body's systems. After much ado (well, sitting on my part, and much ado on Stone's part) I was given my meds and sent on my way. I must return each month for the next 5 months.
At the end of the day whatever "disease" thing I have is really no big deal. It is just the unknown and uncertainty of dealing with health issues in another health system using another language that is the issue. All I know is that the Big Guy upstairs was providing for me all along when 2 years ago I was randomly introduced to a dashing young heart surgeon named Michael.
Now, lightyears of experience later, when I was faced with a potentially scary situation - I had no fear because I knew my friends would take care of me. All I did today was take two taxis and my friends did all the work for me. If I did not know these people I would have had no idea where to go, there is no english website for this information.
My faith is encouraged today by the generosity of my friends and the obvious advanced provision of Someone much bigger than me. Stuff like this can't just happen out of the blue. I'll be reminding myself of this next time I am feeling down in the dumps about Chi.na. (which will probably be sooner rather than later, knowing this place. haha).
Anywho - it all goes down again in 33 days - whooopdeedoooda.
Of course, I had to document the fun:
My reciept from the Red Cross Hospital, check out my name:
Encouraging poster in the TB clinic:
"on the move against TB - innovate to accelerate action." I personally think this poster would be more effective saying something like, "stop shitting in the streets, dirt bags." But that's just my opinion.
My prescription from home with Michael's Chinese directions and pronounciations of how to get another prescription. My freaking home doctor has not idea how hard it is to get meds in another country. Ugh. As you can see, my meds are called "yi yan jing" in Chin.ese.
The poor nurses who had to deal with me. That's my hand post-blood draw and dear Michael sitting to the left of me.
The thing about this whole ordeal is that it has awakened my awareness to just how serious health is - especially when traveling to new cultures and environments. I have spent two years in this country holding babies, riding crammed busses, pooping in troughs, and eating from from the market. It is amazing my situation isn't way worse.
It turns out the health system in Chi.na is *surprise* not good. Of course, I know the 3 best doctors in the country - my dear friends - but the statistics in this country are horrendous.
According to the World Health Organization - 1.4 million people contract active TB each year in this country. Chi.na is only second in deaths of TB after India. They didn't tell ya that during the Olympic tv programming, did they?
Thankfully, in 2004 China and the WHO joined forces to try to get the standards for detection and prevention to an internationally approved level. They have not passed the criteria yet, as shortages of skilled workers and lack of health education in rural areas stunts progress of better country-wide treatment.
As of 2005, a total of 12 vaccines are free of charge to all China's children, including TB - but because of lack of resources, many village and small town doctors are not getting government money to compensate for these shots. This means that anyone passing through these towns is made vulnerable - as was I.
I am not blaming any place for this annoying health issue that I now have. As much as I would LOVE a diet coke right now - I am just thankful that it is not much worse. At the end of the day, I am really not sick, just taking some crappy meds and in 5 months it will all be over. I know people who have suffered much worse.
It is interesting to learn about how different countries prevent disease through vaccinations and other preventative measures. Surely, all cultures have room to improve, but travellers to developing countries should take extra precaution as sanitation is not at the level that our immune systems are used to.
Just some food for thought today.
walk slow. xoxo.