I woke up last Monday morning how I usually do – hit my snooze two times, checked social media and emails, and then got up at the last possible second to turn on the coffee. I had had to knock on my neighbor’s door at 4:30am because he was partying so hard I couldn’t sleep, I was anxious about a couple of personal things, and just not feeling great. But that’s pretty normal for 2020. I stretched up and whoa – did I pull an ab muscle? My stomach was so tight and achy. But I knew that couldn’t be right, because I haven’t done a sit-up in like a year or three. Every time I lay down on a mat to try some, I end up spending so long picking the soundtrack to my ab session that I either a. forget I was going to work out or b. doze off. There are no ab muscles to pull.
Work was fine, and I went a friend’s high tea birthday. I had planned to go to the gym, but when I got home at 5pm, I just felt weird, so I got into bed. I woke up a few hours later with a fever, which I had forgotten were so uncomfortable. The stomach pain was worse, and I thought maybe flu, which is going through Hong Kong like crazy right now (because Covid’s not enough).
I almost decided to tough it out at work the next day, but when I hit 101.4 F, I called in sick. What made this harder to do was that the VP I have to call in sick to had also been at the high tea! “She’s going to think I’m faking it, I should just go in!” I thought. I was also freaking out that I had Covid and had given it to everyone, but I smelled everything in my fridge and decided I was okay. But still, I kept wondering, “Am I overreacting? It’s a tummy ache, and it’s more work to get a substitute than it is to just go in and be sick (fellow teachers, can I get an amen?).” I asked Dr. Google about my symptoms and he suggested that gas can actually be so painful that it is misdiagnosed as heart attacks or appendix bursts and I thought “that would be me. If I go to the doctor, it will actually just be farts and everyone will laugh.” I took some GasEx and did some downward dog and prayed.
Pain got worse. The fever got worse – the kind where your hair hurts and if you heard your mom’s voice you would instantly cry. I have a huge fear that I will die alone and no one will know, so I texted my bestie to ask her to check on me in the morning and make sure I was still alive. I thought about who had my spare keys. I wore pajamas that would be okay for hot firefighters to knock down my door and rescue me in.
Because I had a fever, in order to go back to work, I would need to get a Covid test. By the time my appointment came at noon, I couldn’t sit up straight, I couldn’t stretch my legs out if I was laying down, I couldn’t take a deep breath, every step or movement was agony. I had to lie down in the taxi. Just running my fingers across my stomach brought me to tears. My GP, whose voice is the entire Calm app, told me that I needed to go to the hospital right away, because there were a number of pretty serious things that could be wrong with me. Coolcoolcoolcoolcool.
So I taxied to the ER at Queen Mary, the public hospital I had been earlier during my quarantine when I had a gum infection from a tooth implant that replaced a baby tooth I had pulled this summer (can’t make this stuff up). During my hours there I got to see two psychotic breaks (neither of them mine) and lots of very old sick people. I got an injection in the behind and had my stomach touched tenderly by Hong Kong’s answer to McDreamy, which would have been nice if I wasn’t crawling up the wall in pain.
After some labs and an x-ray, McDreamy mcinformed me that I would be admitted to the surgical ward for further testing and stay at least one night. At this point my panic mode activated. I don’t get sick. I do not do hospitals. I don’t do pain, or doctor visits, or needles. I’ve been known to pass out getting blood drawn. My knees go weak just hearing about pain. I’ve never broken a bone or had an IV or been in a hospital bed, so. Let’s go ahead and find another way? Throw some drugs at me and send me home? But no.
The surgical ward was nice because it got me away from the yelling and the crowds, and I was assigned some hospital pajamas and a bed. Now. I am not what you would call “Asian-sized.” The pajama legs ended halfway up my shins and I wasn’t coordinated enough to tie the back together, so I resembled a backless, bright purple sack of potatoes as I lay down to assess my “room,” which was just an open section of the ward with six beds, four of which were already occupied by some very sick looking old women.
The next few hours were a painful blur. My friend Marie was an angel and went to my house to gather phone charger and socks and unmentionables for me. I was the unwitting auditory witness to a catheter insert, watched puppy videos on my phone to distract myself during the IV, was prodded by countless people, got shot in the stomach and arms, had three tubes of blood drawn which made me spin out. I also babysat a 95 year old who had been admitted but refused to let go of her purse or change her clothes for fear of them being stolen. Every time the nurses walked away, she started to head out the door, so I got to yell “we’ve got a runner!” Because I’m white, there was a risk of deep vein thrombosis, which felt mean, since I thought you could only get that traveling on planes. Two nurses attempted to pull compression stockings up my legs for me, but it tickled so badly I made them stop. They went from toe to upper thigh and again, I am not Asian size, so cut off all kinds of circulation, but that might have been the point.
A doctor shook me awake at about 10pm or so and said that it was probably gall bladder and we’d need to have emergency surgery that night. I hadn’t even spoken to my family yet because of the time change – my mom didn’t even know I’d gone to the emergency room. I realized with a deep fear that if something were to go wrong and I needed my mom to come, she’d have to quarantine for two weeks before I’d even see her.
I couldn’t drink water because surgery was still an option, but they scheduled my CT scan as quickly as they could, which meant 1am. I think one of the things that was hard was besides not understanding anything around me, no one spoke directly to me about anything. I was just shot with things and had to ask “what’s that for, what’s happening.” No one introduced themselves or asked anything except if I’d peed. I spent a lot of time bargaining with God to never say another bad word and stop eating sugar and do anything at all to not be in pain anymore. I finally had a breakdown with one nurse who yelled at me for trying to look at my chart so I could tell my parents what was in my IV and explained I was alone in Hong Kong, this was my first time in the hospital, I didn’t understand HK healthcare, no one had explained anything, and I was very, very scared. She softened up and explained like, two things. But she let me show her pictures of my nephew.
Praaaaise God, because an hour or so after the CT scan, a doctor woke me and said I’d been misdiagnosed and it was actually transverse colon diverticulitis, so there was no need for surgery, and I’d be moved to a bed in the colorectal ward as soon as there was one available. And there? Well, I would just have to rest and not eat until I felt better. Two things I’m not really great at. Luckily, I had no hunger because I was on a sugar drip like some sort of large, human hummingbird. I didn’t eat for four days, until I had some congee (like porridge). They brought me a meal but I could only manage a little rice.
My new wardmates were a bit more interesting, in that they had LOTS of medical student visits and poking and prodding and bedpan things I can’t unsee and other things I can’t unsmell. Everything was in Cantonese so I don’t know what was actually wrong with them, but I didn’t want it. There was lots of beeping, the lights never really went off, I was woken up every few hours (usually with a light spanking, and a “Missy! Wake up!”) for BP checks, a shot in the stomach. It was miserable.
A highlight was Meg and Amanda getting lost in the hospital trying to bring me books and deodorant and dry shampoo. And I somehow broke a toilet lid, and they will know it was me because no one else on the ward was well enough for toilet visits.
I had massive headaches that I’m pretty sure was from caffeine withdrawal and only sleeping about 4 hours a night, but the pain was so bad and I was on a lot of blood thinners that the doctor said she was worried about brain bleeding (GREAT) so I had to take another CT for that at 5am Friday. It was at that moment I decided I was going to put on an Oscar-worthy “I am all better!” performance and jailbreak out of there.
And it worked! I was released with some follow up appointments to check for cancer or other sinister things (if I don’t go, they can’t find anything sinister, that’s my current plan). I got some meds and four days in hospital, including an ER visit, three medications, and two CT scans cost me $49 USD. Which my insurance will reimburse. God bless universal healthcare.
I got home Friday afternoon and was overwhelmed by the blessed, blessed silence of my apartment (aka Hong Kong white noise that is constant air-con, phantom flushing of my toilet, crazy neighbor with chronic sneezing issues), the blackout curtains, my excessive collection of pillows. On Sunday night I started eating solid food for reals – shredded chicken soup. Yum. Not so yum after four days of it, and I see a lot more soup in my future because eating scares me now.
Waking up without a mask on, in my own clothes, in a dark room, not attached to a pole, on my own time, was the closest thing I’ve felt to Heaven in a long time.
I’m much more tired than I thought I would be. In my head I thought “I’m home, so I’m healthy!” but that’s not exactly true of my insides. I tried to change my sheets and had to sit down, but that’s kinda normal. It’s 2020, why are fitted sheets still terrible.
I’ve been sparking joy by watching local news bloopers, one of my favorite Youtube genres, and all the SNL Celebrity Jeopardy clips I can find. I remember recording these on VHS in high school and reciting them word for word. Alex Trebek and Sean Connery were treasures. May they rest in peace.
A crisis is always an interesting moment when you find out who cares about you. Who stays in touch, who you’d feel comfortable asking for help from. Who you trust to grab some underwear from home for you. And what your important life needs are. I’ve never met a secret and was also pretty lonely and scared and shamelessly posted the hospital stay on instagram, and was so grateful for my virtual village of support that reached out and comforted me and prayed for me at all hours of the day and night. My work has been really sweet and supportive of the three days off to rest, and sent me gorgeous flowers. My roomie sent me Deliveroo money to treat myself, friends of friends of friends in Hong Kong offered to drop things by or help out in any way. I was really really touched. And it’s a good season to be thankful for all the blessings I’ve got, and by Jove, I’ve got a lot. Couldn’t have asked for a better time to be recommended a mashed-potato centered diet. I still have some recovery and figuring out to do but I am going back to work tomorrow and exCITED to feel good again.
Thanks for all the love.
Stay hydrated. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. Wear a mask.