At this point, I don’t know what’s causing the problem. I feel like I’m constantly dizzy, not spinning, but like I’m about to fall asleep. I think very slowly. It’s worst in the morning for some reason. Classically, I seem to gain a little speed if someone gets me into a conversation. Very Kai. I do, however, have to pause for my brain to catch up even during those. It’s like my mouth is the powerboat in the distance and I’m behind on water skies, sometimes watching the boat continue as the line goes slack and then having it snap into tension again, yanking me back into motion.
About two weeks ago I went to Hong Kong to visit Steve March and Donna Chang. We had a fantastic time just being together, Hong Kong being the giant shopping mall that it is. We did find a really nice spot to sit in a little garden one night during one of our philosophical rants and had Chinese squirrels throw little nuts at us. More on that later, along with stories about monks bending steel rods with their necks and a beautiful young dancer who showed me the heart of the city.
kissing Michelle Yeoh
I took an overnight bus back to Fuzhou. The bus terminal was thick with exhaust, but faced the outdoors. I eventually stood out on the street to avoid it, but this is what gave me the idea to look into carbon monoxide poisoning later. I rode 12 hours, sleeping a little roughly, bouncing along in my tiny bunk-cot. These cots are sized just below the length and width of a small Chinese person and so it takes a bit of folding and twisting to tuck in an American. I actually love these busses because they’re, well, hilarious. And dirt cheap. I was riding with business people and young travelers alike, all in their socks and checking their cell phones one last time before before pulling up the tiny blankets.
I woke up as we rattled into the bus station in Fuzhou. I was groggy, but I’m always groggy when I wake up. I also had a bit of a headache, but I decided it was because of the lack of good sleep and went to class. The headache became… intense. It filled my whole head, mostly across the top, and made it very difficult to think. Understanding Chinese was even worse than usual. I went back to my room and slept. The headache lasted for two days. Everything felt fuzzy. Pains started in my lower right front of my body and in my lower back, and seemed to migrate around as though moving with my blood. I never threw up or fell over. Eventually the headache and pains dissipated and vanished.
From then until now I am constantly dizzy. It’s hard to concentrate. The severity comes and goes, but it’s always there. At certain times, over the last few days, I can’t even fill out online forms. I mean, online forms for cripes sake. I’ve been creating those things for eons! In the end, when I finally admitted that things were serious, Gabriela Jovanny was kind enough to help me figure out how to select a credit card from a drop down list so that I could buy a flight to Taipei.
The realization that it was time to get serious came over several trips to Chinese hospitals, thanks to help from Angela Zhang Meng and Sisca Limento. When we finally found our way around an insane maze, including going around back to find stairs to get up to the emergency area, we pushed through the clouds of cigarette smoke past the broken open-hole toilets to a doctor who then sent me from one test to the next. A competent doctor scanned my brain. Far less competent 12 year old nurses checked my heart by attaching giant clips to my toes and fingers, rubber clips covered with what looked like hello-kitty stickers. I watched as three such nurses tried to put a gurney in place. The gurney was a little rusty and one of the legs was broken, although they couldn’t seem to figure this out as they fussed and argued about how to put it into place. They couldn’t get the wheels lined up, nor figure out how wheels worked, and so I stood there in a fuzzy daze, giggling my fool head off at the circus. Someone threw them a cover and they spent several minutes trying to put the tiny elastic bedsheet over the little mattress. Yeah, sure, even I have trouble late at night, exhausted, trying to put a new topsheet onto my bed. Some corner always ends up folded over in the wrong direction… But it was noon.
Honestly, the doctor herself didn’t seem terrible, just overworked and distracted. She mostly kept sending me from place to place and refusing to listen to my demands for blood checks or oxygen.
In my second trip I eventually had one of the 12 year olds try to give me an IV. She told me to clench my fist. That part wasn’t hard, thanks to my psychotic paranoia about needles. Punch me in the face. Beat me with metal rods. No problem. But a tiny needle or a sliver?! She stabbed my hand repeatedly trying to find a vein. Anyone who’s seen my veins knows this is ridiculous. My veins are as big as my muscles. She then blamed me for me for not being relaxed enough. She finally got it working by the second hand; a good thing because I only have two. We got the blood flowing out and then the glucose flowing in. It was then that I discovered that the process was going to take four hours. Four hours?! I had already wasted enough of Angela’s time. I’d also been stabbed in the butt with a needle full of Antihistamine an hour earlier and it was hard to sit. It was time to make a break for it.
We pretended to be heading to the bathrooms and then ducked down the stairs and out to a waiting cab. I jumped into the back seat still holding the IV bag above my head as Angela carried my backpack. If the bag ever got to the level of my hand, blood started flowing back up into the tube. A bad idea.
Angela ran back to her place and I was left to my own ingenuity to get into my own room. I figured out how to hang the bag from the fire extinguisher box using my teeth. I then used a low, wide martial arts stance (that didn’t use my injured knees) to stay just below the glucose bag while using my one free hand (the one without the protruding needle) to pull out the key. With my teeth on the bag again I was able to use the key and get in. I got the IV bag attached to a coat hanger and hung it from my clothesline. Angela eventually came back and used a bathroom suction cup hook and my duct tape to attach the bottle to the wall so that she could keep an eye on me until the drip was over. I was worried about falling asleep with the damned needle in my hand. I hate needles. We watched “Mad Men”.
“Mad Men” is a fascinating thing to share with a Chinese girl and I paused it often to explain, “you see, that’s funny because…” Lots of interesting history there, all of the jokes based on the understanding that we Americans, for the most part, just don’t think like that any more. We don’t treat women that way. We know about the dangers of chemicals and cigarettes. It was a great moment of perspective to see how much of these things are still getting worked out today in China.
So yes, it’s terrifying thinking that I may be losing my mind. The long term effects of CO poisoning, if that’s what this is, are varied. Sometimes things clear up. Sometimes they don’t. I have moments where I still seem to be able to write, like this, although I have to pause here and there to get my bearings. That gives me hope that I’ll be able to write some more before my turn is over, even if I’m stuck like this. Sharing perspective with people… it’s always been the most rewarding for me. Making people smile, laugh, or look at themselves or the world with fresh eyes. I hope I can go on manufacturing rose-colored glasses for the masses, even if this passes.
photos link to photographer’s sites