For reasons which are irrelevant and boring, I have now spent my first day in a Hong Kong public hospital.
What happened was, I needed to get some blood tests. Seeing as I was flying to Singapore the next day and I wanted the results beforehand, my doctor recommended I impose upon the services of Tseung Kwan O Hospital deep in the New Territories because they could give me same-day results.
While being triaged in the emergency department, the nurse asked me if I had any pharmacological allergies. I told her I was allergic to opiates. I could see her mouth drop open beneath her breathing mask thing. “THE HARD DRUGS?” “No, the constituent ingredient of morphine, codeine and other opioid-based medicines.” She was like, “I’ve never heard of these drugs! Write down!”
I was seen by a doctor in an emergency room cubicle. He admitted me to a ward for further testing, and I congratulated him on his recent 11th birthday. I couldn’t really understand why I was being admitted but in the spirit of equal opponentry, didn’t get into an argument with Macauley Culkin. For the same reason I also acceded to letting an orderly push me up to the ward in a wheelchair. I was given a bed in the Cardiac Care ward, and on my bed were a pair of man’s pyjamas in green Tseung Kwan O tartan. My two room-mates, half-dead women in their 80s, were wearing the same pyjamas. The nurse made me take off all my clothes and put the pyjamas on. Using charades instead of words, something I’ve become really good at in the past year, I questioned why I had to take off my bra. She did “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with her hands, I think trying to indicate sirens, which I think indicated in turn that if there were an emergency my bra would only be a dangerous hindrance.
OR, a safety device preventing black eyes to everyone in the vicinity if it came to an urgent stampede down the stairs, but whatev.
I was soon attired becomingly in my old man PJs and you can’t imagine a more ludicrous sight than me tucked up next to my two elderly bedfellows, still clutching my amazing new Coach handbag while watching Party Down on my phone.
Considering I wasn’t actually sick it was a ridiculous position to be in. Nurses came in periodically to take my blood pressure and temperature. I explained that I was only there for blood tests but they didn’t speak English so it was in
veinvain. I was wheeled downstairs to radiology, where I was jumped to the front of a queue of people with actual broken bones and stuff, and given a chest x-ray. And a CT scan of my brain. And then my blood tests. It was like, I don’t know, something was actually wrong with me.
The two orderlies who had taken me downstairs took me back up to my bed, where a nurse who spoke English had come on shift and told me I would be staying overnight. I was like “So I know you guys are pretty zealous about everything, but I only came here to have blood tests and I would like to go home. Or at least put a bra on.”
She let me put my bra on.
Shortly thereafter, dinner was served. I am pleased to report that hospital food apparently sucks all over the world. The ladies in the beds next to me opened their steaming trays with great disappointment. I could hear one of them muttering through her ventilator. The meal was rice with steamed Chinese greens and some sort of chicken with lots of bones poking out. The people who delivered the food were stood in the doorway giggling with a couple of the nurses. The English-speaking nurse eventually composed herself enough to stagger from the group to my bedside and apologised on behalf of the food people for forgetting to bring my “equipment” (knife and fork). I assured her I could use chopsticks masterfully, if they would only give me the dignity of allowing me to eat in peace. I swear I really can use chopsticks, maybe not masterfully but, with intense concentration, functionally at least. As my tormentors retreated my fingers, usually so sure, slipped, snapping my chopsticks shut like some bamboo insect with an apnoeic overbite, and spraying most of my rice all over the floor. The vegetables were gross, and the rest of the food was chicken with bones. So that was dinner done.
My phone shortly ran out of batteries, which was disastrous because now I had nothing to tune out the communal TV, playing some sort of weird Cantonese sci-fi soap opera. My roomies seemed oddly transfixed by it and I wondered if they had passed away with their eyes open. I couldn’t ruminate on that for too long though because I had to find a way to charge my phone. The English-speaking nurse had prohibited me from charging it using one of the 60 power points behind my bed, in case they were needed to plug in a resuscitator, or an electric saw to cut me out of my contraband bra at a later point. This made me extremely agitated. When you’re used to checking your emails/feedreader six times an hour, it’s stressful when that facility is suddenly removed. Also, I don’t know our phone number off by heart so I couldn’t ring Joel. Most importantly, I couldn’t take photos for later racist use in this blog. I had a genius idea to take my phone and its charger, concealed in my amazing new handbag, to the toilet, figuring there had to be a power point in there. What if for example someone had a heart attack on the toilet, while wearing a bra? I think they’d come across smartphone overusers before though because the only power points in the toilets were half built into the wall so only weird hospital adapters could fit into them.
As I slumped against the wall in despair, I noticed a sign about the hospital’s emergency evacuation plan. It said:
“In the event of fire:
1 – Remain calm
2 – Alert fellow patients to the danger by shouting “FIRE!”
I wished there was a fire. Sure I was ill-prepared in my bra and highly flammable pyjamas, but I would’ve liked the chance to funny-walk around the ward, Basil Fawlty styles, going “Fire! F-f-f-f-FIRE!”, bobbing my head in and out of the rooms.
When I got back to my room, I noticed there was a new lady being settled in the bed next to me. I guess the other lady really did die from overexposure to CantoTV. This new patient was the oldest, frailest person I’ve ever seen. The (small, female) nurse literally scooped her off the stretcher and placed her in the bed like she was a cushion. She could have weighed no more than 40kg. Everything about her was diminutive – tiny little head, arms as thin as celery sticks, about as tall as Zadie. She rasped through a ventilator. Even the lady on the other side of her bed, who previously had seemed impossibly old, was staring at this new arrival like “WTF, how OLD is this lady!”
It was kind of depressing. I still didn’t even know why I was there. Never in my life have I felt more isolated, to be honest; and never since we’ve been here have I more wanted to be fluent in Cantonese. Or, have some phone battery. There are low points in every addict’s life and in the next hour I reached mine. I told the nurse I was going to go down to the 7/11 on the ground floor to get a drink. She flat-out refused, but what did I have to lose, really, so with all the gravitas possible while wearing the same flannelette pyjamas as the 102-year-old getting her geriatric nappy changed in the next bed, I started getting my clothes out of the cupboard. The nurse was even more unhappy. “No! Wear pyjamas! Must!” I indicated my hostility to this idea with the strongest body language, i.e. flinging my pyjama top to the ground and slipping my top back on. She grabbed my arm. “No, can’t identify! In case emergency! Wear pyjamas!” I don’t know what made me back down. Maybe it was my desire to not be perceived as an unreasonable white devil, maybe it was my hope that I’d find a power point somewhere in the corridors to get a quick phone charge in, or maybe it was my need for Coke. But I kept the pants on. I WISH I had a photo of this get-up but, you know, no phone charge. I was wearing black flats and black leggings, and over the top the tartan pyjama pants, of three-quarter length and which tapered flatteringly from the hips to mid-calf. On top I wore a black longline cardi, and I carried my (amazingly gorgeous) new handbag. I had that hair you get when your ponytail has been squished against a pillow for five hours, and I was wearing dangly earrings because I didn’t know what else to do with them. My ears were slightly pinked with rage. I made a ludicrous progress to the 7/11 where I picked up a Coke and a roll of jubes for dinner. It was 10pm.
Then I walking back to the lift like an MI5 agent, flashing my head around blind corners and pretending to tie my non-existent shoelaces while checking for power points. They were all attached to snack machines or pay phones. The irony.
When I got back to my room, I found the lady in the bed next to me had just died. That was the final straw. I came for blood tests, not bony chicken, telecommunicatory isolation, and palliative care. I wrangled myself out of my pants and back into my dress, popped a jube at the counter in defiance as I discharged myself, and walked out of there. I never got my blood test results.
On the topic of which, I have always had “bad” veins. They’re thin, almost invisible, and then disappear at the first sign of pressure. I would be the worst junkie, poking sharps all over the outside of my arms like “Come back you fucking thing!” It would be an absolute fail. There has been equal failure throughout my life in other more legitimate intubating/blood-taking/intravenous procedures. When I had my gall bladder out, all the nurses on the ward failed to get a line in. Eventually my own mother did it. I think it was a breach of her Hippocratic Oath but certainly in line with her “take any free hits against my kids I can get” policy, plus I got to be anaesthetised before laparoscopic surgery, so win-win I guess. When my labour with Zadie had to get induced, it took half the day to get the line in to give me the syntocinon. A really good way to relax a woman who knows she’s about to give birth is to stab her 18 times with a horse needle. Just saying.
Needles don’t worry me, but I always mention my veins to nurses in these situations. They always cut me off, trying to talk over my “anxiety” instead of listening. The nurse at Tseung Kwan O doing my blood tests was no different, and she was one of the ones who insert the needle, completely miss the vein, but instead of trying again elsewhere, just dig the needle around internally hoping to blindly pierce any vein. This is agonising, and results in a bruise like this.
Also it did something to the vein running up my left ring finger. My finger swelled up to exactly the dimension of a savoiardi biscuit and I couldn’t get my wedding ring off for five days. For the first (and hopefully only) time in my life I was desperate to be unmarried, soaking my finger in
coffeeice, slathering it in detergent, and dreaming of firemen (with metal-cutters).
Of course it eventually went down, and I am currently sitting here unmarried next to my entirely beloved husband. Tonight I’ll sleep in a nightie like normal, after definitely not watching the disturbing Mr Muscle ad in Cantonese, and in the morning I’ll slip my wedding ring on and pretend like none of it ever happened.