I’ve been sidelined from thinking about China Incidentals after a brutal battle with jet lag, back spasm, and (surprise!) a kidney infection that required an emergency room visit in Shanghai.
I’m finally writing from Vietnam where I began our trip with an eye infection. By began I mean, the very beginning; the infection went full-blown on the plane. By the time I was standing in the immigration line in Hanoi, my eyes were so red and swollen the whites were barely visible – it actually appeared I might be bleeding from my left eye. Recollections of hotel staff in Kangding throwing around the word Ebola when I arrived there sick as a dog meant that I spent some time in the immigration line worrying that Vietnamese officials might think I had a hemorrhagic fever and refuse entry. But I’m in!
I really need to make friends with a doctor. My personal pharmacy did not include antibiotic eye drops. Thank you, Vietnam, for selling them over-the-counter in your little village.
We are apparently trying to set a world record for most overseas medical events. In the States it’s all about joints and bones – Sophie joined Colette and me this year on the torn ACL train – our doctor told us it’s got to be genetic. Abroad, we seem especially prone to infections, allergies, stings, and bites.
Marcel takes first prize for medical emergencies by going into anaphylactic shock last year, during a board meeting in Shanghai, after drinking a smoothie with a secret ingredient – bee pollen. His driver got him through a maze of Shanghai traffic and into the emergency room just as his airway completely closed. After he left the meeting, unable to talk due to his swelling tongue, someone on the board gingerly asked: “Have we ever considered what would happen if Marcel died?” Thankfully, he did not.
In Thailand, Colette was, of course, bitten by a spider on the very first night, resulting in facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy). Now this was an interesting start to our Thai vacation! Bug bites have become something of a trend for Colette — in second grade, her Girl Scout leader once asked the troop, “Now what do we do, girls, when we are bitten by an insect?” Colette raised her hand and responded, “suck it up.” On our very first trip to the Tetons she balked at insects in the tent cabins; we made fun of her, and then she was promptly stung INSIDE her ear by a yellow jacket.
But back to facial paralysis. She awoke in Thailand with a seriously drooping face and an obvious bite next to her eye. After a day or two of panic on her part (chill parents: it’s just a bug bite, it’ll go away), Marcel finally took her to a medical clinic for some steroids, but mostly in an effort to reassure her that she would not look lopsided forever.
Comfort was not delivered.
The doctor (I was trained in the States!) virtually demanded we fly her to Bangkok for a spinal tap, telling her that she might have “permanent brain damage”. Calm did not prevail. Marcel and Colette left without a prescription, hailed a tuk-tuk back to the villa, and we enjoyed the rest of our vacation thanks to Dr. Benadryl and Dr. Advil. A couple weeks later Colette was back to normal with some residual paralysis around the mouth that lasted for another month or two.
To her delight, Colette revisited that experience on our first day in Vietnam, when she looked over to find an enormous spider on the pillow next to her. I can only describe it as a karmic message from the universe. She hates spiders more than any other living thing on the planet. She needs to make peace with them.
Sophie has generally been immune to our traveling curse, except for her very first visit to the beach where she was stung by a jellyfish within ten minutes. Well, there was also that one time she was stung by a saddleback caterpillar (it’s worth looking those up); bizarre! Maybe this tendency for having medical issues explains why I can’t convince her to visit us in Shanghai during her spring break this year?
Here’s hoping for an uneventful rest of the trip. I’ll get back to more interesting incidentals soon.
**Update Dengue Fever: Drum roll, please. Not long after returning from Vietnam, Colette proved that insect bites truly are an issue of cosmic absurdity in her life. After a week of fevered illness and a trip to the Shanghai United emergency room, she tested positive for dengue fever. Three IV drips helped ameliorate her dehydration, and we were sent home with a bag full of prescriptions. The next day, the Chinese CDC was knocking on the door, looking to quarantine Colette if her fever persisted (it did).
Fortunately, the door they knocked on was our old residence in Minhang — we had neglected to update our address at Shanghai United, and the complex manager called me trying to explain that doctors were at her office, and they were looking for us. We spent a harried day making phone calls, deciding whether Colette and I should pack bags and quickly grab a flight out of the country — anything to avoid a Chinese quarantine with people who actually had more infectious diseases. Chinese bureaucracy saved the day. It would take at least 24 hours to move the paperwork to our district.
Meanwhile, ISOS, working on our behalf, said the CDC does not quarantine for dengue, and what’s more, the CDC does not make house calls. So who were the “doctors” standing at number 76 Westwood Green looking for us? Not the hospital. Which bureaucratic Shanghai office sent them? All information provided by ISOS suggests that a required quarantine for dengue would ultimately be inside our house. I think we’re off the hook, and Colette is feeling better.