Saturday, April 19, 2003

The Ward

As I write this, there have not yet been any deaths in the United States, while in Hong Kong, there have been scores. On the elevator leaving our apartment building this morning I met one of the men who work in Maintainence. He was not his usual happy self. "SARS is getting serious", he murmured. Then he said that in his apartment building, seven have come down with the plague.

Several months ago, when only odors made one reluctant to take a breath while walking down the streets of Hong Kong, I woke up in the middle of the night with chest pains. I got out of bed and went down to the entrance to the apartment building and caught a taxi to the Ruttongee Hospital. Being a Hong Kong resident, I "enjoy" the benefits of the government health system. It costs me less than USD$8.00 per day to be admitted to and receive treatment in any government hospital. This can include any treatment necessary, be it open-heart surgery, physical therapy, MRI, you name it. Same low price.

In the ER, they examined me, gave me a EKG, and immediately gave me nitro glycerin and started an IV. I was admitted. It all seemed pretty decent. Into the elevator I was taken and up to the 7th floor. I am still not certain what ailment my captors had decided was mine, but I was taken to a ward (24 beds) of aged men, all suffering from lung maladies and sleeplessness. It was 3:30 AM. The nurse turned on all the lights and around my bed in this giant ward, men were coughing up great productions. It was not difficult to tell when the results had reached an opening. There was a pause followed by the efforts of the throat rather than the entire upper torso. Then.... I slept as a condemned man.
In the morning my breakfast was brought. It was a bowl of rice gruel. Nothing more, nothing less. No fruit, no real nourishment, just a bowl of starch. Then it was time to take my blood pressure. The nurse, walking like one who has finished the Boston Marathon just moments before and now told to do rounds in the TB ward at Ruttongee hospital, Hong Kong, dragged not only herself through the ward, but also dragged the blood pressure cuff along the floor. I watched in disbelief as it caught the lint and grime from a seldom-mopped floor in this large public. The nurse was able to snap back to consciousness when she approached my bed and I told her not to touch me with her filthy cuff. "What You Say?" She demanded. I, through a series of sign language and facial disapproval, mingled with terms of disgust, explained to her that her methods were not hygenically sound.

When I asked if I could bathe, I was regarded with astonishment. This unheard-of request was not to be granted. The communal toilets were a great revelation of the depths to which humanity can plunge when mankind is not aware of cleansers or cleaning tools. There was not only nothing around with which to clean the toilets, there was nothing with which to clean the poor soul who had used the toilet.

As the day wore on, I felt more and more grime building up on my usually twice-daily-bathed body. Finally I strolled to the bathroom as if I were going to just have a casual look around. On the way I found a cart full of pajamas. I nabbed a pair (adequate for a dwarf) as I passed and sauntered into the washroom. I locked myself in a slimy shower stall and washed my poor greasy body. There was no bath soap, but I had managed to put some handsoap from the dispenser into a paper cup I had brought with me for the purpose and scrubbed myself from head to foot with soap and lots of water.

When I emerged in my shortie pj's and wet hair, having dried with my other pj's, I was met by the angry nurse with the groddy blood pressure cuff. She had only been more angry when she saw Jeri and I looking at my chart that hung on the foot of my bed. There was no giving of information to me as to my condition. But when the Doctors and nurses gathered around my bed, the spoke at length in Chinese to the other patients giving great explanations to their many questions.

I was seen as unfit to be a proper patient, and discharged early the following morning.
One of the reasons I think that there have been so many deaths from SARS in the hospitals in Hong Kong, as opposed to the US, is the dirt!


No comments: