Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The China Trip

The following story appeared in the Herald Republican newspaper in Angola, Indiana on Saturday, April 3. It is my trip summed up in the familiar 750 word style of columnists. Enjoy!

April sunshine fills my living room as I awake from a dreamlike state not knowing where I am or maybe even who I am. Maybe I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle knowing that the world has gone on and I have missed the flavor or the color or the taste of it.

My trip to China…so long awaited, so long planned for, so many stories to collect and bring home became a different sort of story. I boarded the plane with a bag of medications for a low back pain problem. Nothing too serious that I felt could stop me, just enough to know to medicate every few hours to take off the edge.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The flight was long. I read. I did yoga in the back. I watched the monitor in front of my seat of the journey of our flight…across the U.S., through Canada, tipping through the edge of Russia. We landed in Tokyo with a couple of hours to spare and then three more hours to Beijing. Most of the folks wanted to walk off the flight, but I took my place on the floor of the airport to rest.

By the time we reached Beijing, I was not able to keep up with the group in the airport, but there is always the possibility of a good night’s sleep. Our first day was the long tour day…Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace, the Outdoor Markets, Peking Duck Dinner. Each one deserves its own story. By noon I knew my trip my over. I hired a wheel chair driver for the afternoon that sped me around the Forbidden City continually tucking my scarf around my shoulder and taking my photo against the ancient sites of China.

It was obvious by nightfall that I needed major medical attention. But where to go? What to do? One day in Beijing and I was reduced to a weeping, medicated, disappointed beyond belief American. It took three tries at three different hospitals to admit me. One hospital offered ancient Chinese medication of liniment and heating pads, another forbid me to enter as I was an American, the third was the Beijing United Family Hospital where I was admitted and where I called home for the next eight days. One of the tour guides, Katie, stayed with me, and the rest of the group moved on to Shanghai and to their schools.

The biggest problem now was how to get me back home to the United States. I couldn’t sit through the flight; I would have to come back as a medical patient. It was a combination of my friend Philip in the United States, the tour company, the Embassy in Beijing and Katie. After eight days I was on my way home in a first class pod seat which turned into a bed, my nursemaid Katie and a very nervous pilot who told me ahead of time that I had to make the flight once I began as we could not stop in Outer Mongolia or Russia. Philip and Karen met me in Chicago, a night spent in Chicago and a long ride home to my lavender house with the white picket gardens. The week was amass of MRI’s and X-rays and wheelchairs as by now I could not walk a single step. I had been sent home with this same information from China but most was unreadable in our American hospitals.

The ordeal is over, or mostly I should say. Surgery has taken care of the herniated disc and other problems. I walked into my lovely old house yesterday with the help of a walker and the medications which once filled bushel baskets has been reduced to just a few tablets. My caregiver, Philip, is with me every step of the way, and my humor and zest for life is returning minute by minute.

But before I go, I need you to know a few stories. I could write a book on my experiences in Beijing. I could fill hours of telling you how the Chinese nurses cared for me, how they sat with me at night holding my hand while I wept, how they told me their stories in the English that they knew. I would tell you how I had a guard outside my door each moment that I was in the hospital. And I will tell you that walking on American soil, in all our problems, is my home sweet home.