Here I am in China, propped up on the hideous (yet surprisingly comfortable) green velour sofa in our apartment, overlooking our balcony and surrounding high-rise apartments. The sofa cushions and pillows have been rearranged so that I can sit sideways, and elevate my foot; my swollen, boogey-ass casted foot. This has been my reality for the last week, and will be for the next several weeks, while I nurse my foot back to health. The good news is, I have cookies.
After All the Times I Could Have Broken a Bone…
Throughout my life, I’ve always been pretty athletic & adventurous. As a kid, I played a zillion sports, did acrobatics on the trampoline, and built rickety bike-jumps in the street out of wood and cinder-blocks in front of our house. Even into adulthood, I’ve done some pretty crazy things (including running off a mountain with a parachute).
But NEVER did I break a bone, until now.
With a history like this, one would surely think that some kind of extreme sport, thrill activity, or motorized vehicle is to blame for my newly fractured foot. Even the motorcycle taxis here in China qualify as a thrill activity, where each adrenaline-filled ride is literally a life risk. But I’m almost embarrassed to admit that the fractures in my foot were not caused by any of these things. Alas at the ripe ol’ age of 34, it was simply an unforeseen “sidewalk” hazard that took me out.
Sidewalks in China Are An Accident Waiting to Happen
While my clumsiness has certainly gone to new levels over the last year (as evidence from the scars my body is collecting around the world), this was something that really could happen to anyone. Contrary to what one would think, the “sidewalks” here in China are not always pedestrian friendly.
There are hazards everywhere, from uneven stones, giant holes, old trees they have built around, hanging power wires, peeing children (oh yes), bicycles, motorbikes…and sometimes even cars. Yes, we see cars driving on the sidewalks outside our apartment every day.
Given these circumstances, Josh and I have always said that we can’t let our guard down…even while simply walking on the sidewalk here. But on this fateful day, I didn’t heed my own advice.
So How Did I Break My Foot in China?
I was on my way to work at my English school, but at an alternate location across town. While I can take 1 bus directly to this location, the ride takes 1 hour, and I wanted to get there quicker. So I took an earlier bus to the metro station, hopped on the speedy underground train, then popped out much closer to my school — where I would then hop on another bus for a much shorter ride.
After getting off the train, I exited the metro station and followed the crowds toward the bus terminal. The whole area around the metro station is under a lot of construction (as are most places in China). They are extending the train line & building an enormous shopping-mall skywalk to connect a bunch of new apartment complexes, and business buildings in this part of town. So the sidewalk I was using was more of a “work-in-progress” because of the construction.
As I followed the crowds, I started to look around at all the street food stalls that were set up. My mind began to wonder, “hmmm, should I get my lunch here before I get to work…or wait?” “No, I should get to work. But maybe I could buy a cold drink for later…”
Suddenly, I was on my hands and knees! I tried to compose myself, then rolled over to a sitting position. Completely confused as to what happened, I looked around searching for the hazard that I apparently didn’t see. I noticed that the sidewalk suddenly gave way to a new sidewalk…about 6 inches below the old one! The colors blended together, and through the crowds, I didn’t realize the step down…and I must have hit it at the perfect angle with my foot.
My hands and knees were throbbing in pain because of the force at which they crashed into the ground — which made for a horrific sound.
However, that sound was nothing compared to the haunting, faint sound I heard just before I was face down on the ground…likely the snapping of my foot!
Hospital? That’s a Bad Word Where I Come From
So there I was…by myself, sitting on the ground somewhere in the middle of the Panyu district of Guangzhou, China; in a ridiculous amount of pain. I took a deep breath to calm myself, and began to contemplate when I might be able to get back up.
I had a feeling this was a bad one.
After a few minutes, one Chinese man came up to me and asked in broken English if I was ok. I said “yes, thank you” and he asked “do you want to go to the hospital?” But like most Americans, I’m pretty much terrified of going to the hospital for anything less than a life-threatening injury. I’d rather avoid the nightmare of waiting around for hours and shelling-out a month’s salary for them just to tell me to go home and ice it. So I politely declined.
However, I did take him up on his offer to help me stand up.
Walk It Off…Or So I Thought
Once on my feet, I thanked the man and assured him that I was ok and didn’t need to go to the hospital. Even though my gut was telling me that this wasn’t good, in my mind, I was hoping this was just a bad sprain and that it would be ok.
I coaxed my body to slowly hobble in the direction of the bus terminal, but I soon realized that I could barely put any pressure on my right foot. So my hobble became more of a hop. Adding to my misery was the fact that it’s July in tropical southeast China…and freakin’ hot as hell. With the sun beating down, and the sweltering heat and humidity…I swear it felt like 150 degrees!
It was a rough walk to the bus. More than 5 excruciating minutes later, I was leaning on the railing at my bus stop – contemplating calling Josh.
I’ve had a lot of injuries that I could “walk off” in the past, but I had never felt anything like that before in my life.
Get To Work, Then Hospital…Wherever That Is!
Finally, the bus arrived and I powered through the pain to get on board. Sitting down, I propped my foot up on the seat in front of me, giving me an up-close view of my quickly swelling, color-changing foot.
At this moment, it was apparent to me that the situation was getting considerably worse…and it was clear that I needed to go to the hospital.
However, I had no idea where a hospital was…or what I needed to do there! So my plan was to get to my work and ask my Chinese co-workers to help me. Then Josh could meet us there.
When it was time for me to get off the bus…I officially could NOT walk at all! Luckily, a girl getting off the bus helped me, and then I hopped to the nearest bench. Sitting for a while, I contemplated how to get to my office.
I could see my work building, about 5 minutes walk away. But I honestly couldn’t get there. I thought of many different scenarios, but ultimately I realized that I had to just call people to come to me.
While waiting for some co-workers to come to my rescue, I had to sit in the sweltering heat. After quite some time, a bus driver who was on break in a nearby mobile-breakroom building, came to offer assistance. He could tell I was in severe pain, but he knew no English.
He motioned for me to come inside the tiny air-conditioned building, but I motioned to my foot and grimaced. He kindly came over and carried me to the building, letting me lay down while I waited for help to arrive.
My First Time at a Chinese Hospital
Finally, two of my co-workers arrived to help. When they saw my foot, their immediate response was “oh my, it’s serious.” Before I knew it, they had called a taxi and the three of us were off and on our way to a hospital nearby.
Upon arrival, I quickly found out that you have to fend for yourself at a public Chinese hospital. First, there were STAIRS at the entrance to the building, no wheelchairs in sight…and no one to help us.
We struggled our way into the registration area. One co-worker, Renee, came back with my registration paperwork. It was about the size of a post-it note. “Wow,” I said, “no clipboard?”
With their translation help, I filled out 3 lines with my name, birthday, and phone number. I didn’t know my address, so we didn’t bother. And no one asked to see any form of ID.
As we discussed registration fees, I learned that at a Chinese hospital, you pay most everything in cash beforehand. Being American, I was naturally concerned about the expense of this unexpected hospital visit; and I was afraid that I didn’t have enough cash with me. So I was shocked when Renee said the fee for registration was 2 Yuan, about 30 cents USD. Ok, I can handle that!
After registration, we were immediately sent to see a doctor. He sits in a big office at a desk, with an open door, and people go in and out. Apparently, the process here in China is that the patients move around…not so much the doctors.
I also learned that there really is no such thing as privacy at a Chinese public hospital. Doors are open, and doctors tell you everything with strangers present. Other patients stand next to you and listen to your whole story while they wait their turn, and some procedures are even done in the open with an audience — it’s interesting!
After a quick once-over from the doctor, they sent me for x-rays…which was in another building! Luckily, we found our own wheelchair. So the ladies wheeled me to the next building (up a hill) for x-rays.
Since Josh hadn’t arrived yet, I was still worried about my cash situation. It turns out, the x-rays cost 126 Yuan (roughly $20 bucks), which I just barely had.
Renee was trying to be positive, telling me “it will be okay, it’s probably just a bad sprain and not broken.” Well we didn’t have to wait long to find out. Only a few minutes after getting 2 quick little x-rays of my foot, the doctor handed Renee a bag with my film in it. He had a quick chat with her, and she turned to me and said, “he’s says it’s broken.”
And that was that.
Josh’s Response to the News “Take Photos!”
So we headed back to the doctor’s office. When it was our turn, we handed him the bag with the x-rays. He took a look, then typed up a form on the computer. Through my translators, the doctor said that the fracture would take a total of 3 months to heal properly, and that I would need to wear a cast for at least 1 month. Luckily, they could do the cast right away in the next room.
“Ok,” I said, “How much will it cost?” “200 Yuan” my co-worker Livia told me, “but Josh can pay when he gets here.” So they wheeled me to the next room and began prepping my cast. Luckily, Josh called right then to tell me he was almost at the hospital. I gave him the bad news, that the foot was indeed fractured, and that they were putting a cast on me.
His response: “take photos.”
Never having had a cast before, I don’t know what is usually involved. But from my perspective, it looked like an elementary school papier-mâché project. As they were making it Josh arrived, and he immediately went into blogger mode taking photos. My co-workers couldn’t stop laughing, and even with the prolific selfie culture around here, they seemed to think it was very strange.
We were sent away from the hospital with a large plastic bag that included my x-rays, and a patient book with all of my doctor’s notes typed up and attached to the pages (all in Chinese, so I certainly can’t read any of it). Apparently in China, it’s the patient’s responsibility to keep all the health documents. So you just bring them with you whenever you go to the hospital.
For the entire visit, including the x-rays, doctor visit, cast, and even a set of crutches, we paid barely more than $60 US Dollars! After paying the bill, Josh joked with my co-workers that back in the States we probably would have paid that much for just one crutch alone.
(Note: I do have medical insurance as a teacher with my company here, but I haven’t yet received information on how to use it).
Good Spirits, Bum Foot
So apparently, the powers-that-be decided that I needed to fracture my foot while living here in China. In the end, it’s not that bad…and things can always be worse. I have always been a believer that everything happens for a reason, it’s just up to us to find out what that reason is. Luckily, I have medical leave from my job as an English teacher and I have wonderful people to take care of me.
Of course I’m talking about Josh, but also about so many other great friends. News of my injury spread fast on WeChat (China’s social network). Before I got home from the hospital, other co-workers heard the news and were sending me well wishes and offering to help. I even had students sending me messages and asking if they could bring me soup!
Over the last week, I’ve been reminded just how lucky I am and what wonderful friends we have here in China. Friends have gone shopping for us and brought us food, water, and medicine. Others have ordered food from local Chinese restaurants and arranged to have it delivered, so no one would have to cook at home. And an expat friend who owns a popular Western restaurant across the street has told us to just send him a text message with our order from the restaurant, and he will have it brought to our apartment for us.
Everyone tells me I should just take time to watch movies and relax at home, but this independent work-a-holic can’t stand the idea of just sitting around at home. And while this experience is certainly a memory I will not forget, nothing irks me more than when I feel like time is being wasted.
Luckily, to bide my time I have a website to manage and a lot of stories to write. So I will just sit here on my couch with my foot elevated, gaze out the window, watch movies, write blog posts, take strange Chinese medicine that I can’t read..and console myself with this giant tin of cookies, a gift from one of our dear Chinese friends!