Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Right Knee Hates Me

I’ve taken some pretty spectacular trips since I’ve been in China, like the one at Guang-Gou, or the one where I planted myself in a puddle of mud (see ‘Would You Like Those With Dust or Mud?’) The one at Guang-Gou, I lacerated my right knee so badly that it got infected and took weeks to heal, even with neosporin. Even now, completely healed, my right knee bears a patch of pinkish skin that might not ever pigment itself to the skin tone on the rest of my leg.

Did you think I meant traveling around China when I said I’ve taken some spectacular trips? I thought I’d make use of that old joke: ‘Have a nice trip; see you next fall!’ Surprise!

Most recently I tripped when I found a 5Yuan bill by the campus security checkpoint. I had no problem bending down and scooping the money up, but when I pivoted and started walking to the campus police to give them the money I found, I tripped over a piece of loose concrete and landed on my right knee, yet again.

That’s three falls in six months. What is going on here? Although one could never mistake me for the physical embodiment of grace, I can honestly attest to the fact that I’ve never had such a problem maintaining my balance, even when I was in an imbalanced position (physically, not mentally).

I’ve done some discreet inquiries about how brittle bones and broken hips are dealt with in China. As I’ve said often enough, there is no such thing as social security here, and health insurance is a novel idea that has yet to catch on. If someone needs to go to the hospital, they have to pay cash for their treatment, or make a substantial payment on their treatment at the time services are rendered, and pay the balance off within a certain period of time; usually a year.

With so many of China’s elderly having suffered from malnutrition when Mao Ze Dong first came into power and for the rest of his rule, brittle bones and other elderly ailments are actually quite common here. What is not common is hip replacement therapy. Usually, the sufferer is kept in the hospital, immobile, until the break has been deemed sufficiently healed to send the patient home.

Of course, my first worry with all of these falls is a broken hip, not a lacerated knee. Broken hips take a lot longer to heal, and are much more painful than knee scrapes. The way I’m falling, I first impact my knee and then roll onto my hip. Thus the worry.

How would I manage a hospital stay? I don’t speak enough Chinese to navigate such an ordeal, and I know Sam will not be able to stay at the hospital with me. I’m sure a student or two might visit, but again: will the visit be timely, to the point that someone is there to understand the nurses’ or doctors’ instructions when those officials are in my room, dispensing advice, orders or decrees? In truth, I’m not very comfortable plunking myself down in the midst of Chinese society voluntarily. How would I fare if I were confined, and in a situation where I was in pain, and could not leave?

While I’m on the subject of health care: I had given that topic a lot of thought before making this move. Mostly, my premise was: I am a believer in traditional Chinese medicine, such as: acupuncture, herbal/natural therapies and relaxation techniques used for healing. Therefore, I believed that moving here would present no problem with regard to this subject. If something went wrong and I needed treatment, I would gladly partake of treatment at a Hospital of Traditional Medicine, just down the road from the school. Besides, I was just a little bit arrogant in thinking that I am perfectly healthy and my good health will last forever.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was the language barrier. Being as my job prospectus guaranteed me a liaison person, I figured that language would be no big deal. Unfortunately, now that I know my liaison person – Sam, it seems it might be a big deal, for the reasons mentioned above. I’m not saying that Sam wouldn’t make my health condition a priority in the immediate concern, but if I were to be hospitalized for any length of time… that would be a different story.

A fine example of language difficulty with regard to health reared its head a few weeks ago, when I wanted to donate blood. I recognized the mobile blood collection truck by its markings and the goings-on through the windows. Eagerly I climbed aboard the bus, rolled up my sleeve and expected joy and awe that a foreigner would donate blood to save Chinese lives. Unfortunately, just like in the States, there is a 2-page medical questionnaire to respond to and fill out, and it is all in Chinese. I couldn’t interpret the first line on that paper beyond ‘Name, Age, Gender, Address’. No one in the mobile collection unit spoke any English; we could not even resolve this issue verbally. I left feeling frustrated, longing to donate and thus help… who knows how many unknowing citizens with my clean, foreigner, universal-donor type blood.

The university has me covered medically. However, if that cost exceeds what is allotted me, I could just as easily have a terminated contract on my hands, as well as a broken hip or other serious health condition to deal with. And then, I would have to scramble for a new job while limping around with my damaged hip. Not an appealing prospect.

I do not feel dizzy at all, and I am not falling as a result of dizziness. I don’t think my falls are caused by any serious health concern. I think it is my lunky feet and my even lunkier shoes that are causing the problem. I think I told you that I bought my shoes a half-size bigger than needed to accommodate the extra socks I will need this winter. I think that is the problem. To remedy the problem, I need to get rid of the lunky shoes.

The weather is still too cold. It is not time to get rid of lunky shoes yet. I’ll just have to be more careful when I walk. In the meantime, I’m making plans to make it up to my right knee by falling on my left knee next trip… if there is a next fall.

UPDATE: I am delighted to report that Maintenance has filled in that patch of loose concrete that caused my fall. The patch is curing as we speak and the area is blocked off, keeping anyone from ‘leaving their mark’ on the university by stepping in the wet cement or writing their name in it.

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