Contrary to all previous experiences, I am strangely optimistic about health concerns. I said, “You should get it checked out, but surely it is nothing.” It wasn’t nothing, and Kevin was admitted to the hospital. As I sat in the ER with him, I was worried. But should I be more worried? What if he dies – then I will feel bad about not worrying enough. Should I be crying right now or wringing my hands? At the moment I am just thinking about how strange the ER looks and how strange we look in it.
I was worried about Kevin, but I was also stressed about our first Chinese hospitalization. You know what attracts more attention than a foreigner? A foreigner in the hospital. Once admitted, we actually had a private room; everyone else was three to a room. I felt immensely relieved and also a little bad about special foreigner privilege.
I was worried, but what really troubled me were the little metal boxes that traveled slowly down the hallway ceilings on jerky tracks. Why were they moving so slowly? Why do metal boxes feel so creepy? I asked a friend if she ever feels anxious about things that don’t make sense. She laughed at me heartily. “Do I ever worry about things that don’t make sense? I think that is the definition of anxiety.”
The hospital was new and pretty clean; the doctors seemed to be doing a good job. The Chinese hospital provides medical care, but you are on your own for everything else – food, TP, soap. It’s hard to complain when the “bed fee” is $5 a night. Kevin was not supposed to move, so he really couldn’t do anything. Our friends graciously added our three kids to their three kids for a “double sleepover” so I could stay at the hospital. (The kids decided a double sleepover was too much; the parents decided six kids was definitely too much).
Even in a private room, we got a number of people peering in through the door. Whenever I left the room, people stared at me in astonishment.. I’m glad we could liven up their hospital stay. I stood in line in the very noisy, crowded cafeteria pretending like I was totally normal. It was a hard sell, with a hundred faces swiveling in my direction.
A lady tried to weasel in front of me in the noodle line, and I blocked her with my elbow while closing in the remaining two inches between me and the person in front of me. There, now I felt more like I fit in.
The nurses are busy enough that they hand over responsibility for anything they can. “See this tourniquet on his leg? You need to leave it on for 30 minutes, then take it off for 10. Don’t leave it on for longer or his foot might die. Have a good night!” That was the general gist anyway.
So I re-set my timer every 30 minutes all night long. I got very good tourniqueting and did not kill Kevin’s foot. I also got very good at 30 minute naps. I could even have a full dream during the 10 minutes before I had to put the tourniquet back on. Adrenaline was running high, carrying me through the two days – and two nights of tourniquets – in the Chinese hospital.
Our medical assistance/evacuation service decided to fly Kevin to Korea for further treatment, just to be safe. Medical evacuation to another country is kind of a big deal, right? But Kevin looked okay. He really wasn’t even feeling bad. Should I feel worried or reassured?
We were faced with the question of where I should be – in Korea with my husband or in China with my children. Neither of us felt great about leaving the kids in another country for in undetermined amount of time. I didn’t feel great about him being hospitalized in a different country without anyone he knew either. Who has to decide these things?? Other friends we know, apparently, who live the same kind of ridiculous lives. We were both glad when his parents said they could fly to meet him in Korea.
I did worry about Kevin flying, even if he was accompanied by medical staff. After he texted pictures of the air ambulance learjet, I didn’t hear from him for hours after he should have arrived. I was increasingly worried. “What if he died on the way and they are trying to figure out how to tell me?” Logically I knew that he probably didn’t die and probably didn’t have internet access. Eventually I contacted our medical service to confirmed he had arrived at the hospital, alive.
Now I was less worried and more tired. I was back at home with the girls and the adrenaline was wearing off. The first night instead of falling asleep, they cried because daddy wasn’t here. “When will he come home?” they wailed. “That is yet to be determined,” I said comfortingly. “Now go to sleep!!” I said less comfortingly.
As the days wore on, Kevin got increasingly better and was released from the hospital. I got increasingly more tired. Nadia was waking up at 1-2am trying to come into bed with me. She was already doing this pretty much every night, but not always so early on, and it was not always so hot. I did not need a little body smushed against me, radiating a surprising amount of heat. Speaking of heat, the temperatures were creeping up to the mid-90’s and our one A/C unit wasn’t working.
The kids felt stressed, though of course they didn’t say, “I feel stressed.” Instead they just screamed about random things, and cried because someone looked at them the wrong way. There were many shoves given, tongues stuck out, names called, and toys commandeered; mysteriously nobody was responsible for any of it.
In some ways, it is easier when only one person is responsible for everything. There are no unmet expectations that someone else would do this or that; if something didn’t happen it is all on you. The house has stayed unusually clean and bedtime has gone unusually quickly, because order helps me feel like life is under control. There is less laundry and nobody really cares what we eat. In fact, they would rather not eat real meals, pizza excluded.
The disadvantage is that one person is responsible for everything and has to make everything happen, and that person is me. It really wears down your resolve. The girls wake me up before I want to be awake and I say, “Go look at books.” When they come back two minutes later, I say, “Go watch TV.” The girls beg for ice cream and I say, “No. I’ll think about it. Okay fine.” When Juliana asked to have a sleepover and Adalyn asked for another baby, I said, “No. No, no, no. Not happening.”
Daily life may feel under control but my mind is much less ordered. I think, “This whole thing is ridiculous and stressful.” I think, “But really things are going okay. I feel a little bad that everyone is so worried about us.” I think, “I should feel more worried. Why don’t I feel more worried? I am not very empathetic.” I think, “But Kevin is staying at a hotel by himself, and exploring Seoul, and eating at Taco Bell!! I want to be hospitalized.”
I am good in crisis, and I have lots of experience with survival mode. I am not so good at making space for the long-term effects of stress and taking the opportunity to process and feel things once the crisis is past. I’m ready to move on and pretend it didn’t happen. That has worked so well for us in the past.
I feel like I am doing okay. I feel like I will fall apart. I feel angry at belligerent children, at the doctors who tell us nothing, at the A/C repair guy who never comes. I feel gratitude toward our friends who feed us and take the kids and let us hang out in their A/C. I feel more disturbed by the things that don't make sense (little metal boxes, the craziness inside) than by the serious things (hospitalization in another country). I feel everything and nothing, and I am waiting for someone to tell me how to feel the right things.