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  • Oct6

    A Loud Pop, A Woman Down

    October 6, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    I heard a loud pop as the woman behind me hit the concrete. Everyone in the line to enter the Shanghai Museum fled from the noise, and I stood with Shane Lawrence next to Mary Larsen, sprawled out on the walkway. I had met her only the day before. She had tripped over a plastic hump covering electrical cords, and lay motionless on the concrete. Her right wrist showed an ugly bulge, and her hip hurt so that she could hardly walk. A guard rushed over to open that barrier that held us in the queue. Shane and I slowly pulled Mary to her feet as the guard shouted Chinese orders and motioned for Mary and me to go into the building—not Shane, just me. I don’t know why. Security officials ushered us into a cloakroom, where they asked Mary if she wanted a glass of water. In broken Chinese I suggested that they bring ice for her wrist, swelling and turning purple. Bringing a cold pack, they asked if she wanted an ambulance to take her to the hospital. After some discussion, they allowed Mary to go to the nearest hospital in a cab. The guards allowed Shane’s wife Mandy, a nurse, to join us. The taxi took us to a hospital, maybe ten minutes away, where we sought the entrance to the emergency room.

    Mary struggled to walk in the parking lot as I saw a woman whom I asked in Chinese, “Do you work here?” She said she did. I asked, “Can you help us take this woman to the emergency room?”

    Immediately she was a blur of action as she produced a wheelchair and rolled Mary up a nearby ramp and through a door draped with a heavy brown canvas curtain. She pushed Mary’s wheelchair through the split in the middle of the curtain into a semi-lit room. A baby with a bandage on its head cried with pain. An old lady covered in bloody bandages lay unconscious, surrounded by family members in the middle of the room. A wall of patients with a wide range of injuries and illnesses looked down at the floor as they sat in silence on gray metal folding chairs extending in a line down a hallway. In the corner of the room our helper began a Chinese shouting match at the nurses’ station, adding to the cacophony of wailing infants. A well dressed Chinese woman came to me and asked in broken English what was happening. I told her that Mrs. Larsen had fallen and broken her wrist. She joined the shouting match and after a few minutes told me that this hospital was only for ordinary citizens of Shanghai. Party officials, VIP’s and foreign tourists were treated in another, better hospital nearby. This hospital could not admit Mary. After more shouting with the hospital staff, she told me that a nurse was calling the other hospital to arrange for Mary to be transferred there. She spoke in broken English, I in broken Chinese, as I learned that she now lives in Ohio, but that she was in Shanghai tending to her mother, who was currently admitted as a patient. Finishing her phone call, the head nurse informed us that because the National Day celebration was underway, many of the the VIP hospital’s staff were on vacation, and no doctors were working at the VIP hospital that day. Then she said that if Mary thought her wrist was broken, she could stay, and they would treat it when her turn came. Because Mary was a foreign tourist, though, they would try to advance her in their schedule. Mandy and I held a quick discussion with Mary, and she decided that she would prefer to receive treatment elsewhere. We decided to take a cab back to our hotel to assess our options.

    Back at the hotel about lunchtime, I explained our situation to the concierge. She snapped into action as we took Mary to use the restroom in the hotel’s restaurant. The concierge said she was working things out and suggested that we return to our rooms for a few minutes. She would call us soon with more information. Mary’s arm and hip made her grimace as she asked to be allowed to wait in place, there in the restaurant. I returned to my room and ate a quick bag of peanuts washed down with a bottle of water.

    Our concierge advised us that she had made an appointment for Mary at a better hospital at 2 pm. She also introduced us to Jenny, our translator. At 1:20 pm we took a taxi to an emergency medical clinic near the old Russian embassy. The staff took Mary back for x-rays, with nurse Mandy accompanying her. I learned that Jenny was a Russian from Yekaterinburg studying hotel management in Shanghai. Her Chinese was superb. Her English was reasonably good. X-rays showed that Mary’s wrist was shattered, her hip was badly bruised but not broken. We would need to go to a hospital with an orthopedic surgeon for the wrist.

    Another cab ride took us to United Family Healthcare, a hospital with an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Xu. After more X-rays and CT scans, the doctor advised Mary that surgery was necessary, the sooner the better. Mandy expressed both to the doctor and to us her serious reservations about Mary’s decision to allow a foreign surgeon in a Chinese hospital repair her wrist. Calmly Dr. Xu explained the risks involved in waiting to have the procedure done after returning Mary to the United States. Mandy asked me to step outside of the room and told me that she was having a panic attack.

    I said, “Panic attacks are not authorized tonight. You can have one, but not now. You’ll have to wait and have it later once we have Mary safe.”

    Finally, Mary had her mind made up: she would have the surgery in China. Again Mandy attempted to persuade Mary to delay surgery until she returned home to Arizona. Dr. Xu told Mary that he would prefer for her to stay overnight so that he could take her to surgery early the next morning, but because she had some things to pack, Mary asked to return to the hotel that night. She would return to the hospital for surgery the next morning.

    By that time Ray, our Viking tour guide, had arrived in Shanghai. Because my cell phone was not completing phone calls since arriving in China, I asked a nursing station attendant to call him for me. I reported the situation to him. He suggested that I tell the taxi driver to drop us at our hotel’s rear entrance on Dian Shi Road to avoid the National Day Parade. When we approached the area of the hotel, however, the police would not allow the driver to turn onto Dian Shi Road. I asked the driver to let us out at the intersection of Bei Jing and Si Chuan Roads. With the battery supply in my cell phone nearing zero I shot one final text message to Glenda asking her to have Ray meet us there with a wheelchair. He did so within ten minutes, and we returned to the Fairmont Peace Hotel at around 10:30 pm.
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