As ten white-coat clad men hovered around my bed giggling at the crying foreign girl, I almost let a little laugh slip out. The irony was uncanny. A mere two days before I had been standing where those white-coated men were standing, but it wasn’t real, it was art in the form of acting, a play. I guess you could say I take my acting seriously, so seriously in fact that I actually found myself smack bang in the middle of a hospital, for reals! One day I was the one in scrubs taking temperatures, the next I was curled up in a ball in a pair of striped pyjamas, crying my eyes out as Chinese doctors prodded and poked at my stomach. A perfect example of life imitating art and now when I’m up on that stage, a little bit of art imitating life as I bring what I learned from those hospital days onto the stage.
The night when the pains really started was while I was waiting for a rehearsal to start. I had been in bed all day but seeing as the opening night was only two weeks away, I dragged myself onto the metro and sped across the city. As the other actors started to appear, they could tell something was wrong. They were already kitted out in their doctor’s coats and as they knelt over me asking me what was wrong, I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. I was supposed to be standing up there with them in my purple nurse scrubs, not cowering below in the foetal position.
Well anyway, I learnt a lot. Like how to use a stethoscope and how to take someone’s temperature and that the dynamics between the nurses and doctors in the play are very similar to those in real life hospitals. I also learned that I can successfully stay in a Chinese hospital for almost three days and survive, and on top of that, by only speaking Chinese. I have no idea how I did it. I speak Chinese, but I’ve never been to a Chinese hospital by myself, let alone actually stayed in one overnight! It was weird, and I wanted to leave the entire time I was there but when the doctors actually released me, I felt sad. I would actually miss these people who had graced my life for a few days.
While I was there I shared a room with a young Chinese lady who had a similar mysterious stomach problem (oh, by the way, I’m fine now, don’t worry!!) and we actually got on very well. Hospitals are the kind of place where I think it’s quite easy to get close to people quickly. As soon as I entered the emergency ward at 3am in hysterical tears, I left all my dignity at the door and immediately a thought bubble popped out of my head screaming “I am vulnerable and scared!” And I carried it with me the whole time. It was there when on the second day the doctors told me I couldn’t go home because the hospital data systems had crashed and they couldn’t get me the paperwork to leave, it was then when I realised you have to fend for yourself in a Chinese hospital and that you’re just expected to know to bring your own water and toilet paper! It was most certainly there every time the doctor came to update me on my test results, where we would pass my phone back and forth in a flurry of translations of weird medical terms.
Then friends brought me flowers and cookies and made me laugh, and I remembered I’ll be OK and that this is just another of life’s misadventures. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that I end up in these kinds of situations. In those moments you need to laugh more than you normally do, and tell people you love them and just be grateful to be alive. I know three days in a hospital isn’t really a big deal, but it still put everything in perspective. For almost a month I let doctors tell me I was fine, even though I knew there was something wrong. I could feel it. I just knew. But something held me back. I told myself it’s too expensive, that I’m just stressed. Well, always listen to your gut (literally). It’s usually right. Your health comes first and no amount of money (or lack of) can change that. I’m so grateful I went to the hospital when I did, even if I terrified the guards where I live by sprinting through the garden at 3am clutching my stomach and crying in the back of the taxi the whole way there.
I am feeling so much better now and the rehearsals for our play just feel so much more vivid. Ah, life is a funny thing indeed.
Image sourced from here.