We hit a Biiiiiigggggg Hump!!

Trip Start Apr 23, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Thursday, July 22, 2010

We were about to experience our first sleeper bus EVER. We weren't much for travelling overnight. Despite the fact that you could save a night’s accommodation, you didn’t get to see the area you were travelling through. In most places we’d been that would have been a crying shame. Still the idea of a sleeper bus in the daytime didn’t quite gel.

The "beds" were three across and double bunks. We’d managed to score two adjacent lower bunks so at least we didn’t have to climb to get our berths. The beds were obviously not made for tall or fat foreigners. I could fit lengthways but it was a bit tight width ways. Tim was having trouble both ways. That and the fact that his gutz was a bit upset, didn’t bode well for a comfy journey.

The first surprise was a police check not that far up the road. Passports and identy card out they went through the whole bus. They seemed to give the locals a far harder time than they did us. Maybe there’s rebel in them there parts..who knows...we didn’t understand a thing that was going on.

Tim was feeling iller by the minute and the bathroom stop didn’t help much. We trudged up the back of a very basic restaurant to a basic cement block. Women one side, blocks the other. Inside was a very smelly trough where you basically squatted and did your business in full visual and auditory range of all the other participants!!! NICE! Still, when you gotta go you gotta go....

We arrived in Kunming and were immediately disorientated. We were at a bus station it seemed miles out of town. Our guide book was the previous version and there had obviously been some changes since it was published. We were to find out that was a bit of a problem throughout the whole of China. The place was moving so fast it was impossible to keep up with the changes.

I managed to make a taxi driver understand where we wanted to go. About 40 minutes later we rocked up at “The Hump” hostel in downtown Kunming. Unfortunately for us there were no rooms free with a bathroom. Tim was in cold sweats by now and the thought of having to walk down a long corridor to use a bathroom on a very regular basis wasn’t the most inviting prospect. A quick ring round the budget accommodation in the area told us we didn’t have a choice. Welcome to peak season in China!!! Good thing was...we could move the next day.

I have to admit, they were really good. When they realised Tim was sick they got us an extra mattress to increase his comfort levels and the staff were very concerned. He was in no mood for eating so I tucked him in bed and went off to scout some noodles. When I returned he was feeling really hot and shivering...not a good sign.

During the night Tim started to display signs of having a bad fever. Shivering one minute then chucking clothes and blankets the next...yuk! A couple of panadol and he seemed to settle for the moment.

The next morning he seemed to be a bit better. He got some work done while I shifted us into our new room. He went for a rest while I went oput to explore the area for a few hours. When I got back he was huddled under the doona, shivering like he was in the middle of Antarctica and thinking he was going to die...Shit. Automatic thoughts were Malaria. Two weeks ago we’d been in the middle of Laos and hadn’t been all that careful with the mosquitos....Shti, shit, shit!!!

Organisational me went into overload. I found the travel insurance number and queried where the best place to see a doctor was. Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turned out) the best place seemed  and to be the biggest public hospital in Kunming which just happened to be about three blocks away.

I managed to get Tim down there. He was barely able to walk. I found a nurse who spoke really basic English and she took us up to where we could see a doctor. They managed to locate one who had basic English and slotted us in. We got to wait with three or four other patients and their complete families in a small office area. When we finally got to see the doctor I tried to explain that I thought it could be malaria as we had just come out of Laos and Cambodia. She ordered some blood tests, a temperature check and some X-Rays and I found out just how the public health system works in China!!!!!

Luckily the doctor and some of the nurses understood and commiserated with just how vulnerable we were. Tim had obviously impressed them with his inability to function in any normal sense of the word. They guided us through the fact that:

1.       Deliver the patient to the pathology department where they gave you a purchase order

2.       Find the payments department and pay the bill and return with the receipt before anything is done

3.       They take a blood sample and almost instantaneously have answer for youYou take the results back to the doctor and

4.       They make a diagnosis and recommend medicines which

5.       You then go and pay for before you receive them and take them back to the nurse/doctor to administer......

Anyway...somewhere in this procedure we worked out that she was recommending that Tim undergo “antibiotic therapy”. The blood test for malaria had come up negative but neither she nor I was confident of the diagnosis.  She explained that they had no experience in tropical diseases at that particular facility and I tried to explain that I had a treatment dose of Malarone that I could administer immediately if she thought it even could be Malaria. Better to be safe than sorry. In the end she took me to her husband...Head of Orthopaedics and much better English...where he explained that the local treatment path in this case was to put the patient on an IV drip with antibiotics. I reread the traveller’s medical book and decided I had 24hrs up my sleeve to try the doctor’s recommendation before I started to treat for Malaria. Meantime Tim was out of it and getting more and grumpier by the minute!!!!

The doctor lined us up with a nurse who would guide us through the process. First she did an allergy test for the antibiotic and then took us up to inpatients. The nurse showed me through the process once again. Where to pay, where to go and how to obtain the medication. Within 30 minutes Tim was hooked up to a drip in a three bed room.

It was probably a good thing we were in the hospital. Within about an hour he started to get the chills again and we couldn’t put enough blankets on him. An hour later he was trying to pull his clothes off. I was frantic. My Mandarin wasn’t nearly good enough...Most of the nurses couldn’t speak a word of English and all they could say was “Don’t worry”. That was hard to comply with when the one person you love most in the world is disintegrating in front of your eyes.

Tim was convinced he wasn’t staying in hospital overnight. The nurse was very definite he was..When she took his temperature and it clocked out at 42 degrees, I was convinced he was as well.

By 1am the other two patients had been discharged, Tim had seemed to settle and I had managed to get water and juice to get us through the night. Chinese hospitals are quite a bit different to those in Oz. If you don’t have friends or family and are really ill I have no idea how you could manage. The nurses don’t bath you or help with toilet duties and there is no meals delivery. The family does all of this. I was exhausted by 2am and thank god there was a spare bed in the room by now.

At 6am, the nurse came in to do another temperature check...whew..... 38 degrees and no sign of any fever since the night before. We convinced her to let us go back to the hostel to get cleaned up on a promise we would return in two hours for the second dose of antibiotics.

I had a shower an collapsed in bed for an hours power nap before I got Tim back up and delivered him back to the hospital. This time they didn’t have a bed in a room for him. He was obviously not the sickest kid on the block anymore and he was duly hooked up to a drip on a bed in the corridor. It was here we spent the next 6 hours watching the comings and goings of a very busy public Chinese hospital...

All up...we were treated magnificently and the diagnosis and treatment worked. The doctor came in on her day off to check that Tim was OK and the nurses hovered just that little bit closer than they did with the local patients. We were treated really, really well by Chinese standards but...SHIT I’m glad of the Australian public health system. Whinge you might but all up it is excellent compared to what I saw in that 24 hours.

Tim was discharged at 3 feeling a 1000%. We went back to the hostel to get cleaned up and get an early night. We were both absolutely exhausted....

The next 6 days we actually got to experience a bit of Kunming. Tim had a fair bit of work to do but we still managed to get out and experience some of the local specialities and sites.

Cross the Bridge Noodles is a local specialty. We managed to explain our requirements to one of the local specialists. You basically get a whole smattering of meat and vegetables and noodles which you plunge into an extremely hot bowl of broth...We were totally stared at while we performed the task of putting it altogether...could the foreigners do it right????? I actually turned around and asked the very curious lady from the next table was I doin’ OK and apparently I was...

I managed to get a dy trip out to Shillin with a german girl. Tim was still feeling a bit weak and had plenty of work to do..It really felt like the road less travelled. Three buses each way...but Linda spoke excellent Mandarin as she had been studying in China for twelve months finishing her Asian Studies degree. She made me extremely jealous and even more determined to learn how to speak chines well.

Shillin was one of those typical Chinese tourist attractions. A thousand tour buses disgorging their contents at the entry...hundreds of obedient tourists obediently following the umbrella/flag/pole, hanging on every word of their guide and not game to venture from the well trodden path. This of course has its benefits for those of us independent travellers. Five minutes in from the entry...groups turn left...you turn right and ...voila.....you’re on your own to explore the delights of  the attraction basically on your own...Rewarded with views and experiences of the previously crowded, noisy tourist attraction...ken such great care of him. We go to

By Tuesday Tim was feeling well enough to deliver a couple of signs of appreciation to the doctor and nurses who had taken such good care of him. We got together a heap of sweets and a big bunch of flowers and the staff at the hospital translated some thankyou notes for us. We made a bit of a splash at the hospital..it’s not every day you have foreigners delivering flowers and chocolates to the staff....but we think it was appreciated and we hope they got the message of how thankful we were.

Despite all the excitement we did get to see a bit of Kunming and the surrounds. The first thing that struck us was that there was an interesting blend of the old and the new. Traditional gateways fronting major roads or pedestrian squares...bars set in old-style buildings....traditional food sellers outside MacDonalds. China was definitely a country in transition phase... Slightly frustrating but very, very interesting......
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