Surgery Called For

“When people ask if I have health insurance, I say, ‘Yes, a plane ticket back to China and pocket full of change.'”

“Bike Mike” Sutherland

Truer words hath never been spake.

Meniscus MRI

I went back to the hospital and spoke with the doctor. Turns out I’m going to need surgery on my knee, I suppose to remove some loose cartiledge or something. With not enough time to operate before my upcoming trip to the States, I’m probably going to have the surgery when I get back to China.

I called my dad to talk about options. He said the surgery would cost around $15,000 in the States! Meanwhile, here it costs RMB10,000 (about $1,250). Having no insurance, it’s well decided where I’ll have the operation.

Some have raised the issue of safety. The argument runs basically like this: how could you consider having surgery in China, a backwards, third-world nation? This argument doesn’t hold much water as far as I’m concerned, as the hospital I’m going to is one of the best in China and from everything I’ve seen, doesn’t differ much from my hometown hospital. The procedure, meanwhile, is minimally invasive and routine. It’s not like open-heart surgery, here. If I was going to do something serious, I’d want the best doctor in the world. But this thing is probably less dangerous than, say, getting your tonsils out.

The other option is to begin a physical therapy regimen, which may be able to “cure” me eventually. However, the amount of work and time involved is prohibitive, probably more so than just spending the money. Supposedly the healing time after the surgery is quick and relatively easy. So it’s just a matter of ponying up the cash, which hurts a lot more than my leg right now.

MRI Guy

Although my knee has been slowly getting better over the last two weeks, and I’ve felt good enough to stop using the crutches, I still haven’t been able to completely straighten my leg without pain. So I decided to get an MRI. I figured I might as well do it here since it’s probably ten times cheaper. Some random web searches indicate that back home, without insurance, an MRI could cost a few hundred bucks. Here in Shanghai, I scanned my knee for RMB300 ($37.50). Oh, I also had to pay to see the doctor first. That cost RMB17 ($2.12).

The scan itself is a pain. You have to sit there with your leg stuck in this machine for about 40 minutes, and you’re not supposed to move. The machine makes all these whirring and buzzing noises, then it’s quiet, then it starts clicking and clucking, then it whirs again. I fell asleep and was awoken at least three times with a start – the kind where you jolt awake and your body tries to leap into action like there are commandos invading your bedroom. Each time I jerked my leg a bit and got worried they were going to have to start over again, but nobody said anything. In fact, most of the time I was alone. A doctor came in every 10-15 minutes to check on the computer and see that it was still working, then he’d leave again. I wondered why the computer still had a drive for a 3.5 inch disk – you know, the kind everyone stopped using about 3-4 years ago at the latest.

That was yesterday. Tomorrow they will have my results. Dr Zhai, who referred me to the MRI and was the type of person who immediately gains my trust (I don’t know, he just seemed to know what he was doing), gave me his cell number and told me to call to get his recommendation. Let’s hope I don’t need surgery. It costs about RMB10,000.

Laid Low

After our stunning victory in the immigration battles, I have now suffered a setback of the medical variety: I busted my knee up in a bad spill at the Shanghai Roller Revival.

Skatin' Alive
Skatin’ Alive

The party was going great until late in the evening, with no one skating anymore, when I challenged Coley to a friendly 3-lap race. At the first turn I came crashing down, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps there was some liquid on the course, or perhaps I just took the turn too hard in my vintage 4-wheel skates which are not really designed for speed or hard turns. Anyway, I wiped out bad, smashing my inner left knee on the floor and had one of those sucking-wind-through-the-teeth moments of excruciating pain before I managed to stand up and meekly complete the three laps. I wanted to finish the race.

After that I seemed to be relatively okay. We didn’t leave right away, and I continued skating around the place for a little while, though favoring my left leg. In retrospect, this probably made the injury worse. The next morning I couldn’t really move it at all. Perhaps the alcohol had dulled the pain. So we went to the hospital.

I can only say I am so lucky to have a beautiful wife who selflessly takes care of me when I most need it. Xianyi sat me down at the hospital’s front door and rented a wheelchair, then proceeded to cart me from one department to another as we had a consultation and took X-rays, then purchased some meds the doctor prescribed.

Laid Up
Laid Up

The X-rays showed no broken bones – that was good. But the doc wanted to schedule me for an MRI to see how much damage might otherwise be done. Worst case scenario is I might need some minor surgery – which only worries me insofar as I have no insurance and no idea what it might cost me. Some preliminary internet research indicates that if my problem can be solved by an arthrotomy (a surgery employing a few minor incisions and microscopic tools), I would be walking without crutches within a few days. Even better, I might not need surgery at all – perhaps just a couple of weeks rest and rehabilitation.

After getting this diagnosis from the doc, he sent us over to the pharmacy to purchase some ointment, made by the Novartis Corp, which is indicated to be used on areas with “moderate pain” – and this pain is anything but moderate. Most of the time it feels fine. It can even bear a little weight. But certain movements produce sharp pain that, at its worst, make me want to pass out. It’s not fun. So I’m hoping for the best, and meanwhile, enjoying the pampering of my lovely wife.

Sitting on Top of the World

Recently we had a new air conditioner installed in our apartment. As we are on the 21st floor, this unfortunately (for the workers) involved a bit of tight-rope theatrics. A team of two men came to our house to install it, a few hours after the hole-drilling guy had punctured through our wall a column of four inches in diameter, for all the wires and tubes that need to be connected between the indoor and outdoor apparatus. When everything was set, it came time for one of the men to climb out our window and sit on the A/C itself, in order to attach it firmly to the outer wall. I asked if it was always him who went out the window, or if his partner ever took a turn. He said only him. He wasn’t worried about the height, because, as he said, he was wearing a harness. I neglected to inform him that if he did slip, the window frame to which he had attached the harness would accompany him on his long descent. He completed the task with aplomb.

Taking out the trash

In the space of one minute I was made to face two of my biggest pet peeves in China. Walking into the convenience store, there was a man about to walk out. I pushed the door into the “stay-open” position so as to leave it agape for him. As I half-expected, he simply walked through it, failing to close it behind him despite the A/C blasting inside and the hot day without. The clerk was next to the door and she closed it.

No one here holds the door for anyone or expects others to hold it for them. It is frustrating to have doors swing into your face all the time. But it is nice when you hold the door for an older woman carrying groceries and her face lights up with gratitude.

I shrugged off the man’s obliviousness and proceeded with my shopping. As I left the store, the same clerk who had just closed the door to save energy stepped in front of me just as I came to the exit, causing me to nearly run into her; she pushed the door open and threw a piece of garbage, and empty cigarette carton, at the garbage can outside the door, which incidentally had a closed lid. It was the kind of lid you need to push in to get the garbage inside. No attempt to push it open was made on her part, she simply threw the carton, which had no chance of opening the lid, at the can. Naturally, the carton fell to the ground beside the can. I was still standing behind her, my forward movement obstructed. She then walked outside, as if to pick the garbage up and place it gently within the receptacle — but no, what did she do, dear reader? She kicked the carton away from the can into the middle of the sidewalk.

Now, I know that littering is a part of China. New foreign arrivals are sometimes hesitant to pick up this habit, as I was, but they eventually catch on, as I did, because it is a way of fulfilling a childhood fantasy: never having to clean up after yourself. When you open a candy bar or a pack of cigarettes on the street, you simply drop the wrapper right where you are and forget it! Someone else will clean it up, who cares? Shopkeepers throw their trash out into the street to be swept up by the street cleaners. In the beginning I came to accept this as a cultural difference and just went along with it; though I felt guilty at first, I got over it. But it was seeing too many ignorant displays as this woman showed me this morning that made me decide: fuck cultural differences, littering is throwing trash on the ground and nobody wants to walk around on a fucking pile of trash!

This lady has thrown the garbage on the ground and kicked it away when there is a perfectly accessible garbage can right in front of her! In fact, if she didn’t like that one, she could have walked all of five meters to another one! There are trash cans everywhere in the cities, use them!