Friday, October 31, 2008
My lower back was already hurting lying there in my bed and I knew that the six hour recovery time was going to be terrible so for the first time I asked to be drugged before the procedure. Since I was already feeling the lower back pain I just wanted to be sure I had pain killers available for later or that I could get something to sleep through most of it. It was somewhat difficult to explain what I was after but they did give me valium through my intravenous wrist tube which was still a very slow injection but it was not painful this time. The nurse repositioned me on my bed and got me ready in the hall, I was wheeled into the transplant room and the procedure began. The valium was making me groggy but did not put me out and I actually felt more during this procedure than any other. For the first time the nurse came to my side to rub my hand telling me to relax and sleep as she saw me wince in pain a few times. Everything was over in usual time but today the nurse and doctor had to assist me in rolling onto my back again when they were finished because they thought I might have been too out of it. I returned to my room and actually slept for about the first two hours. The rest of the afternoon was rough as usual with the same old uncomfortable pains and bladder problems but eventually five o’clock finally came and everything was now over! YEE HAH!!
Everything would’ve seemed so smooth had I not encountered the problems I was forced to endure this last week. It’s too bad because I haven’t heard of anyone else going through that much trouble but I guess in the end it just added to my overall experience. The rest of the evening went well with no head or leg aches’ so I was very happy and again had a full nights rest. My tailbone continues to be sore but I think this will alleviate itself over the next few days. I don’t have any treatments planned for the weekend but at least I won’t have to spend it in bed trapped in my room. Unfortunately it is very overcast and hazy again but I’m sure we’ll find something to do. My physio therapy and acupuncture treatments will begin again on Monday and Tuesday for my final days here at the hospital. W-Five is now scheduled to do their filming on Tuesday and Wednesday morning which will then end our adventure in Hangzhou. This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of my blogging but we’ll see what happens.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Growing up in Calgary I’ve had my share of slips to the butt on ice and know very well that cracked tailbone feeling and that’s exactly what it felt like. So I buzz the nurse to tell her about my pain and she sends the doctor in quickly and I requested some pain killers. Linda came by on schedule to do my electrical wave therapy at 8:20 am and again determined that I wouldn’t be doing physio. Andy was still coming in to my room to do acupuncture when I somehow explained to him where I was hurting and he changed his mind. He left and returned with a contraption that he strapped around my waist that covered my backside and had me lay flat on my back. He plugged it in and said “forty min” as he usually tells me how long he’ll leave me for whatever treatment he’s giving. This belt heated up and vibrated sending out ultrasound waves or something, I don’t really know what it did but by the end of forty minutes I felt a whole lot better!
The whole day was very typical for the week, I didn’t do much and most of it was very uncomfortable. By midday I was concerned that I hadn’t heard back from the doctor about my final bone marrow transplant scheduled for tomorrow so I had the nurse confirm that it was still on. Yes it is which is good on one hand because I want to get this all over yet scary on the other. I didn’t receive my notification slip about the procedure as usual and I was worried that they had some concerns and might not go ahead with it. Well tomorrow at 11:00 am I’ll be wheeled into the transplant room one last time, hopefully my experience tomorrow will be a lot easier this time around!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Now it’s Monday and I’m scheduled for my fifth and final stem cell transplant. Everything starts off as usual with the nurse starting my IV at about 10:00 and by 11:00 I’m being wheeled into the transplantation room. Nothing different than any of my other lumbar punctures and I’m out in 20 minutes and dreading the next 6 hours. I got some sleep in the first hour and by the end of the second hour my lower back was starting to ache so I popped a couple of extra strength Tylenol. Coincidentally I’d had a conversation with TK the day before about how extra strength always did the job for me but nothing relieved her pain without codeine. At about the four hour mark I was taking a couple of her codeine pills as my discomfort was increasing. Finally the six hour mark hit and I was able to get out of bed and walk around a little where some people were gathering around the common area. After standing around for 10 or 15 minutes my lower back wasn’t feeling much better and I did notice some pain in my upper legs.
My neighbour Drew who suffers with ALS had a terrible night two nights earlier because of an adverse reaction to his lumbar puncture where he experienced extreme pain in his legs as if they were on fire. We could hear the commotion for quite some time and apparently it took a lot of drugs to finally calm him. This occurred two days after his treatment and apparently similar reactions have occurred with others but this was the first I’d heard of it. They do caution of headaches after treatment and I was starting to get one and wasn’t feeling as well as I normally would’ve expected so I explained this to Luca the head interpreter so he could explain to the doctor. The doctor offered ibuprofen but I had already taken Tylenol with codeine so that wasn’t going to cut it. He said he could give me something stronger through intravenous and we agreed that I would see how things went during the next half hour. Well before that half hour was up I was back in my room waiting for this IV.
Things were beginning to intensify for me quite rapidly now as I wasn’t getting relief once the IV had finished and my head was killing me! Next they gave an injection through the IV tube inserted into the vein of my left hand, now I understand why they require the IV tube remain inserted until the next day. This wasn’t making a difference either, it might not have been so bad if it were just my head in extreme pain but it was coming from my lower back and my legs too! I’ve always considered myself a tough guy in terms of withstanding pain and punishment, I can’t recall crying tears from physical pain since I was a young child. Emotional pain is a different story; I’ve cried rivers over some of the emotional suffering I’ve endured but never from physical suffering until now! Not like I was balling my eyes out or anything but tears were flowing.
Next they asked if I’d like to be knocked out and you bet I did! Again through the IV tube in my hand the nurse began injecting valium which is also very painful going in. She had to inject it slowly while gently massaging my vein as it went in. Towards the end of the syringe I was feeling groggy but kept opening my eyes, not to fight being put to sleep but I just couldn’t be knocked out the pain was so intense. I don’t even know how many other drugs they gave me and TK wasn’t there the whole time but she said she lost count. Sometime before midnight I took an oral dose of something which finally put me to sleep but not for long. I woke up again sometime before 1:30 am and both TK and I thought it would’ve been around 4 or 5 am! Yet again I took another oral dose of a different drug and finally slept through the night until approximately 7:30 am. What a HELLISH NIGHT!
When I woke up my head ache, back ache and leg aches were still with me but not nearly as severe. I buzzed the nurse to ask about my next medication and she said the doctor would be in to see me at 8. Dr. Jack did arrive at 8 along with Dr. Mike the head doctor and Doctor Tony who was the doctor on duty the previous night. They explained to me that this happens due to a change in the pressure of the fluid in my spinal canal, discussed the medications that I’d be taking and told me to tell them right away if I experienced anything new or increased pain.
So now I’m into day 24, feeling pretty lousy and spending another day lying in my bed. They monitored me pretty closely as they always do and I did improve throughout the day. My head and leg aches diminished to nothing by the end of the day but my lower back remained sore. My concern was what was happening to my spine. I couldn’t bend my head forward or bend my torso forward without excruciating results and when I moved in a way that aggravated my spine a resounding bark of agony was the result. The situation did improve throughout the day but never resolved itself and I remained on medications, both oral and intravenous. I didn’t really get out of my room all day and couldn’t do much because sitting for too long in one spot such as typing on my computer was difficult. I was feeling more confident about recovery as time went by; it was just going by slow! At one point during the night I was in the bathroom and suddenly sneezed, you know how they can sneak up on you unexpectedly which produced a loud yelp that I think really startled the night shift nurse! My room is located directly across from the nurses’ station but she was in my room within 20 seconds! Ever since that sneeze I’ve been fortunate enough to hold off several others by pinching my nose right before I feel the urge!
Day 25 started out pretty good other than a lousy sleep the night before. Everything was feeling much better other than my lower back pain, right at my tailbone now. I had electric wave therapy at 8:20 am as usual and was told that my physio would be cancelled for the day. I was up and about and walking around the halls talking with people I hadn’t really seen in a few days. I was looking forward to taking a shower for the first time in three days and finally getting the intravenous tube removed from my hand. I had a bag of glucose with vitamin B and C infused earlier and was finally going to get the tube removed, thankfully because after three days it was sore.
I did get to shower and shave and was feeling somewhat normal again. A few other patients were leaving the hospital this afternoon for the long awaited return home. Oh how we all look forward to that day! We were taking pictures, saying our good byes and making sure everyone had each other’s email, we’ve definitely met some interesting people here! That was pretty much my day, I can only hope and pray that tomorrow will be better again. W-Five was supposed to send their film crew today but we emailed them to say that I wouldn’t be able to do it and are now waiting to see when we can reschedule it. I don’t have too many more days here so hopefully it works out. That’s all for now.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Well its Saturday again, overcast and light showers, could mean another cancelled West Lake outing. I finished my morning therapies from Friday at 11:30; we had all of our plans arranged again and the driver booked. We decided that we were going regardless, after all we’d missed two Saturday ventures in a row and it was only showers. Besides we had a very busy day planned with some things we had to get done. One of our interpreters Johnny had the day off and was coming with us so he was our first stop at noon.
Our 2nd stop was in Hangzhou core where we were heading to buy a wheelchair. After I leave the hospital I won’t have access to one for the rest of my journey and try as we might we couldn’t get a rental or loner anywhere. Johnny found a supplier and he could get a discount because of the hospital so off we went without knowing exactly where we were going which made this drive even harrier. When we finally found the store Mr. Chen our driver pulled up right in front and parked. This was a busy street that would never have parking allowed at home but not here and not Mr. Chen. He parks anywhere regardless of the mayhem it may cause as long as he gets me as close to the entrance as possible. We always try to book Mr. Chen, he hardly knows any English but he’s great! So I got a chair for just under $100 Canadian and I’m very happy with it. Most wheelchairs are so crappy in airports and hotels that I can never push myself but I can with this one. Did I mention how much I miss my scooter!!! It provides me so much independence and opportunity to do things that I just can’t do without it.
Our next stop was a famous tea house that we saw on TV located very close to West Lake. It was supposed to be on Longjing Rd. which weaves around a mountain side where the famous Dragon Tea is grown. We pulled off the road to one of the many buildings we’d seen that didn’t look like the famous tea house but there was a stone set of stairs to climb and maybe we’d see it at the top. Then again, maybe not! We walked across a very quaint patio surrounded by lush vegetation that was actually quite beautiful had it not been raining, into what looked like the backroom of a diner! TK and I just looked at one another thinking this can’t be it. I guess Johnny and Mr. Chen didn’t really know the famed tea house we were thinking of but explained that the area we were in and Longjing Rd. were the legendary attraction. Okay whatever; we’re here for the experience so just go with it.
We were the only people in this little tea house and the lady (apparently the owner or tea farmers wife) came to greet and seat us. She then went on to explain that a tea would cost 20 RMB; my instinctual reaction was forget it! 80 RMB for four cups of tea, did she think we were stupid? She then explained that if we bought some tea leaves we wouldn’t have to pay for the tea we drank but the tea cost 600 RMB per half kg. That was too expensive as well and our Chinese hostess seemed a little offended. She went on explaining the history of this place and how they grow the tea themselves up on the mountain side and on and on, good thing we had an interpreter! It all seemed fine with our two Chinese companions, tea really is a huge thing in China and this is the best so we sat down and went along with it. Our tea was served with a bowl of sunflower seeds and peanuts, both shelled and unsalted of course. The tea was served in a small clear glass that was so hot you couldn’t even pick it up with what looked to be little weeds floating in it! So we went through the whole ritual of how to make the tea, the smell and flavour, I was actually very unimpressed but TK drinks green tea all the time so she bought some to take home. She did barter it down to 250 RMB at least.
Next we had planned on touring around West Lake some more and maybe a boat ride since the rain had let up a little while we were having our tea but it was still showering and Mr. Chen explained that it would be much cooler down at the lake. We had plans to go for dinner at an infamous Chinese restaurant called Beggars Chicken which was at the lake so we headed down anyway. Unfortunately traffic was a mess and it took over one and a half hours to get back to the lake even though we were very close to it. By the time we made it back it was getting dark and time to eat anyway. We were lucky to get into the restaurant without a wait because it was very busy. There is over 150 years of history to the restaurant and it has served many dignitaries and famous people. The famous chicken was discovered by a beggar who had come across a chicken and wanted to save it so he wrapped it in special leaves that grow in West Lake and buried it in mud. When it came time to eat it he just threw it in the fire and what came out was an incredibly tender and flavourful chicken that is still enjoyed today. They barbeque it slow for about five hours and it’s so popular they make hundreds every day. It was actually the best Chinese meal we’ve had to date and Johnny and Mr. Chen were very appreciative!
Next stop was back to the night market to try and return a watch I had bought that didn’t keep time. I never would’ve thought you could return something or even find the same vendor at that market but Mr. Chen walked directly back to the same guy who sold it to me. He didn’t have any more of that watch but replaced the battery and it’s been working fine ever since. It’s so good to have our interpreters and drivers who really know what’s going on. This was a very fast stop and I didn’t even have to get out of the car!
It was about 6:30 by now and there was a large fireworks festival happening tonight so we headed off for a spot to watch. There is no special holiday associated with the event it’s just something the city of Hangzhou does once a year. They set it up on the river so there are several bridges and areas to view from but you can imagine how busy the roads were getting to a viewing spot. We drove right up to the point where the police had barricaded access to the bridge and were directing traffic away. Mr. Chen pulled up to the police officer directing traffic and in a loud and what seemed heated conversation told the officer he didn’t want to be diverted pointing to me to infer I couldn’t walk. This heated exchange carried on for a few minutes with Johnny joining in. Eventually Mr. Chen ignored the officer and pulled forward to a different one and started the same rant again! This lasted for a few minutes as well until he finally put the car in park and ran around to the trunk and unloaded the wheelchair. TK and I just looked at one another and said I guess we’re getting out here. Mr. Chen then drove off to park the car somewhere and returned within a few minutes. Kind of what I’m used to at home with my handicap placard and getting Rock Star parking!
So we walked across the bridge as far as we could go before entering the area that required tickets and waited there. We had to wait for about 45 minutes before it would start and people were flooding in. Bus after bus went past all empty now but there must have been a few hundred thousand people out and I again was the target of everyone’s stare. Eventually the show began with some thunderous booms and started out beautiful. There was at least a 2 km section of the river that was set up for the fireworks display so it was an enormous area and seemed to encompass the entire sky from what we could view. IT WAS THE MOST PHENOMENAL FIREWORKS DISPLAY THAT I’VE EVER NOT SEEN!!
No that was not a grammatical error, we really couldn’t see them. The sky was overcast and there was still a slight drizzle but no wind. Maybe the air was very heavy and humid but there was nowhere for the smoke to go and with the frequency, large size of some of the displays and the enormous area that they were being fired into, there was a lot of smoke being generated. You could see the entire sky change colors: red, green, blue but could only imagine the amazing images that were forming in the sky above. They went on nonstop for over half an hour and you could feel your whole body shake with every boom. It still turned out to be great and capped off a fun day!
I was almost finished this blog but didn’t get around to posting it, I’ve been sort of preoccupied which I’ll explain in my next one.
Above is the Beggars Chicken and the West Lake leaves they cook it in and that famous tea!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
TK was pushing me through the fine china and accessories section in some very tight places with glass showcases and I knew I wasn't interested in anything here and I wasn't sure about the you break it, you buy it policy. TK's wheelchair navigation is sometimes very careless and I just wanted to get out of there! There were very few customers but plenty of employees, probably at least 5 workers to every customer and this is not at all uncommon to see! It's also very uncommon to see white people and we were sure getting some looks in this store. We're used to being stared at where ever we go but today seemed even more than usual and not just in this store. I guess it can be a little intimidating and annoying at times, now I know what celebrities go through!
We had to cross the street eventually to get to Pizza Hut which is very scary, especially for me because I'm the one sitting in a wheelchair with absolutely no control. Pedestrians have no right of way in China, the rule is watch out or you'll get hit! There are very few crosswalks with lights to indicate it's safe to cross even though they have lines painted on the road to indicate a crosswalk. People step out into traffic and vehicles just dodge them! You see someone crossing a four lane road stopped in the middle with cars whizzing by in both directions, even with children, it's totally ordinary for the Chinese and totally insane! So having given that prelude you can imagine how nervous I was crossing this street and that is exactly how we had to cross, stop halfway in the middle of the road with cars dodging us and wait until we could make a break for it to get across! My mom will absolutely shit reading this.
Well we made it across safely, had a snack and desert at Pizza Hut (the desert wasn't really good) then decided to hit the grocery store. The grocery store is an experience in itself, you're very hard pressed to find anything considered ordinary food in terms of what we're used to. I must admit TK is doing a great job cooking for me and today we bought chicken breasts to make with some pasta. I've included some photos of what ordinary food looks like to the Chinese, YUM YUM!
click on image to view it larger
CHICKEN DRIED, COLORED BLUE, CHICKEN FEET
I've eaten one of these out of that bowl
We haven't bought any eggs, haven't found any laid by a hen!
I don't know what they do with dried fish
I'm not even able to tell what some of this dried stuff is!
No uncle Ben around here.
These turtles aren't for your aquarium, your Bar-BQ
Live eel, UGHH!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I thought today I'd post some pictures from the day of my bone marrow operation.
I TOLD YOU THEY SHAVED ME GOOD!
NOT FOR THE SQUEEMISH! I'VE HAD SO MANY NEEDLES POKED IN ME IT'S NOW JUST SECOND NATURE!
ON MY WAY DOWN TO THE OPERATING ROOM
BACK FROM MY BONE MARROW EXTRACTION, THEY CHECKED MY BLOOD PRESSURE, PULSE, HEART RATE AND TEMPERATURE EVERY HALF HOUR, ALL DAY LONG!
NOW FOR A FULL DAY OF REST AND RECOVERY.
I'm just slowly learning how to navigate this blog so I'll have some more photos later!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Next came the 6 hours of immobilization, oh yeah! It’s getting easier each time but the last two hours are always the worst. I got a little sleep and TK and I watched some TV, thanks Bob. We saw an episode of The Amazing Race and Boston Legal which by the way happens to be the worst show on television. I don’t even watch it when TK has it on, I find the acting brutal and it’s just so stupid. My opinion of course but hey it’s my blog! By the time I was mobile again it was dark out and we ordered in Chinese, my first meal of the day!
I’ve been in contact with CTV and they will be sending a crew down from their Beijing bureau next week to do some shooting. We originally had it set up for them to do some video here in the hospital but that was only permitted because the American contact with Beike Biotech was scheduled to be here in October. Unfortunately her trip was cancelled and without her they won’t allow any filming. Too bad but I guess we’ll just take some video around the hospital and film us partaking in some Chinese things!
Our time is coming close to winding up here at the hospital so we’re trying to book our travel arrangements to Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong but we’ve been surprised by the cost of domestic flights. We were hoping it would be similar to Thailand where TK found domestic air travel to be very affordable but it’s turning out to be just the opposite. There is supposed to be a seat sale opening up on Saturday so hopefully we can find something more reasonable. I found it very frustrating working on blogger.com but I’ll try uploading some more photos on my next blogs.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
We waited around until after lunch hoping he’d show up and I had the nurses phoning to confirm a time but that wasn’t happening. Two others from our floor were planning a trip to one of the Chinese temples at 2 pm and I told TK she should go. No point in both of us sitting around waiting and I wouldn’t be able to visit the temple or see anything worthwhile in a wheelchair anyway. So she took off and I ended up hanging out at the hospital all day, I mean all day! They returned from their excursion sometime between 6 and 7 pm and the doctor still hadn’t shown up. Since I was scheduled for my bone marrow “operation” the next day I don’t believe they would’ve released me anyway. TK said it was beautiful, one of the best maintained and interesting temples she’s been to. It was after 8 pm when one of the other doctors came to my room to apologize for the no show explaining that the anaesthesiologist is extremely busy and she would fill in as best she could but my “operation” was still on schedule. What she meant by filling in was having me read several documents outlining all the risks etc. and having me sign away my life so to speak. She went on to explain the anaesthesiologist would see me in the morning and explained that I was not to have any food or water past 4:30 am. TK had made me a very good spaghetti and shrimp dinner when she got home which I was very thankful for as it didn’t sound like I’d be able to eat again until at least 2 or 3 pm the next day!
Monday finally arrived and my “operation” was scheduled for 11 am. I had a visit from Dr. Jack who is my doctor as well as Dr. Mike who is the head doctor and their regular cohort of 6 or 7 other doctors. During these visits Dr. Mike and Dr. Jack converse back and forth about me with all of the others listening in. Dr. Mike then explains to me that he’s just describing the stem cell theory and how they think it is working with MS. I have this entire discussion on video; it would be interesting to have it translated. After the doctors left the anaesthesiologist finally showed but the only purpose of his visit was to have me sign and go over more paperwork this time about the risks of undergoing anaesthesia. The next thing I knew two nurses were in my room telling me they had to prep me for surgery. I was told to remove my clothes except for my boxer shorts and lie on my stomach. It’s not like I have a lot of hair on my back but the nurses had to shave me anyway. I wasn’t sure why it would take two nurses for this task until they got started. I knew that they would extract the bone marrow from the back side of my hip bone but their shaving territory was becoming quite wide spread. Not only were they shaving my back but now they were pulling my boxers down to expose the top half of my but cheeks, then they pulled my boxers up from the leg cuff to get access to the rest of my cheek! I might as well of just taken my shorts right off, these two nurses completely shaved the lower half of my back, my entire butt and the back side of my legs down to my knees! I wasn’t sure if this was required or if they were just having fun with me! Apparently they were just following standard procedure, the doctor never really knows where or how many punctures it will take to extract the requisite amount of marrow so they prepare for the unknown. “Now turn over” is what I heard next! I couldn’t believe it but they were going to complete the shave on the front side of me too! Oh well, definitely an odd situation but at least this was being done by two very cute nurses and of course captured on video by TK! When they had finished I was told to take a shower, the last one I’d be permitted for the next three days, put on a hospital garment with the open ended back and lie on my bed. Another nurse came in to start an IV and I just laid back until they came to take me away. I had no idea that this is what I had signed up for!
Within about another 20 minutes, my doctor and two other nurses had come back in to wheel me away. The operating room is on the 3rd floor, there is a designated elevator for the OR so it doesn’t stop on every floor going down and this is where I waved bye to TK and the camera. As we left the elevator on the 3rd floor I was pushed past a reception desk and waiting area full of people. I found this strange because they weren’t hospital staff and I felt like every eye in the room was fixated on me! We went through a set of doors and down a hall with 6 or 7 rooms to the door marked Operating Room 3, it was written in English and this was my spot. The lighting was very dim as it is in most of the hospital but there was a large surgical light above me that I’m sure would be very bright and there were plenty of medical machines and monitors, exactly what I would expect to see in any operating room. I heard conversation around the room that sounded sort of upbeat and jovial, one of the doctors leaned over to reassure me and I told him I was fine. They didn’t waste much time transferring me from my bed to the operating table, got me in position, placed an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose and I believe injected something into my IV. I felt a very powerful but dull pain in my wrist where the IV was inserted and that’s the last thing I remember.
I don’t really remember waking up; I was just awake and very groggy still lying on the operating table. I asked: are we done and the doctor looked down at me and said “all done!” Just as fast as they had me on the operating table they had me back in my bed and were wheeling me out. I was definitely groggy but remember being told that I was very good; I replied that I’m always a good patient as they rolled me down the hallway past another stretcher against the wall. Like I said, I was still groggy but I swear there was a body on that stretcher with the blanket pulled up over the face. I was very happy to be on my way back up to my room!
The elevator doors opened on the 20th floor and waiting for me was TK with the video camera, just as though I hadn’t left. Apparently I was only gone for about 40 minutes and was very surprised that TK finally caught both ends of a procedure on tape! In the end the operation went very smooth for me and of course I only required one extraction point, good thing I was so well shaved! I was taken back to my room where I slept for approximately 2 hours and things were back to normal other than the fact that I had to stay in bed for the next 24 hours. That brought me to around 11:00 this morning and even today was meant for rest and recovery, what a long and boring four days. It is now Tuesday evening and I haven’t had any treatments since last Friday morning yet I haven’t been allowed to do anything either! It sort of feels like I’ve been imprisoned and it’s not really going to end because I am having my fourth spinal treatment tomorrow! WHEW!! AM I EVEN SURE WHAT DAY IT IS???
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I thought we had the day all planned out. We were going back to West Lake for a more detailed tour including a cart ride to special sites, a boat ride, a visit to a famous tea house and dinner at the end. It was all mapped out and our driver was going to do the tour with us. I don’t know what happened, we lost our driver that the plan had been explained to but we were still going to venture forth with a different driver and take our chances. Not so fast as it turned out!
I have to sign out at the nursing station before leaving the hospital and when I tried to leave the doctor wouldn’t release me for this outing because I just had my lumbar puncture the previous day. I guess he figured that it would be a little too much and too soon. Wish we would’ve known that before we laid out our whole plan and booked our driver! Oh well, they did release me to go for lunch and a walk outside. We ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken which isn’t too far off from what we get at home. After lunch we decided to go for a little tour around the hospital neighbourhood and the adventure began.
I have written in a previous blog about the dichotomy of lifestyles that exist within a very small geographic area. Within a 5 minute walking radius around the hospital you’ll find high end high rise apartment living all the way down to make shift shelters utilizing blankets for walls. Our walk began at the garden plot we look down at from our room. I’m not sure who owns this land or who is responsible for the garden but it is maintained very well and I see people working in it every day. As we strolled down the path a little further we came across some very run down 3 and 4 story apartment buildings that you might associate with the “PROJECTS” in the Bronx, New York. Adjacent to these buildings was a new 10 story building under construction. As we continue down the path we approach some single and two story cement buildings consisting of mainly single room dwellings, some without doors, some with smashed in windows and all occupied. It is not clear how many people would live in each unit but we saw several people, including children that appeared to be just hanging out at home. They seemed surprised to see us, some were somewhat hesitant and others excited and curious! We may have been the only white people these locals had ever seen, especially the children.
As we continued on towards the end of the path we came across another garden plantation. It is now becoming evident that these are common throughout the entire area. Our paved pathway now becomes more of a dirt/gravel trail. Not to be deterred, TK continues pushing my chair towards what appears to be an unknown dead end! As we get closer we find an alleyway with what looks like vegetable stands on either side covered by a makeshift roof of scrap metal and anything else you can imagine that might be strewn overtop the lane to serve as shade or cover. I’m now coming to the conclusion that the individuals working these garden plots then bring their produce to these little markets to sell.
Again the people in this market seem astonished to see us but we continue to greet everyone with the traditional “ni hao” which means hello. Most return the greeting while others seem shocked that we can speak in Chinese, even though it was just a simple hello. All of the produce looks very good and obviously fresh so TK stopped at one stand to buy a few garlic cloves and a bunch of green onions. I don’t know what the cost was, one or two coins, nothing to us. The picture to the right is of the woman who ran this stand and behind her is where she lives. This is home to many, a shocking realization!
Walking further into the market we see that there are also live chickens and ducks for sale. Some running loose and some crammed into little cages. To the side we can see someone chopping up fresh meat (maybe pork??) with flies and insects hovering all around. Unsanitary to say the least, can you say salmonella. I guess people that live and eat here have adapted digestive and immune systems to be able to cope with the conditions.
We’re now coming to the end of this market alley and approaching a roadway. I’ve been on these streets before while driving into downtown and always been curious about these little communities but completely unaware that they existed just around the corner from what we temporarily call home. These roads are very narrow, barely enough room for two vehicles to pass one another and extremely dangerous as I’ve alluded to in some of my previous driving stories. I must be nuts, here I am travelling down these crazy roads in a wheelchair and not even in control of my own destiny. Definitely a leap of faith in TK and her wheelchair driving as vehicles, bikes, scooters and carts are passing us by and all beeping their horns!
All kinds of interesting shops and little businesses exist in these areas. We’ve come across little stores, bike repair shops, a welding shop, barber shop and beauty salon and even a pool hall. As with the market, all of these little shop keepers appear to live here as well. It’s hard to compare life here with what we know it as back home. I’m not too sure what a typical day is like for most of the Chinese that live in these areas but it appears like there isn’t much to do yet it seems they all survive! I have yet to see one person begging and as out of place as we must look, we have not been approached for money or harassed in any way! Having observed firsthand the squalor that so many Chinese people live in, they have and deserve my utmost respect. Quite an amazing and unexpected little adventure!