“Whoops it’s already 2am”, I thought guiltily as I hung up on my Skype call with my friends in Austria, just get ready for bed and sleep as soon as possible.
That was when it happened. The minute I adjusted my body to go to sleep, I suddenly felt a piercing pain in the vicinity of my heart, it lasted for a couple of seconds and was more intense than anything I had ever experienced. Next thing I know my left arm starts going numb. Fuck, I am having a heart attack was my instantaneous reaction. A quick googling of symptoms, nausea, yes, dizziness, yes, cold sweat, yes and I was convinced my heart was about to stop any second now.
Then came the realization of how utterly in the shits I was if I was indeed having a heart attack. I was in China, it was almost three am and I was completely on my own in my little flat. If I dropped dead now, I mused, how long would it take them to find my body? Well, if I hadn’t been entirely nauseous and about to pass out before, I surely was now.
According to the all-knowing interweb I had about an hour before it was good night world, so I had to act fast. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Li did not answer his phone in the middle of the night. Luckily, a stroke of brilliance, it was still early evening in Austria and one of my best friends’ partner is a highly qualified doctor. A quick Whatsapp message and to my utter relief they were right there, sending me replies and calming me down while still urging me to see a doctor.
Thank goodness I knew by now where to go in this situation; BenQ hospital in the South of the city, the international clinic from Taiwan with competent doctors and state-of-the-art medical equipment.
While the taxi was slowly creeping along towards my life boat, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had experienced this a year ago. I had been in China for half a year already but, like many foreigners I knew, had never been to a hospital out of fear of the horror stories I had heard with regards to hygiene standards and professional competency of medical staff (I.e. Zero). I had witnessed on the few visits I had made to a Chinese hospital the nonchalance with which total strangers will stand in the door way listening to your consultation with the doctor, overhearing every single one of your symptoms and encroaching on that precious private space many Westerners are accustomed to. Rooted in collectivism and communism, when there was no private life as the state was omni-present, examples such as these still illustrate the different concepts in relation to personal space.
A traumatising experience of getting my blood drawn for the exit and entry medical exam at a literal counter, with the person next to me spurting blood from their arms like this was some king of horror movie was enough to convince me a hospital visit in China would do more harm than help.
It was only when I acted as moral and linguistic support to a friend that I discovered how good BenQ actually was; though I had heard much positive feedback, the skepticism was hard to shut down.
Mentally thanking the powers that be that I did know where to go, I walked into the emergency room. After a thorough check up including measuring pulse and heart rate plus a blood test, all of which set me back a mere ¥130 (about €10), the highly competent and sensitive doctor explained that it was probably just a nerve that had become entrapped as I was lying the wrong way on my not very comfortable mattress after a week of incredibly tense neck and shoulders.
She also inquired whether the group of “little gangsters” 小混混 had scared me off as I was waiting for the results next to her desk, because they were discrespecting me. This I found incredibly sweet of her. In actual fact I had just gone outside to ask to lie down on the ER beds for an hour’s nap from 4am to 5am, mainly because their beds were more comfortable than my own, which partly caused this mess in the first place.
Walking out of the hospital at 5.30 am I don’t think I need to describe how happy and relieved I felt. I was welcomed by the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, with Nanjing’s modern Jianye district lying in front of me, blue skies above a fresh grassy smell from the greens and the streets recently cleaned adding to the freshness, birds chirping in the trees and hardly any cars in sight. Who would have thought I would ever end up witnessing this breathtaking view of sleepy Nanjing at dawn because of a fake heart attack?
Thank you so much to Laura and Gabsi for being there for me during what was probably the most scary moment of my life so far – in a foreign country completely on your own a medical emergency is seriously frightening. Make sure you know where to go and if possible have a safety contact at hand to let them know where you are and what is happening.