Sick, Dazed, and Confused in China

I was paid my last salary in cash, after a recurrent illness that took me to ER in a few occasions. The last time I got sick I still went to work, then my stomach was in so much pain I started crying and screaming. They called Elina, the coordinator, and she said she’d meet me at the nurse’s office in 20 minutes. At that point the part of the contract that says Part A will explain the rules and regulations of the country to Part B hadn’t been fulfilled, and despite of having been working at the school for almost a year they managed to never reveal which doctors or hospitals I had access to since the school didn’t provide health insurance, breaking one more of the clauses stipulated.

With the help of Paul, one of my students, I went to the nurse’s office where I was given three brown pills (I recognized this “medicine” from the very first time I got sick in China). These are supposed to stop the frequent diarrhea. Nevertheless, this time my body didn’t react so positively. The stomach spams increased, I was squirming, Paul helped me walk to the restroom, then we kept waiting for the coordinator. My confusion and despair grew bigger. I didn’t know which hospital to go to since the school hadn’t paid for my past medical bills and I didn’t have a hospital’s Chinese address to show to a taxi driver. I was thinking if only the coordinator showed up she’d be able to interpret between me and the doctors either at the Chinese or at the No. 2 hospital. One hour passed by and the pain was increasing so I looked for help at the international school. Paul helped me get there. As I explained the situation, the director immediately called for help and I was put in a taxi with instructions to take me to the Number 2 hospital making a little detour to the ATM for the hospital received cash only. Now I realize calling for help at the other school was a bad move, because this made my school lose face; but what  else can you do when facing a matter of life or death?

Once at the hospital, the angry VIP or Chinese interpreter (she didn’t like that she had been called last minute) started asking me questions. I had to tell her to cool it off. I was the one in pain, she was there to be the language bridge, plus she was getting paid for her time!  I had a fever, they wrote my symptoms, and plugged me to an IV for 4.5 hours. The VIP told me I had a virus, but she couldn’t tell what kind since the doctor was on another floor and everybody was pretty much getting ready to leave.

I came back home around 11:00 pm and texted my friends that I was okay. I was falling asleep around midnight when a drunk teacher who lived in the same building started banging on my door accusing me of betraying my school and faking my illness. One of my friends came downstairs and I pulled her in immediately while this teacher kept screaming that I had kidnapped my own friend! I called the police but they didn’t speak any English so they let him go with a pad on the back… and he banged on my door again at 3:45 am. I was recording as much as possible and sent the initial video to the school leaders.

The next day, Elina and four guards knocked on my door around 4:00 pm. Naively, I felt glad to see my video had caught their attention, but who was I in this country? Just a foreign woman teaching English to their children. The four guards and Elina were speaking in Chinese basically ignoring me, and the guards were invading all my space, pacing in my kitchen, bedrooms, looking around… I had the video with me and was ready to answer their questions, even to call my friend as a witness, but they didn’t let me speak. The school year was almost over so Elina pulled out a huge envelope filled with money explaining this was my last salary. She asked me to count the mountain of 100-yuan bills. I was still in naïveté mode feeling thankful they were paying me earlier while all the guards took photos of me counting. I confirmed the amount was right after making a bunch of 1,000-yuan packages.

“You have been sick for a long time and it’s better for you to go home to recover.” Said Elina. I was bewildered. What about the attack I had suffered the previous night? I pulled out the video, but they continued speaking in Chinese. “They will take care of it.” The coordinator spoke again.

“I can help you pack.” The coordinator continued. Suddenly I realized what was happening and called my friends right away. I started asking a bunch of questions. I was still sick, I had been attacked, the perpetrator was still in the building, I couldn’t just pack and leave!

My friends came with no delay asking questions as well. “She’s been sick and she needs to recover at home.” The coordinator repeated. “But… you want her to leave now?”

“She’s been sick…” Okay, okay… My friend told her I would stay with her and they could leave the apartment, but they didn’t move. “The guards are staying because she said she needs protection.” The coordinator muttered as she was exiting. “No! She doesn’t need your protection now! We are here and she’ll be okay!” My friends jumped like lionesses protecting their cubs.

They left, and being aware of how ill I was, my friends packed for me only stopping to ask what to trash and what to bring with me. They did all the work, and the next day I woke up in a nice bed at my friend’s apartment, still in shock.

It is said that if we were to help remove itself from the cocoon, the butterfly would not be strong enough to survive. It is the struggle that prepares the butterfly to become strong enough to fly.