Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Basically Normal"

Qingdao apparently felt a bit guilty for keeping all of drenched for the entire day yesterday, so today we were treated to beautiful sunshine, nice warm weather that was not overbearing, and a very pleasant breeze.  It was the sort of day when a walk on the beach would have heavenly, but there was too much to do to fit that in just yet.  I did, however, enjoy a very peaceful breakfast with the sliding glass door to the balcony open, and the light breeze flowed through the apartment, carrying with it the relaxing sounds of the ocean and that delightful salty scent.  I had two new things with my breakfast this morning:  at the store yesterday, I picked up a container of blueberry juice and a product that called itself strawberry cheese.  Both intrigued me, and thus needed to be tried.  The blueberry juice was delicious and was definitely what it claimed to be.  The strawberry cheese had one of the oddest textures my mouth has ever encountered, along with quite bland flavor.  I didn't really dislike it, but I have no interest in eating it again.  Certainly, it was fun to try.

After that revitalizing start, the day itself became quite full, and even a smidgeon overwhelming.  To begin with, today wound up being the day that we new teachers (there are seven of us at the moment: two married couples and three singles), accompanied by one of our Chinese staff members, went to get our mandatory health checks.  Having done this before in Korea, I was prepared (or so I thought) for a lot of intrusive, "interesting" stuff to be done to me.  I had no idea just how much the Chinese government wanted to know about me!

To begin with, there was paperwork to deal with; thankfully, Heidi, the sweet and wonderful Chinese staff person who went with us, had already filled out most of it.  After pushing our way through the "line" (i.e. crowd) Chinese-style, we got photographed and documented, showed our passports, and then headed upstairs to begin the various procedures.  We each had a list, and the procedures were each carried out in separate rooms (with at least two different rooms doing each of them, so waits tended to be short).

In my first room, I was given an eye test unlike any I have ever done before.  The chart had nothing but "E"s on it.  Some were facing the right way, some were backwards, some were lying on their backs napping (I assume; maybe they were daydreaming) and others were facedown, perhaps suffering from stomachaches.  I had to cover one eye at a time and point which direction the "E"s were facing.  Being quite jetlagged still, I was not up to my usual forte at charades, so it took the non-English-speaking Chinese ladies in that room a few minutes to get me to understand exactly what they wanted.  Fortunately, they did not seem irritated:  most Chinese so far seem to find me amusing, or just ignore me.  To finish in that room, they weighed and measured me.  That part I could have done without.

In the second room I entered, a doctor felt my neck and throat, took my pulse and blood pressure, looked down my throat, and listened to my chest.  He, too, spoke no English, but it was pretty easy to figure out what he wanted from me.  He seemed pleased with my low-side-of-normal blood pressure (90 over 64); I noticed that he gave me an approving nod as he recorded the numbers.

Feeling a bit proud of my good numbers, I went boldly onto the next room, where the EKG (ECG here in China) was to be performed.  And here, the day took a turn for the awkward.  The lady carrying out the procedure spoke some English, but also relied a bit on charades.  She told me to lie down on the bed, which I did quite easily.  She told me to lift up my shirt, which I also did, after she pulled the curtain closed (they didn't bother to do this for the men, so I was rather relieved by the gesture).  Next, we ran into an area difficult for her to communicate.  I was somewhat certain that she wanted me to lift up my bra; however, I was not positive.  I recognized that if I interpreted her incorrectly, this could become a very awkward situation for both of us.  Going out on a limb, I decided to assume that that was what she wanted, cringing inwardly as I complied.  Fortunately for the woman and myself, it was exactly what she wanted me to do.  She hooked things up to my chest, abdomen, ankle, and wrist, and performed one of the oddest EKGs I've ever had (I've had two of them in the US before).  After we finished, I glanced at the computer just in time to see her typing, in English, her assessment of me.  The words brought a smile to my face:  "Basically normal."

Next, I walked over to another room for my blood draw.  The Chinese wanted a lot more of my blood than the Koreans did:  three tubes of it!  I actually felt slightly lightheaded afterwards, probably owing to my small breakfast.  The blood draw was promptly followed by another awkward procedure:  they wanted a urine sample.  Now, as most women know, "tinkling" on command is not the easiest thing for women to do.  In the past, my experiences have involved western toilets.  This time around, I had the "joy" of a squatty potty.  There's a trick to squatties:  you need the thigh muscles of an athlete.  Otherwise, they are not a pleasant experience.  I am happy to report that my year in Korea taught me well, so at least my shoes and clothing did not get sprinkled.  The squatty, naturally, had no toilet paper or tissue, but fortunately I know well enough to always carry tissues when in Asia.  I delivered my sample to the smiling women who awaited it, then traveled up to the fourth floor for my x-ray.

Just as I did in Korea, I had to have a chest x-ray.  This time around, I got to keep my shirt on, which I appreciated after having had to bare my chest earlier (baring my chest is not a favorite activity of mine).  The x-ray tech manipulated me into a position that closely resembled an impression of a chicken, in that I had my arms pushed into little wings behind my back.  The whole thing was done very quickly.

For my final procedure, I got to have an ultrasound (men and women both have to do this).  Once again, I sighed gratefully when the curtain was closed (apparently, there was no concern for men who might like privacy).  The goop was generously applied, and my shirt drank a bit of it just for fun.  The woman questioned me as to whether I had eaten breakfast, then seemed not to believe me when she couldn't locate my breakfast in me.  "Small breakfast," I explained.  And after my shirt had gotten another good gluttonous gulp of goop (try saying that ten times fast), my medical check was finished!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"