Before I regale you with tales of sickness and woe, I must first describe to you our Chinese apartment so you can have a picture of what I’m talking about.
When my husband and I went to China we were told we would have a furnished apartment ready for us upon arrival. We had no idea what to expect, we had never been to China before, and we were also pretty naïve. When we arrived, we were quite pleased with our small, yet sparsely furnished, new home. It had what we needed and I didn’t mind not having lots of stuff – it was less to keep clean. One feature we didn’t expect was what China calls a “wet bathroom”. A “wet bathroom” is just that, wet. It was the size of a small walk in closet, tiled floor to ceiling. There was a sink, toilet and shower head. Imagine having your toilet and sink in your shower stall at home. Voila! Wet bathroom. It was very easy to clean, I could hose everything off in seconds. Until we met other foreigners, we thought that was how everyone lived. Later we found out we lived the most “Chinese” of all the foreigners we knew, and yet, it was still ok, even though I missed having a bathtub sometimes.
Before leaving for China, my husband and I got all our shots updated and I had the presence of mind to ask my doctor for a big prescription of antibiotics. She was more than willing to write down the doses for individual ailments she thought we might encounter. I was so glad she did.
Begin the Tale of Sickness and Woe.
When moving to a new country, it should be expected that because so many new germs are being encountered, sooner or later you will get sick, very sick, as in sick as a dog. We were no exception.
In China, the heat for the whole Northern part of China, including Beijing, is turned on mid-November and is turned off mid-April. This means that residents do not have thermostats in their homes to control the temperature. If it’s too hot, open a window and if it’s too cold, put on another sweater. Our apartment was a sauna. Outside was a freezer. Going in and out of these extremes wore our bodies down and made us susceptible to the Chinese Creeping Crud. At least that’s my theory, to this day I don’t know what we had, just that it was bad and I don’t want it ever again. It was unlike any illness we had ever had and was the worst we ever felt in our lives.
I was the first to get sick. I woke up in the middle of the night soaked to the skin from perspiration. I then had to run 10 feet to the bathroom, it was a short distance but not short enough. Thank goodness for “wet bathrooms”. So as not to get too repulsive, let’s just say I was very glad our bathroom was so small and easy to clean. I spent the rest of the night doing laundry, bleaching the bathroom and lying on the floor with my pillow. I was utterly exhausted, my bones hurt, everything hurt. I was sick like this for the next three days. My husband did a good job taking care of me and brought me all the Gatorade I could want. As soon as I got better he got the same Crud, except his also included a strange, barking cough. Some of my husband’s students gave him Chinese Traditional medicine they swore was the cure for the barking cough. The Chinese have a saying, “The worse it tastes, the better it is for you.” It tasted pretty bad. My husband still had a cough, but it was under control.
A few weeks later, while I was on the subway, I felt a familiar sick to the stomach feeling and as I doubled over, pretending to tie my shoe, I prayed that I would make it home in time to that “wet bathroom”. I made it and lived on the futon in our TV room for another three days. That was when the whole side of my head began to ache. I knew what an ear infection felt like and this wasn’t it. Then it hurt to brush my teeth. I found a flashlight and looked down my throat and didn’t like the looks of the seeping sores down there. It was antibiotic time. I gave some to my husband, too, for good measure.
It took another week before my husband and I felt normal again. The Chinese Creeping Crud was conquered and never bothered us again. And yet, when people ask us what was the worst thing about China, it wasn’t getting sick. We still say, “Go, you’ll love it! You’ll have the time of your life! Just take your antibiotics with you.”
See Myra’s personal blog: The Interactive Expat