It was on the 1st day of my 16th week, a Sunday, that I felt like my water broke; and then I bled buckets. I thought I was in the clear – I was in the second trimester after all.
I called our doctor.
He was at the Chengdu People’s First Hospital as quickly as we were.
On a Sunday, my friend’s 10 year old son fell down and seriously hurt his arm. She called our doctor. He happened to be 5 minutes away, playing basketball. He rushed over.
Another Sunday, a cat bit me. I called him.
When Rahul developed a rash and there was no way I could make it to the clinic before they closed, he came by after work; had a look and didn’t charge us a cent.
Our super cool American doctor, yoga student / teacher, surfer, slam poetry enthusiast, friend has answered many calls from me during my pregnancy and later, as a new mother.
It was the same a couple of months ago when Leila rolled off our bed. They were jumping and playing; we were laughing. After the thud, there was silence. Now it must be said that my kids have fallen on their heads before. MANY. times. So for the first few seconds I didn’t think anything of it.
Then, Maher who was closest to Leila, picked her up. Her pupils had rolled back. An impulse to throw up seemed to start at her toes. I saw the panic in Maher’s face and breath. I insisted on taking her in my arms. By then, she was limp.
“Leila’s OK. You’re OK Leila.” I repeated over and over as I walked around. Rahul was dead silent.
Finally, she came to. And then she cried her heart out for the next half an hour. Rahul looked at me. “You want to give her a kiss?” I asked. “She’s OK now.”
Maher handed me my phone. “Call the doctor.”
It was 7:30pm so I sent him a text message first explaining that it was an emergency. He replied immediately. He was on leave, but I could call him in a few minutes.
“It’s normal to pass out for a few seconds after a concussion. Watch her closely for the next few hours. If she throws up, slurs her words, or is suddenly lethargic, take her to the hospital. The emergency department at the First hospital can do a head CT scan. Also, wake her up a few times during the night and see if she can make eye contact.”
She seemed OK. But she couldn’t keep her eyes open. I’d seen this in the past where a surprise hit to her head or elsewhere left her fatigued. But she seemed to be slurring her words. After a bit of back and forth, we decided not to spend the night in uncertainty.
In the mean time, we reached Marwan, Maher’s brother, and Liu Yan, his Sichuanese wife. My basic Chinese isn’t sufficient to deal with the hospitals here in Chengdu. Liu Yan could lead and translate for us.
At 8:30pm we followed Liu Yan and Marwan into the Chengdu People’s First Hospital. I pushed the stroller. The children were in their pyjamas busily pointing out ambulances, doctors, and nurses. Maher rushed off to find a bank machine.
Liu Yan asked around for the doctor on duty.
After fifteen minutes or so, a doctor led us into a bright little room with a bed and other hospital equipment. It smelled like medicine. Leila and Rahul panicked. “I don’t want injection mum, I don’t want injection.”
“Won’t you even do a basic eye-contact and reflex check, to see if she is OK?” Marwan barked.
Liu Yan translated.
I walked out coolly.
If it’s Hua Xi hospital, it means a long night for sure. It’s a nightmare there – there are thousands of people from all over the province of Sichuan seeking attention day and night.
“Let’s go to the Woman and Children’s Hospital.” I suggested. “Certainly they will see Leila.”
Not many cabs drive by the massive, but suburban Chengdu People’s First Hospital. Business Opportunity! Some guys hang around the hospital gates in their cars offering rides for money. We didn’t’ bother with negotiating the price; we dumped our stuff into the back of one little car and drove to the Women and Children’s hospital.
On the way, I called our doctor; apologised because it was almost 9pm. He couldn’t believe that the emergency doctor hadn’t even looked at Leila and didn’t mind her traveling half way across the city without confirming her stability. I remembered that Leila had a minor IVH (Intraventricular Hemorrhage) at birth, particularly common for babies born prematurely or at low birth weight. Leila was both.
“Well, since she had no issue with it later on, there’s no relationship with tonight’s fall. But yes of course the risk now is that she might have a brain hemorrhage. Let me know how it goes.”
I was having a déjà vu. After my big bleed at 16 weeks, the First Hospital sent me to the Women and Children’s Hospital. As we walked in, Maher, Marwan and Liu Yan also had flash backs of that day and the two weeks I spent there. Same gang.
It was not a pretty sight, even outside the hospital gates at 9pm. There were men carrying collapsed pregnant women on their backs; babies heads wrapped in bandages with Intravenous (IV) tubes stuck into their scalps. That’s how fevers are dealt with here – with an IV. And when it’s children the needle goes in the head.
Liu Yan and Marwan discovered that the Woman and Children’s Emergency Department only sees babies with colds and fevers.
With the children already asleep in the stroller we decided to walk to the Hua Xi Hospital. It’s only fifteen minutes away. That’s when I told the gang that our doctor was going to be transferred to Shanghai. Maher and I shared a wordless sense of helplessness at that news. And I didn’t stop thinking about it all night.
Despite directions from friendly doctors and nurses, after an hour of walking through many sections of the massive provincial hospital, going back and forth between locked doors and sections that looked exactly like the previous one, we made it to the Emergency Department. Once the paperwork and payments were sorted out, we waited.
The waiting-area is nothing more than the sidewalk – off a busy street with no escape from the second-hand smoke. We gulped down the bottles of water that Maher bought us from a little corner store. Liu Yan and I tried to figure out what a couple of kids in school uniforms were doing out at the corner store at 10pm, gorging down instant noodles. Visiting hours had probably just ended.
1466 finally showed up on the screen. Leila woke up when I unbuckled her. She clutched me with her life, and repeated, “No doctor, no injection mama.” Marwan stayed with Rahul in the brightly lit hallway while the rest of us went into the doctor’s office. There were 10 other patients in there listening in on our conversation. They joined in the conversations at times.
The pleasant and confident doctor who examined Leila said she was fine for now. Considering she only fell off a bed, it can’t be higher than a metre, so she should be OK. However, we must watch her closely for vomiting, lethargy, headaches, and so on for the next 72 hours. He gave us an express ticket – valid for 3 days – to have a CT scan if the need arises.
Maher and I slumped into the back seat of a cab, holding our children; we were exhausted but relieved. Marwan decided to walk home. Liu Yan opted to go with us, it’s a long way back.
The next morning I received a message from our doctor; he wanted to know how Leila was doing.
I am grateful that he was present that night, and before. And especially for his friendship.
Maher and I live in Chengdu with our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.