Monday, October 25, 2004

Dr. Woo
You really haven't lived until you've spent the very early morning hours the day before your 52nd birthday clutching a bloody bath towel to the back of your head in Shenzhen's "best" medical emergency ward.
What brought me to "Peking University Shenzhen Hospital" and under the brusque care of "Dr. Woo" was a slippery floor, a dark room, momentarily impaired balance and the sudden urge to visit the bathroom at 2:30 am or so. I was back in Shenzhen on business, more or less. I'd borrowed a digital camera from a SZ Chinese friend to record a Saturday in the park at a Hong Kong rock festival, but had neglected to get the cable needed to download the pictures which were needed for a story I planned to write. I went back to SZ after working a 4-midnight shift, hooked up with my pal, crashed on the couch and planned to return to Hong Kong mid-morning Monday.
Instead, I rose to answer nature's call, faded to black and woke up in a veritable pool of blood with my pal yelling "You're bleeding! You're bleeding!" I also still needed to pee and it's no mean trick doing it one handed while trying to staunch the blood dripping down the back of your neck.
About 10 minutes and another towel later, we exited a taxi, hit the dark entrance of the hospital and woke up a slumbering security guard who directed us to a dim light down another empty hall that turned out to be emergency room where we woke up a bleary eyed, greasy haired female hospital clerk.
"This is Shenzhen's best hospital," my friend assured me several times - or perhaps he was trying to reassure himself.
One thing in favor of Chinese emergency rooms at 3am, though the entire staff may be asleep, once they are awakened there is also virtually no waiting and the forms seem to be minimal. My buddy did all the writing and talking while I kept the towel clamped down firmly and began scanning my surroundings. Except for the occasional woman drifting in and out dressed as a nurse, one middle aged guy who appeared to be hysterical over nicking his upper lip while shaving, and a comatose elderly husk of a woman slumped unattended in a wheelchair, it was like an abandoned set for a medical drama TV show last filmed in 1976. I half expected Marcus Welby to appear from a darkened doorway with a hearty smile and young colleague Steven Kiley by his side.
There was also a trail of what appeared to be dried, faded blood leading from one of the waiting room chairs and when I was directed into another room for a "test shot" to see if I would be allergic to the "real shot" of something that was never explained to me, I noticed that the walls also hadn't been cleaned since about 1976.
The test shot was administered and the skin patch scrutinized for several minutes before Dr Woo swept in and began asking questions in Chinese. It turned out he wanted to know if we'd paid and if my injury was the result of an altercation with my friend. We had and it wasn't.
Still clutching my bloody towel, I followed the good doctor to another filthy room that looked like an abandoned operating theater where I went face down on a gurney and next to a trash can that looked to be liberally spattered with the dried remains of something that had burst from an alien tumor. Dr. Woo introduced himself in broken English, had a nurse cut the hair around my wound and then gave me two shots of a local anesthetic.
"Your country?" he asked as I grimaced and kicked the gurney in momentary pain.
"U.S.Aaaaayyyyy, ayyy..." I replied as the second needle pierced my head.
"Ohhhh. Yes! Bush or Kerry good?"
My gawd. Just stitch me up and spare me the political interrogation. "Uh...Hu Jintao!" I replied, invoking the name of the Chinese president.
He grunted and then said, "One-two-three-four-FIVE. FIVE!"
"No pain? I make FIVE sutures now!"
"Okay, pain, sew away, please."
After I was stiched, he put two wads of loose gauze on the wound and then had the nurse put a cotton elastic knit skull cap complete with chin strap on top of the gauze so I resembled Woody Allen's sperm character in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex or a feeble-minded homeless guy sporting a bad yarmuka with ragged tufts of blood-stained hair poking from beneath.
"No wash! No take off! Three days!"
The hell you say. I was given yet another mystery shot, went back and slept restlessly with the contraption on my head and then tore it off in favor of washing what I could of my hair without getting the stiches wet and letting nature take its course.
The bad news is that I have to return to Shenzhen's finest hospital on Friday to get the stitches removed though I am desperately considering a do-it-yourself option.

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