Friday, October 22, 2004

The Mighty Larynx

My Larynx, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
I'd been sick for about a week when I started to lose my voice. On Wednesday it was fading and by Thursday I called in sick to give the voice box some rest. My boss was sympathetic to the situation, but insisted that I see a doctor and this meant a trip to the hospital.

Chinese people don't go to the doctor's office when they get sick. There aren't any of them in the way that we think of them in the States. Chinese people, when they get ill, go straight to the hospital--and with a girl from school to translate, Grace, and Young Mr. Gao, the driver, so did I.

The mother of one of the teacher's assistants at school is an emergency doctor at the hospital I was taken to. She was a small and spritely lady with a white coat and a black bowl of hair and every movement she made indicated that she had no time to spare for foibles. She met us without an appointment, filled in some forms, wrapped my tongue in cotten gauze, took a peek down the gullet and declared that I needed to be seen by someone in the Ears, Throat and Nose Department. She sprinted out and Grace pushed me along, followed by Young Mr. Gao.

Chinese hospitals look a lot like American bus stations. They're dim and have long dingy halls. The main lobby keeps receptionists behind glass stations, talking through round perforations while red digital announcements run on black boards above their heads like numbers spat out at the New York Stock Exchange. The floors are old faux stone composite worn smooth by the thousands of feet that scuffle on them each day. There were old people, young people, families, solidiers and lots of white coats and paper masks.

We took an elevator to the 6th floor and were lead into a crowded room. At the end of the room closest to the door were two brown vinyl dentist's chairs, both occupied. One held a man in a uniform hovered over by a white coat and the other supported a man, clearly in pain, with blood streaming down his face from his nose. There was a clunky metal console between the two chairs piled stacks of pincers and tongs. Wires and tubes with metal devices on their ends were hooked to the sides. People came in and out of the room and a few even seemed to had purpose there.

The guy in the uniform got up and Grace turned to me and said, "please have a seat." She nudged into the newly vacated chair that lacked a seat cover, or even parts built before 1978. A man in a white coat with a light reflector on his head came up to me and said something in Chinese. I whined for Grace who came over and told the doctor that I didn't speak Chinese. "She doesn't speak Chinese?!" he asked in Chinese. "She looks like a Xinjiangese girl!"

I retorted through my bad Chinese and hoarse voice "I am not Xinjiangese! I am American!" and without a reaction he came at me with a small metal gun and a pair of pincers, each held in bare hands.

I jerked my head to the side and edged into the corner of the chair like a little girl. The guy backed off a little looking annoyed.

"It's for the examination," Grace explained, failing to mention exactly what needed to be done and what examination I was about to undergo. "The doctor must put it in your nose," she said.

"My fucking nose?!" I yelled out in pieces. I was under the impression that a loss of voice was the result of something gone wrong in the throat area. "You've got to be joking!" but before I could say anything more, the doctor leaned in, grabbed a nostril and shot in a blast of something cold with a noisy burst of air. I jolted up and gagged. The bitter liquid slid down my throat and I hacked like a cat trying to get rid of a hairball.

"You must relax," Grace said as if I should have known better. The doctor went in for the second nostril, and then pointed for me to open my mouth. He shot my throat and I choked on the spray. I fumbled the console for something to spit into, but I couldn't find anything. I looked to Grace and then to the doctor, groaning and pointing at my mouth. The doctor pointed down but I couldn't see what he was getting at. Then Grace told me to spit into the open wastebasket next to my feet. I did making no effort to concentrate the the load. My entire mouth and throat and nose went numb.

The doctor leaned back against a table to the side and told Grace we had to go through the process again because I spat everything up.

"I can't feel my tongue," I told Grace. "It's so you won't have pain in the examination" again neglecting to mention what exactly the examination was. "We have to do it again."

I whined like a baby and the doctor looked irritated. There was an awkard pause. A crowd of onlookers had grown to include not only Grace, Young Mr. Gao the driver, but also various other random nurses and patients. I let out a pathetic whine which rolled into laughter. Everyone laughed along. The second run went without incident.

Up from the chair I was lead into a dark room with computers, wires running all over and two television monitors held up on media decks. I was told to sit on a stool in front of the screens and a man in a white coat sat next to me. He picked up a long thin black cable with a light at one end and I watched as he carefully cleaned it with cotton gauze soaked in something smelly. He dangled the cord over a computer keyboard next to him and on the television screen next to me I could see the "D" key come into focus. It was a camera.

"Grace," I said panicked "where are they going to put that?" The doctor, who spoke some English, pointed to his nose. "You must relax" he said.

I turned to Grace and pleaded. "You know, this can't be all this serious. I think I just need to go home and have some rest. Can we do that, instead? I'm sure my voice will come back on its own." As if reasoning with a child, she told me that it's the school's responsibility to look after my welfare and that the test was necessary to be sure that nothing was serious.

The doctor took the cable and told me to hold still. Very slowly he fed it into my right nostril, light end first. On the televsion screen I watched the journey into my esophagus. The anesthesia took full effect and I couldn't feel a thing. The camera moved along displaying the pink landscape of my insides. It looked like a clip from something on the Discovery Channel and it occurred to me that to the untrained eye, no matter which end they go into, once you're on the inside it all looks about the same: just pink, fleshy, and slimy with shiny fluids. The image stopped at what I assumed to be my voice box.

"Say eeeeeeeee!" the doctor commanded. "Uhhhhhh" came out. "Eeeeee!" he repeated and "uhhhhhh" came out again.

"Don't move," he said. Someone sitting at a computer next to the doctor hit a few keys. "Eeeeeee!" he instructed. "Uhhhhhh" I replied and more keys.

"Finshed," he announced and he slowly pulled the cable out.

I turned to Grace and then to Young Mr. Gao who had been peeking in from the background the entire time. We looked at the images on the screen, and not being able to make heads or tails of any of it I announced "it doesn't look so bad!" The doctor gave me a dull stare and Grace said admonishingly "I think you had better listen to the doctor's suggestion!" I didn't bother to explain that I was joking and made a move to leave. The doctor stopped me. He pulled out a gun looking device with a long silver barrel.

"Not done," he said, carefully wiping the barrel with gauze. "Jesus," I contemplated, "does that go into my mouth," He nodded. Knowing more or less what to expect, the second probing, inclusive of more "eeeeeeeing" and "uhhhhhing," took about half of the time of the first and when it was over a color printout was made of the results.

We were sent to yet another doctor who looked at the results and talked to Grace. This doctor told us that my condition wasn't serious and that I should give my voice a rest for two weeks. Then he carefully wrote out a lengthy prescription for medicine and sent us out. The first doctor, the mother of the assistant, hurried us to the pharmacy where I was told to produce the magnificent sum of about $1.25. The mother disappeared into a hall and reappeared about 10 minutes later with a brown paper sack. She handed it to Grace scurried off.

"What's that?" I asked Grace. "It's your medicine," she said as it was obvious, "you must make a tea with it." I sniffed the bag then looked inside. After all of that pinching and shooting and "eeeeeing" and "uhhhhhing" they handed me a brown paper bag filled with flowers and twigs and sent me on my way.

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