An excerpt from my travel diary about life as a boarding school teacher’s wife in China:
My third day in China I find myself in a hospital in Changzhou. The building is spectacular – high ceilings and marble floors house the sickly as they trudge towards the front desk. When it is my turn, I make an appointment to see the urologist. The receptionist gives me a plastic patient card and I pay 40 yuan (about $5 or R75) in cash. He says the doctor can only see me in the afternoon, but we make our way up the stairs to find out if I’m allowed to eat lunch.
We enter the doctor’s office. He’s smoking a cigarette by the window, kills it in the sink, and looks at my paperwork. Yes, I must come back in the afternoon. Yes, I can eat.
Z and I return after lunch, but first she has to take another foreign teacher to have her documents notarized. I sit outside in the sun, reading Gone by Min Kym, while they do their thing in the big building guarded by two lion statues.
Finally, we are on the road. But wait, the other foreign teacher wants Starbucks. I stay in the car. I’m too damn nice; don’t want to be a bother to anyone. What difference would it make, anyway?
At long last, I am at the hospital with Z. I pay the 80 yuan fee ($11 or R150) to see the doctor, who sends me down to the ultrasound room. Here, I get a number. 406. The ticket machine is all over the place. Here’s a 53, there’s a 209. The number 389 makes me feel hopeful. Ping! A woman announces the numbers. I give up trying to search for logic. I close my eyes and nod off. Occasionally I open my eyes to see if the numbers match my own yet.
Ping! 393. I sit up and pay attention. There’s no voice for a while. Then it is 396. Only ten more to go! I nudge Z, who nods encouragingly.
397. 398. I squint at the letters, reminding myself to stop reading in half light. 400! 401, 402, 403, 405! I jump out of my skin, mistaking the 5 for a 6. But then, there it is – magical 406.
The ultrasound technician pulls up my dress and applies jelly to my belly. The stomach and the right kidney are clear, but he lingers on the left. He pushes the nozzle deep into my side, holds it there, and talks to his colleagues and the Chinese woman who’s helping me. I feel myself starting to panic. There’s a strange object being pushed into my soft side, and I have no idea what is being said. What is it? Am I sick? I want to yell. Instead, I try to pick up on the tones in their voices, but it’s a foreign language to me, I can’t make any inferences based on sound.
Back in the doctor’s office, he tells me that there is an unidentified mass in my left kidney. They can’t tell what it is yet, so I have to come back for a CT scan. I thank him and we leave, into the busy streets of afternoon traffic. In the taxi home I distract Z with talk of food and places I’d like to see. I make plans and talk about my blog.
We don’t mention the C-word.