Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adventures in Xi'an

Disclaimer: this is a boring and selfish subject, it is about ME. It has pretty graphic description of my experience, so if you are faint of heart or not interested, you can skip this post.

You can expect another blog about the places that we visited, but today I have a different subject: sick and on the road. Everybody gets a cold from time to time and I am no exception. In the last three years a simple cold puts me to bed. I don't have a runny nose, or a headache, I don't lose my taste, I just can't stand up. After 24-48 hours in bed, I'm good as new, and I don't even remember that I was sick. But now I felt it coming while we were visiting the Grand Mosque in Xi'an. I feel like lying down on a sunny bench, waiting for someone to make me better. My conscience tells me that I'm the only one with the knowledge to help myself.

When I was a little girl, my mom always knew when I was sick (and when I wasn't, so she wouldn't let me skip school). Immediately, she would pour a hot water tub with salt to put my feet in, put me in bed, make me an all over body massage with aromatic vinegar, put a red rag with alcohol on my tummy, change the wet towel on my forehead, tuck me under two heavy wool comforters to sweat and didn't let me uncover. To make me understand how easy I had it, she would tell me with lots of details how it was for her when she had a fever in the country side: they would fill a burlap sack with willow leaves sprinkled with brandy, put her in, and tie the bag around her neck so she couldn't escape until her fever was down. The leaves stuck to her body, wet and cold, and it would tickle her, but if she moved, they would tickle more. So I stayed put, anything not to have a massage again. My mom has a heavy hand and a special talent to find all the painful spots: "Look at you, what big knots you have!" and she wouldn't let go until they disappeared. While I was making faces and whimpering like a little dog (there was no chance of escaping) she would tell me how they would take her to Neetzuh the Nurse (who had no formal education in the subject, just maybe from the second World War) who would rub her knots with a bone. She would give me chamomile tea sweetened with honey, and I was allowed to eat, in bed, toasted bread with a little bit of butter and honey, cut by my father in small squares.

So I rummage through my bag of memories and start massaging my feet, my hands, my head. I feel a little better so we continue our program. It is the last day that we spend with the grandparents and Nasha (Mihai's godmother) in China. We walk through the bazaar, trying different sweets, and then we go to their hotel, where we talk for many hours.

When we returned to our hotel I cocooned myself in bed, nursing a hot water bottle on different parts of my body. I try to ally my husband to one of unspoken wishes for this trip: to have an acupuncture treatment in China.

Parenthesis: we tried to make a list with all the things that we would like to accomplish in our trip around the world, but we didn't get to far. We talked about sky-diving, zip lining, diving in a cage to see the great white shark, going down-hill in a large plastic ball. I didn't say a thing about an acupuncture treatment, because it seemed like spoiling myself; what would they treat if I have no complains? In the US I had several treatments with good results. I even took herbs. I'll tell you a secret: I don't take medicine. Tylenol, Sudafed, they modify my symptoms and make me feel worse. I take antibiotics, when there is evidence of bacterial infection, but most of the time I treat myself with old remedies and homeopathic pills. People who look at me don't know that I am a family practitioner.

After a categorical refusal, Mihai, seeing that the next day I am no better, looked on the internet for a hospital of traditional medicine. We go by bus (we don't have the address written in Chinese and no taxi will take us without one), we found it (after going around it, because it didn't look like a hospital) only to find out that it's lunch break until 2:30 PM. A nice doorman takes us to a place where I can pick a health notebook and then shows us where we could wait. People are coming and write their name on a notebook hanged with a string from the door (I want to write my name too, but the door[man signs that it isn't necessary). I have time to notice things: the walls, painted in white are dirty with foot prints, the tiled floor is dirty because everybody is letting things fall, like they never heard of garbage pails. This hallway is the only connection of the outside with different parts of the hospital, so there is a continuous flow of people.

Some time before 2:30, many people in white coats appear behind a civilian, which I assume were the doctor and residents. The crowd around me moves instantly, forming a semicircle in front of the door. A short and fat woman, about 4ft 4inches tall, starts to shout their names and allows them to enter the office. The doorman goes and puts in a word for us. Mihai says xie-xie (shyeh-shyeh, i.e. thank you), but the woman blocks me with her arm and will not let me go in. I tell her in English that we've been there for a long time, and in the end she lets me go in, but there is no empty bed. The office is actually a large room with three partitions (in each of which there are three beds) and a command center with a desk, telephone, and prescriptions, two chairs, and a portable table which holds the vials with sterilized needles, cotton, and rubbing alcohol. Behind the door is a trash can which is overflowing, next to which is a small pile of garbage that did not fit.

I'm cold and sit bundled up with my winter coat, hat, and hood. I make a concession and take off my gloves. The doctor washes his hands, puts on his white coat and begins to speak with each patient. He takes their pulse, touches their painful spots, then takes long needles of approximately two inches from a resident, wipes the area with alcohol, and pushes the needle into the muscle, one or one and a half inch. I knew about this since I became passionate about acupuncture in university, but it's different to see it. The acupuncture I received in America was always with a superficial needle. Soon I'll find out how it feels.

First, we start with an interview. The resident was calmer now and with a good pronunciation but limited vocabulary she asks me what my complains are. She calls her teacher on the phone and he asks quickly if I think I have a cold, if I have diarrhea, how is my urine, am I hungry, do I have a fever, or a headache and then he asks for the resident back. They feel my pulse, first my right hand, and then my left one, they ask me to stick out my tongue and then look under it. I tell them that I am sweaty, but I'm cold. These steps are repeated with the doctor. The diagnostic: I have a cold, but not any kind, a hot cold. I could have a cold one, or a windy one, or a wet one.

The next step is to pay. We go with a resident to the cashiers. We pay one yuan for a receipt, and with this one we go to a different cashier were we pay 22 yuans. We go back to the cabinet just to send me to give blood for analysis. We go through the hallway, in which I waited 45 min and arrive at a window in a wall with a wide windowsill. On it there is a hard pillow wrapped in newspaper on which you put your arm. The nurse uses Q-tips to wipe my hand with iodine, then with alcohol, and draws a small amount of blood. We return to the cabinet where I wait the results and for a free bed. This one! No, bed... short, you... long! Mihai comes with the results that he picked from a basket (the nurses were putting the results there and the relatives flipped through them to find the one that they were looking for—talk about privacy) and they show inflammation.

Finally they have a bed for me. I ask the doctor through signs which parts of me wants to be clear of clothes: down from knees and elbows. I hurry, like all the patients to undress. The doctor and the resident smile: I'm not different from the Chinese patients, I wear long-johns and hand made leggings too. The bed has the same sheet and pillow case from the previous patient, but it's clean and starched. I lye down in bed, cover my body with my own coat, and close my eyes. The doctor wakes me up to show me that he is going to use new needles, just taken out from their wrappings. I thank him for the gesture; I wouldn't have objected if he used the sterilized ones. After 40 min at 400 F no germ could be alive. That's how they did surgeries for years, one use equipment is a modern invention.

The moment of truth: he wipes with alcohol and pushes the needles with confidence. It hurts, not the superficial prick when the needle goes through the skin, I almost didn't feel that, but inside, in my muscles, where my energy is blocked. The difference in those two treatments of acupuncture is like between a caress and deep-kneaded massage. The pain feeling will disappear eventually, and reappear when she had to take out the needles (it seemed like they didn't want to get out). The doctor used the same point as in my previous experiences: eleven in total. He put a infrared lamp over my feet to keep them warm, covered some parts of my legs with my leggings and left me there. After 20 min the resident took out the needles, and told me to turn face down. Surprise! she was going to put cups on my back (another un-uttered wish of mine). Next to me there is a patient with needles in her back and I wonder how can she breathe with her face in the pillow. Finally I found a comfortable position and suddenly I feel the first cup, cold on my back. Soon my back makes noises at the slightest movement. She covers me with my coat. I feel how my back warms up and how those cups are sucking a tenderness from the sides of my backbone. I am a happy woman, I just have to get well.

Shen me ming zi? I ask my resident, who takes care of me with tenderness now. What's my name, she repeats the question. Tian Fei. Xie-xie nin, I thank her with the polite form. Bu qe chi, there's no need, I feel the sweetness in her voice.

We go home in a taxi, armed with two herb formulas. Total cost for the whole treatment RMB 160 ($25). I feel much better. I will take morning, noon and night time three pills from one and four from the other one. The feeling of fire in my lungs will disappear, I will have a runny nose, my eyes will hurt, but everything is for the better. On my back I have nine round purple bruises that I anoint every day with homeotim (a homeopathic cream) so they will heal quicker. In Xining I will spent two days in bed, but all of these are details. I am getting better!


  1. This was an amazing read; I felt like I was there! I enjoyed reading about how your illness was treated when you were a child. I hope you are much better!

  2. What a treat. I was with you in Romania of old days. I was recalling some of the stuff of what you were talking about, though I got the aromatic vinegar (rose petals steeped in vinegar for some time)treatment from my grandmother when I was having indigestion (SHE would massage my wrists with said vinegar. And YES the thing would go away. NO medical insurance of the said grandmother and NO waiting in line to have the treatment administered. So there. Good day. Elena Richards (Rochester NY USA)

  3. That was my favorite post so far. One of the things I miss continuously about you Ileana is how captivating a story teller you are. I loved every sentence in that, and I am sorry to hear you were sick. Maybe this happened for a reason jst so you get what you had selfishly wanted (acupuncture and the hot cups).

  4. Thank you all for your well wishes, I am much better now. All things come with a price, mine being sick, so... be careful what you wish for!

  5. Ileana, I am so sorry you were sick! I hope you are feeling better now! I did not know you are so passionate about Eastern Medicine! Dave and I had acupuncture periodically for the last 10 years with amazing results! I wish you good health and good travels! (Ileana Place, RI)


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