Back from Hong Kong

So, the last few days, despite not having that much activity, were horribly draining and exhausting.  (Also, temporarily horrifyingly expensive.)

We left for the train station at around 9, to catch our 10:30 train to Hong Kong.  While it was stressful, going to a new train station with our luggage, trying to figure out where we go and what the procedures were, I have to say that it went very smoothly.  (Well, except for the cab ride itself.  I swear, I thought I was going to end up in Guangzhou hospital after all.) At the station, having a diplomatic passport definitely helped, as we got to use the “special line” both at immigration and customs.

(That’s right, immigration and customs.  Despite Hong Kong being a part of China, China treats the border much like an international border that they control both parts of.  I’ve crossed actual international borders with less control.)

Getting a taxi in Hong Kong was difficult, mostly because I didn’t understand that we weren’t in Hong Kong proper, and so needed a “cross-harbor” taxi and so we ended up in the wrong taxi stand for forever waiting.  While there, I got a call telling me that we had missed my initial doctor’s appointment in Hong Kong.  I’d thought it was at 2PM, and we still had about 40 minutes to get there, but it was actually at 11AM, and so I’d bought the wrong train tickets to get there at all.  *headdesk*  Fortunately, the doctor agreed to meet with me later at the hospital, so we just went straight there. The driver wasn’t at first sure where we were going, and his English didn’t seem great, but once I gave the address (in English) he was like, “oh, Stubbs Road, got it.”  And off we went.

My wife was very impressed with Hong Kong taxis, compared to Guangzhou ones.  The driver was much more careful and the taxi was much cleaner.  I was more freaked out by the whole “left-side” of the road thing.  I know I shouldn’t have been, but it felt so damn unnatural in so many ways.

Intake into the hospital took awhile, as they had 3 people for both admission and discharge, but we finally got in.  When I was setting up the visit, I was asked what kind of room I wanted, and not knowing anything, I decided I might as well go with private, as Becca was coming too.  I feel vindicated in that choice.  The room was wonderful.  We had a bathroom, plenty of room for our stuff, and a wonderful view.  (It turns out that insurance only covers up to a semi-private, but I still consider the upgrade money well spent.)

Hospital view

That night involved the preparations for the next day.  No solid food, only liquids, and two pitchers of the nastiest tasting ick I’ve ever had to swallow.  (I seriously gagged on it near the end.)  That led to the cleansing of the insides, and then nothing more by mouth.

The next morning started with the scopes.  While originally I was just going for a colonoscopy, the doctor decided that an endoscopy would be a good idea too.  I was put under, and when I woke up I had a weird itch on my hand.  (We’ll get back to that.)

Next up was a CT scan with contrast.  I’ve never had a CT done, and it was a strange experience.  I’m not usually too claustrophobic, but that machine started to trigger it. Then, they pumped in the contrast.  They had warned me, but it…nothing could have prepared me.  There was a horrible taste and smell (despite it being put in intravenously,) and then my whole body felt like I was suddenly on fire.  My bowels felt like they were going to release, and I felt a horrible need to urinate.  I’ve had a lot of awful experiences, medical and otherwise, and I don’t think any compare to this.

When that was over, it was back to my room to wait.  Eventually the doctor got back to me–colonoscopy was clear, CT scans showed nothing, endoscopy showed a strange “node” in my throat, but otherwise nothing.  (I am awaiting the biopsy of the node, but I was assured it didn’t look too bad.)  So, all that, and nothing.  No polyps, no tumors, no inflammation, no sores, nothing.  So, he said I have “spastic colon” (aka IBS), and suggested drugs and diet changes.  (The diet changes have more to do with some fat deposits near my liver, actually.)

By this time, the hand that was kinda itchy after the scopes had fully swollen up and become extremely painful.  For the rest of that day, we were trying to figure out what was wrong with my hand and what kind of medicine would help with it.  We never figured it out, but two days later (as I’m typing this) it’s finally back down to normal, and back to just “kinda itchy.”  Ugh.

We left yesterday and came back.  I’d taken 3 days off of work, which had been granted slightly grudgingly by my boss when it came time to sign the forms for it (“With all this time off, do you think you’re going to make it through your tour here?”  Really??).  I’m down (temporarily) $11K, because the hospital in HK doesn’t have a “contract” with my insurance (despite my insurance sending a letter promising to pay the vast majority of my bill), so I have to deal with that on Monday.  In some ways, it was a disheartening experience.

At the same time, I know I’m incredibly lucky.  I have enough space on a credit card to charge that $11K, and even if insurance is slow in paying me back for part of it, I can afford to pay that off.  (It will set back some other long term goals until it gets paid back, of course.)  I do have medical leave, something I didn’t have at most of my previous jobs.  Though, if I’d been in teh states, I wouldn’t have had to spend 3 days in the hospital for these services–it could have been a single day.

Next up are some talks with MED in Beijing.  I don’t imagine this will affect my med clearance, but the possibility exists.  I’ve been working with them on these issues, and they need to stay on top of it.  I have to get prescriptions for the various drugs into my online pharmacy, to make sure I can keep getting them.  I have to work with my insurance for reimbursement.  (All of that on top of my normal work day.)

Funsies. I know I’m lucky, to be a public servant and to have a job that gives me so many benefits, but the challenges with dealing with foreign medical systems are real.

(To support Foreign Service Officers in situations like mine, I’ve created a Foreign Service Spoonies Facebook Group.  It’s open to any FSOs who suffer from chronic illness.)

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