05/03/2008 - 05/03/2008
Skyler's had all the classic symptoms of flu: wet cough, runny nose, sneezing, fever, sore throat. His moist cough started on Tuesday in Guangzhou, after we'd taken a stroll through a rather fetid part of the city on Monday. I don't know if it was that stroll, a mosquito bite, contact with other kids at Zhexiong's apartment complex, or what. On Wednesday the cough was worse. Thursday we were flying to Wuhan, and had to repack all our luggage. That day's exasperations are worth another essay. Friday was the big wedding. We had planned to let Skyler sleep as late as he would, and the rest of us, and miss the early part of wedding events, but Skyler woke up at 5.30a anyway, at least partly because I'd been using a damp cloth to cool his head. Zhewei was upset with me for doing that, figuring he needed the sleep more than the cooling, and the fact that it got all of us up and we were all tired.
Skyler didn't nap well during the wedding day -- no familiar environment, and lots of sounds and new and interesting things to look at. He had a short nap in a taxi, and a longer one at one aunt's apartment. But at least 3 other attempts during the day to let him nap failed.
We argued friday night after the wedding about what to do for him, yeye and nainai had acquired several products and a mercury thermometer from nearby store. We haven't actually taken his temperature but his head and body were clearly hot, markedly above normal, both sleeping and awake. I'd been regularly putting wet washcloth on his head and neck, or wetting down his hair to help cool him. His behavior has been pretty normal, although perhaps a bit more irritable than usual, and eating less. With all the travel and the wedding stimulation he'd not had enough rest. We managed to get some liquid pain-reliever in him before he slept, but I was suspicious about other products. We decided to take him to the doctor on Saturday morning.
Thankfully, yesterday (Saturday) he seemed to be improving -- the bottom of his feet and legs were no longer hot. It was also cooler all morning because of thunderstorms overnight and rain during the morning. By afternoon the rain had stopped, and its moisture was evaporating to maximize the humidity.
He woke up at 6.30a, an hour later than Friday, and we got ready and hailed a taxi at 7.15a for the children's hospital, a single facility that serves the entire city of Wuhan (5m in munincipality, 9m metropolitan area). Of course there are other doctors available around the city, but they may not have special knowledge or expertise treating children. It's an interesting place. They open at 8a, operate on a first-come first-served basis, so when we arrived there were streams of mothers and fathers and grandmothers carrying kids inside from buses and taxis outside. First you go to register, and pay a small fee depending on your choice of the level of expertise you're willing to pay for. We paid 10 yuan (< $1.50) for the "expert"-level service, an actual doctor, as opposed to a nurse of some kind. You're given a little blue-vinyl clad booklet for recording records (with 32 blank pages, and an advertisement!) and a registration card stamped with a number.
Up the escalator we found the appropriate waiting room which had about 4 rows of 30 chairs each, and several rooms with medical professionals evaluating sick kids in numerical order -- all the doors stood open, and the evaluators sat behind desks wearing breathing masks. We were fifth in line for the doctor who had just begun on her first kid. We were told by an attendant that because we suspected fever, the doctor would need a temperature reading, and were sent downstairs to the temperature-reading station, where we're given a mercury thermometer. We put it in Skyler's armpit and held both his arms for five minutes, to keep him from removing it. He was crying and squirming after two minutes. Finally we went back to the counter where the attendant took the thermometer and read it, recording it in the blue book.
Back up the escalator, we found the doctor was on her fourth kid so we were next. The evaluation room actually has a waiting bench for the next patient, improving efficiency at the cost of a family's privacy! (Kids aren't concerned about confidentiality, are they?) The doctor asked and answered questions, confirmed he had a mild fever (the temperature reading had been 38.1C but i'm not confident in its accuracy). She said a blood test was needed to determine whether it was viral or bacteriological infection, before treatment could be decided.
The blood-test station was on the first floor, but you first have to pay a fee to obtain a voucher at a big cashier station nearby. The blood-test station had a lot of crying kids, as you might imagine, some were just feeling bad and others had just had their fingers stuck. After handing over the booklet and voucher, we held Skyler's arm through an 8inch gap in the window, and the nurse pricked his finger with quick mechanical prowess and detachment, and squeezed a few drops into a thin glass tube. Skyler cried, of course, and it was impossible to hold the cotton ball against his finger as he flailed about, but it didnt take too long before the pain had subsided and we were able to distract him again. We took him outside where the rain had stopped for a little bit, while yeye waited inside for the results which came in about 10 minutes.
The results were a printout from some highly automated machine which contained 24 measured or calculated quantities and four little graphs. Although the entire printout text is in chinese, roman acronyms also identify the quantities in some universal medical symbology. A few I can guess: WBC and RBC are obviously white and red blood cell counts, HGB is hemoglobin, LYM lymphocytes?. Two quantities in particular was well above normal: MONO and MONO%, obviously the same thing. MONO% was 15.7%, and normal range is given as 3-9%.
We headed back upstairs to the same waiting room, but since we were returning to see the same doctor, we were put next in line ahead of kids who had not yet been evaluated. The doctor said the test showed it was a virus, and two choices of treatment: an intravenous solution or drugs. I asked what was in the former, and was told "antivirus". I said I knew there was no "antivirus" or cure for influenza or cold viruses, but didn't get any clearer picture of what might it might be. Zhewei remembers being given this same treatment when she was a kid, and people generally believe it to be effective in shortening the duration of sickness. We asked about the drugs. One was a pain-reliever (ibuprofen) liquid, which we already had. Two others were basically cough syrup-type things (one was actually Robitussin), and finally a chinese product called Bing-Bing, which is something like Vick's Vapo-Rub gel on a strip, which is stuck to the child's forehead (or elsewhere). The body heat increases the release of vapors which ease breathing. Several of the family members had recommended this one, and we already had a package of them. We opted for the drugs, even knowing how difficult it is to give them (liquids) to Skyler, as we had tried to give him some of the ibuprofen liquid the night before. The doctor said she knew I would not be in favor of the intravenous treatment -- had she seen foreign parents before? Hmm, two hours strapped to a chair (they look like high-chairs with wheels) with a needle in Skyler, to essentially treat symptoms? We picked up several of the recommended items at the hospital's pharmacy and took a taxi home. The taxi driver was a woman -- first one I've ever seen! The visit was worth it to know it wasn't a bacterium, presumably not terribly serious, and we just have to be patient and let him rest, drink fluids, and make him comfortable to fight it off. Zhewei thinks my being there got us better service, but I'm not sure.
We didn't go anywhere else the rest of the day, and Skyler rested pretty well. We had some luck giving him some of the cough syrup. In the evening it rained, a lot, from dinnertime til well after midnight. With the rain came cool air and breezes that made sleeping very comfortable. Skyler slept through it all, lightning and thunder. He stirred at one point because he peed the bed (he didn't have a diaper on this time), so after a while we got him up for a quick bath and changed the bed and he slept well again afterwards.
Today his fever seems to have broken: his head and body feel more normal temperature, but he is still irritable, probably has sore throat and head ache, and isn't eating a lot. He had a long nap in the late afternoon and a couple trips outside to the park where he really enjoyed the swing. After all the rain, the mosquitoes are sure to be out in force tonight. This apartment is much better sealed than Zhexiong's in Guangzhou, where Skyler got a number of bites which produced lingering red spots. Nevertheless, yeye has hung a mosquito net over area where Z and Skyler have been sleeping on a bedroll.
Tomorrow, the national holiday (May 1 - a communist holiday celebrating workers; eg, labor day) is over and people are back to work as normal. We are taking it easy.