It took five people to lift the stretcher into the ambulance. The EMT that had been attending me, a middle aged man with a plain face and graying roots, walked over to the driver’s seat and got in. As I was being lifted, Jevon said he would follow the ambulance with his scooter and meet me at the hospital. I shouted at him to take one last look to see if I’d left anything at the crash site and then the doors closed.
In the ambulance, a young EMT–a rookie no doubt–started running through the usual questions with me. The only problem was that it was all Chinese medical terms I didn’t understand I was able to figure out some of the things he was asking, but I wasn’t certain about what exactly I was answering. The older EMT shouted at him, ta tingbudong! (She doesn’t understand!), and the rookie sheepishly hung his head over his clipboard. He focused, instead, on tasks that required little-to-no speaking. Asking me to lift my right hand, he tried to put a pulse oximeter on my index finger, or at least he tried. I looked at my hand to see why this small task required so much effort, and saw my hand shaking uncontrollably. Eventually I had to steady myself with my left hand in order to put on the oximeter.
Now that so many minutes had passed, I was on the way to the hospital, and I was almost alone, I felt inclined to burst into tears. It wasn’t that I was in incredible pain, but so much stress had built up since the moment I spotted the van accelerating into the intersection. My body needed an outlet. Still, I didn’t allow myself to give in to the mental fatigue for fear of anyone interpreting my crying as emotional or mental instability of some sort. I am, afterall, a young woman in a culturally different country where few people spoke English. I heard once, in the U.S., that young female patients were most likely not to be taken seriously by doctors. In Taiwan, I already had language and culture as two strikes against me, I was not about to take a chance and give anyone another opportunity to not take me seriously.
The ambulance took me to Cishan Hospital one town over from where I live. We pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance. The older EMT opened the back doors of the ambulance to pull the stretcher out and the rookie EMT descended as the older EMT locked the legs of the stretcher at my feet. The rookie grabbed the head of the stretcher, lowered the legs, and pulled the entire gurney onto the pavement. But at the last minute I felt my head dip a bit too low for comfort and I heard the older EMT at my feet shout, annoyed, at the rookie. Luckily, the rookie hadn’t let go of the bottom of the stretcher and now was able to correct his mistake and readjust the legs so they were locked into place—for real this time. The older EMT muttered something to himself and took over pushing the gurney into the ER, leaving the rookie with his clipboard behind.
I laughed a little to myself because for a moment I felt like I was on a TV show and this was junior’s first day on the job. Laying back and looking up, The cement ceiling changed to interior ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights, and for all the noise that I had just been immersed in, the hospital was eerily quiet. As the EMTs pushed my gurney into place beside a hospital bed, I craned my neck to take in the emergency room. It was a small-ish room (compared to the U.S.) and though all the nurses and some of the residents and doctors wore face masks, I could tell the age gap between me and most of the staff was very small.
About four hospital staff crowded over me including one man that I assumed was a doctor because he appeared to be the only one in his 30s, the EMTs were still right in front of me, a new police officer arrived, and at the foot was Jevon looking a bit helpless. Ni hui jiang guoyu ma? They asked him. “Uh, no…” and then the staff turned to me, Ni hui jiang guo yu ma? And I responded Hui, yi diandian. (I can, a little). For the next 30-40 minutes, my brain was back in overdrive as I bounced back and forth between Chinese, English and charades. They asked me to slide over to another bed and I could really feel the pain in my leg settling in. Then the background evaluation began again starting with age, blood type, allergies, and a bunch of other things.
Finally, the doctor in his 30s spoke up in English, it was limited but it was good enough. He told me they would examine the wound now and my lungs tightened. I nodded and looked away again. The reaction was more subtle this time, but still I heard the, “ahh…ssss….,” from some of the staff. The doctor looked at me, “it’s quite deep. We will have to do surgery, most likely.” I was concerned, surgery? What about just a couple of stitches? The doctor told me he would call the surgeon to come in and examine it. He covered the wound with gauze and a bandage and then he left taking all the staff with him save the older EMT and the police officer, both filling out reports off to the side.
I was relieved to see that Frank, the Taiwanese co-teacher to my roommate, and my roommate, Tiixa, had arrived. I felt a bit more grounded now that there was at least one bilingual person around. I went over again how the accident took place. Then I was wheeled to a different part of the emergency room where all the staff and authorities descended upon me at once. Fonda arrived in the middle of the frenzy.
On my left arm was a newbie resident struggling (and failing at least five times) to locate a vein in my arm to get a blood sample and insert an IV drip. At the foot of the bed a man, who appeared in his mid-to-late 30s, wearing a worn Boston Red Sox t-shirt and jeans introduced himself in fluent English as the surgeon. He explained that the wound was to be cleaned now, and two male nurses or residents snipped off more of my pants leg and cleaned my wound with saline solution and their fingers as I twitched in pain (I had rocks in the laceration). Then, on my right hand there was a new police officer, portly with glasses who was keen on smiling through all his questions that were asked only in Chinese. He spoke directly, rapidly and determinedly, insisting I answer all his questions and ignoring Frank’s attempts to translate. I pushed the limits of my comprehension and eventually realized he wanted me to make the police report NOW at that exact moment while there were two fingers inside of my knee and a newbie stabbing my arm with a needle over and over again. I said no, and then Frank shouted from the foot of the bed, “He needs you to do a breathalyzer test, it’s just a routine thing.”
You’ve gotta be kidding me, I thought, can’t it wait a minute? Before I could accept or refuse, the police officer put a black, rectangular machine in my face and told me to blow into a hard, plastic straw. The officer read the reading on the rectangle gave me a smile and a thumbs-up, wrote the result on a clipboard and headed toward the reception desk. Just then, the driver of the van that I crashed into showed up at the side of my bed. Ayy, Teng bu teng? (Does it hurt?) And I just burst out laughing. Dangran hen teng! Zhende! (Of course it hurts, really!) And he nodded and backed off a little with his hands behind his back, observing the fiasco before finally losing interest. The newb on my left was getting anxious now as he stabbed my arm for a fourth time and the hose he used to tighten around my arm fell to the floor. Zhen de ma? (Really?) I hissed at him.
Jevon and Tiixa were standing at the foot of the bed to the left watching the fail take place. “There is really too much going on,” I said aloud to no one in particular. The resident ran to the other side of the bed to try my right arm, but when he failed again, I jokingly asked, Ni zhao bu dao ma? (You can’t find it?). I felt a bit bad after I said it, after all, he was trying to help me, but he took the remark as a sign and left. A nurse in a bright pink uniform arrived and I thought, “Oh thank goodness,” but that was before she struggled to find a vein in my hand, and upon discovering a suitable candidate began to manually pump the blood out of my hand, which required stabbing my hand with the needle at least ten times. Tiixa looked on in horror.
“That was disgusting and weird,” she told me later. “I feel like it’s everyone’s first day in ER,” I said to her and Jevon, “what the HELL.”
As quickly as they emerged, the staff disappeared and a different nurse appeared to take me to the X-ray room. Frank and Jevon went with me and we tried to make light of the situation. I was still so worried about having fractured something. I was placed in a giant room with a blanket on top of me to keep warm. The entire hospital felt like it was at a constant temperature of 60 degrees and lying still made it feel colder. The radiologist inside was another young’un, but was very polite and attentive. At one point, the board he placed between my legs (to shield the rest of my body from the radiation) tipped and leaned heavily on my knee. I hissed and winced and he rushed over “sorry, sorry, sorry.” Meiguanxi, I responded, and he let out a surprised “oh! Ni shou Guoyu ma?” and I responded with “Dangren, wo zhuzai Taiwan, dui bu dui?” (Of course, I live in Taiwan, right?) I assumed he smiled, but because of the face mask it was only a guess based on his eyes. Buhaoyisi, buhaoyisi (sorry, sorry) he said and we both laughed it off; him from some kind of required embarrassment and me because I just needed to laugh. As he shot cancer rays into my body, I whispered to myself over and over again, “please no broken bones.”
The English-speaking surgeon returned, still clad in his T-shirt and jeans. The attire really made it hard for me to take him seriously at first, but I figured it was just a cultural difference that I had to get over. My dad, a former mainland Chinese citizen, sports a similar style back in the States. In his opinion, anyone could wear fancy clothes but it didn’t prove their skill or intelligence. To this day I have only seen my dad wear a tie twice in his life: once, in a photo from when he and my mother were married (it was a clip-on) and once, when I was in college and he had to go to a court hearing.
I was placed back in the emergency room and the surgeon made it clear that no bones or ligaments were damaged. “Oh thank god,” I exhaled, “so nothing important was hurt?”
“No, nothing important. Just fat and skin.”
The surgeon explained to me that they couldn’t do surgery until tomorrow afternoon because the operating room was closed and the anesthesiologist was not around. After the surgery, I would have to spend another day at the hospital under observation to make sure there were no adverse reactions to the procedure. If I wanted, I could be transferred into the city at a small cost and maybe I could find a hospital that was available to do surgery right away, but it was unlikely. I opted for staying in the hospital for two nights and all the Taiwanese around my bed nodded in agreement.
Getting comfortable in my new home for the next day and a half.
I was wheeled into an overnight room where I would stay with three other female patients; all of them were more than double my age. In fact, the entire time I stayed in the hospital, I don’t think I saw a single patient in the OR ward that was under 50 years-old. I was placed in the right back corner of the room, and when I got a look at the patient in the bed across from me I realized that despite the extent of the crash, I was very lucky. She was an elderly woman and her gaze indicated that she must have been either in an immense amount of pain, drugged out of her mind, or both. An hour later, the nurses would come and take her away for surgery and I would see one of her arms splinted and both of her eyes black and blue. Her lip busted and swollen and her leg wrapped in a bandage as well. Either this woman lost a tough match in the ring or she fell off her scooter as well. Once returning from surgery she would spend the rest of the night yelling in pain for the nurses and her relatives, vomiting, and moaning. Though it was immensely disruptive and aggravating that she complained through both nights, I did pity her somewhat.
The nurses told me that after midnight I could not drink or eat until four o’clock in the afternoon the next day, so I got to work. I ate a big dinner, almost a whole sleeve of Oreo cookies, some of the sweet bread I bought earlier and the taro milk drink (both weathered the crash intact), and at least 24 ounces of water. The water was necessary, but at the time I didn’t think ahead. Since the IV drip was already hydrating me, the water I drank only served to make me need to use the toilet. It was the most painful, slow, walker-assisted trek to the bathroom. The pain from my leg was immense now and as I gripped the walker, the IV needle in my hand piercing me, I started trembling all over. Jevon came with me to the bathroom to make sure I didn’t fall and there was a point where the aching was so intense I nearly cried and gave up on the bathroom at all. I wanted to just wait until after surgery the next day, but that was impossible. Despite the pain, I managed, and I managed again three more times during the night and the next morning because I had no choice.
I passed out around midnight, just after the nurses came to check my blood pressure and IV. I was hoping to sleep well into the morning, but at five o’clock in the morning the nurses were back to check pressure and IV and turned all the blinding fluorescent lights on. Everyone was awake, cranky and in pain. When the nurses left they forgot to turn out the lights and it prompted the old women to start complaining and shouting. Finally, some courageous hero turned the lights out again and all was quiet.
My co-teachers, Sam and Justin, wanted to visit me in the hospital once they heard about the accident, so both of them would come by at one o’clock during their lunch breaks. I figured that was a good time for them to stop by since the surgery was scheduled for either one or two o’clock. That morning, I changed out of my citizen clothes and into a hospital cap and gown, which is not a flattering garment because it opens up in the back and you’re expected to be naked underneath. When the nurses arrived at 12:50 P.M. to tell me it was time to go to surgery, I decided it would be smart to go to the bathroom before they put me under.
When I opened the bathroom door to limp my way on the walker to the gurney in the hallway, I was horrified to see my colleague, Allen, peaking in through the door and several voices I recognized coming echoing from the hallway. I made an attempt at some panicked greeting and begged Jevon, who was standing behind me in the bathroom to close my gown in the back. A nurse was rushing me out of the bathroom now and I refused to move. Hell no. I was not going to greet a bunch of people from work with my ass hanging out. Finally, the nurse realized my embarrassment, giggled and said she would hold my gown closed as I walked. I thanked her profusely and hobbled forward.
My heart melted when I saw the half dozen people that showed up just to make sure I was okay. The previous night in the overnight room, I was treating the whole accident like a light-hearted event. Cracking jokes, feigning health and smiling as much as I could to make the most of a bad situation. By morning I treated everything like it wasn’t a big deal and I would be well enough for my surfing trip at the end of the month. Still, seeing how much concern a little car accident raised made me feel really thankful for having these good people in my life. Sam and Justin were both holding two big boxes of apples and an additional bag of apples as get well soon gifts. I eat apples almost every day at my schools as a way to get something healthy in my diet, and that small feature of my life didn’t go unnoticed. Justin was also holding “Get Well Soon” cards from the students and Allen had brought me Kinder chocolates, another one of my lunchtime features.
Two boxes with six giant apples each.
Om nom nom nom nom….
I had just enough time to say “hello” and “thank you to everyone,” before I gingerly moved my leg onto the bed and shimmied my body on the gurney. The nurse previously holding my gown now fixed my cap to make sure no stray hairs hung out. I waved good-bye to everyone and was wheeled to the OR with the small crowd trailing a bit behind. Once we reached the doors to the operation wing, only Jevon and Frank walked on with me and the surgery team gathered around. They were a young, light-hearted group and they were excited to have an American on their operating table. They asked me questions they assumed I didn’t understand and when I responded in Chinese they were giddy. The anesthesiologist, also the oldest doctor I had seen at the hospital, told everyone that this was a great opportunity for them to practice their English—in Taiwan, all professional doctors (including this anesthesiologist) learn English because most medical books are written in English—and everyone laughed that embarrassed, knowing Taiwanese laugh. Buyao haipa (don’t be scared), I said, Wo shi yingwen laoshi. Wo ban ni jiang yingyu, (I’m an English teacher. I will help you speak English), and this time the laugh was more genuine. Jevon and Frank stopped at the final set of doors before the operating room.
When we arrived at our final destination, a room that felt like the 1980s with green walls that matched the outfits of the doctors, one of the male surgeons stretched his arm awkwardly as he prepared a sentence in his mind. “To welcome you to our OR!” and we all had another good laugh. Xiexie nimen de gongzuo, I said in equally awful Chinese. I wanted to thank them for their work, but essentially I said, “Thank you for your job.” The anesthesiologist was at my left hand and he prepared some white looking paste for injection into my hand. “This may sting a bit,” he said, “but don’t worry.” It felt like acid entering my veins, but I got over it. One of the female surgeons held a mask over my face and I thought, “any minute now they’re going to ask me to count backwards.” I looked back at the paste in the injection needle slowly diminishing as it entered my hand. I remember starting to say something again…