McDonald’s is not a place I often go when I’m home in Canada, but in Dalian, it’s a bit of a treat. (All things are relative, my friends.) I began this post, which begins as an adventure in middle-aged basketball and ends with a journey through Chinese health care, under the golden arches. This is a place I sometimes come to avoid the distractions of home! I am the King of Distraction. Speaking of which, here’s the story I wanted to tell.
For the second straight day, after not playing since early December, I got a call to ball. Normally, that’s not great for the ol’ body, but I hadn’t played very hard Tuesday night. When Yinghua, a former student and a pretty good player, invited me to join him yesterday afternoon, there was no NO there. Projects I was fitfully working at were shelved; even when I was perched at the keyboard, I found myself Mentally Preparing to Play as if this game actually meant something. The King, indeed, but even codgers need something to look forward to. What I hadn’t prepared for was getting decked twice, and staggering away with a pair of more or less serious boo-boos.
Another day, no boo-boos. AND I blocked this shot, I swear!
I couldn’t shoot a lick, and my passes weren’t sharp, but it was a good run: indoors, half-court fours, winners stay. We stayed, and I gave myself a grin and an attaboy at signs that I was fitter than this or that young whippersnapper. One of the rotating opposing teams had some decent guys, so there was some of the intensity that I still revel in. All were students at the university where I teach, except for one young staffer with a good (but ball-hogging) game. (I was with him, and I’m glad that his English is poor, as I was muttering in less-than-diplomatic fashion. I should be used to the individualism of Chinese players by now; most have never been coached, and they often learn the game by watching Kobe highlights – uh-oh!) I was into it, and a pretty significantly jammed right index finger, early in the proceedings, didn’t detract much from the experience. (It’s pretty fat now, though, and detracts from my typing.) The same guy I jostled with, contesting for a pass, might’ve also been the guy that barrelled over me ten minutes later. He was a six-two shooter with a big body, and my team’s KobeClone was (sort of) guarding him. When he beat Kobe going left from the right elbow, I stepped up in the lane to cut him off. (We pause at this point to ask: who steps up to draw charges in pick-up games? Who does that when he’s WAY north of 40? Shouldn’t an old guy know better?) In my defence, I didn’t at first think I was trying to draw the charge, but the guy either didn’t see me — there’s not a lot of help defence in Dalian pickup games — or he didn’t care. I weigh in at about 90 kilos (198 pounds) or so these days, and he knocked me right off my feet, my arse bouncing off the faux hardwood about five feet behind me. He was apologetic, in the usual Chinese way, and I assumed sincerity though it burned a little. I called the charge, grabbed the ball, and marched to the top of the key. We kept winning.
The same guy, two games later, beat his man baseline after a pump-fake, and I left my man to cut him off. I can’t quite remember exactly what happened, now. He must’ve pulled up for a jumper, and maybe he was pushed from behind. What I do remember is a vivid last-millisecond image of his elbow coming down from above, and having just enough time to duck my head slightly to avoid getting it in the eye. Instead, he got me on the right eyebrow, and hard. There was an industrial crash in my head. I staggered, and I wasn’t surprised to see the blood on my hand when I checked, dizzily. He was again apologetic, and I was, well, a helluva guy. “Accidents happen, man. Mei you wen ti (no problem).” Tissues, of course, were proffered from many hands. I eventually made my way to a chair, pressing on the cut. When I was ushered to a mirror a few minutes later, I first thought, “Shoot, there’s tissue stuck in the cut.” Well, there was, but it was of the human variety, not a hunk of white Kleenex. Obviously, I needed some stitches to close that gap.
At hospital, awaiting assessment.
Yinghua came with me to the university clinic, and I was walking slowly. I’ve had two major, and likely a few minor sporting concussions, and that worried me more than the cut. When there were no doctors at the clinic – odd, but to be fair, this is the Spring Festival academic vacation period – we grabbed a taxi for Yi Da Er Yuan, the Second Hospital of the Dalian Medical University. It’s big, pretty modern in the parts I voyaged through, and didn’t match some of the hospital horror stories that ex-pats are too inclined to share. (It’s pretty universal, though: the parents of a young friend now studying in Montreal had heard scary tales of the waiting lists in Canadian hospitals, and were deeply concerned that he could die of appendicitis in an ER holding tank. Parents worry about kids. People obsess about health care.) Still, it was a confusing experience.
I wouldn’t have wanted to negotiate this on my own. First, we registered my patient-ness on the first floor: qi yuan wu mao, 7.5 yuan, about a buck and a quarter. Off to the sixth floor, where I was writing this part in a large glassy atrium, quite pleasant, thanks. My young buddy was as lost as I was. Oncology? Opthamology? Neither seemed right, but the cut was near my right eye, so we went in Door Number Two. We were waved, after Yinghua explained and showed my registration, into a small examining room where a half-dozen others stood or sat, in their coats. When my turn came, the doctor (I guessed) asked me to sit and place my chin in a kind of tray attached to a scope she would look through. I assumed she would examine my cut. She did, I guess, but also began a painful administration of what I wildly surmised might be some traditional Chinese eyeball palpation technique. In fact, forgetting that my fanyi, my translator friend, was standing beside me, she just wanted me to open my eyes. I did, finally. She looked, and muttered something. “It’s quite deep,” Yinghua reported. She typed, she printed off some forms, and we were waved on, collecting coats and knapsacks and my basketball, which I was still hauling around with me.
This doctor, then, had been a sort of screener/assessor, and had told Yinghua our travel itinerary: first, to the “registration & charge” desk in Opthamology with the doctor’s papers, where we paid 333.16 yuan (about $55 CDN); then, to fourth floor, to pick up two vials of saline solution, some antibiotics, and maybe something else; then, to the second floor, where after a wait it turned out to be an unsuitable room for reasons that Yinghua couldn’t quite explain (though it seemed the problem was with the room, and not with us); then, back to sixth floor and Opthamology again. (I think. I was more than usually hazy.) I considered waving my still-bloody hand, groaning and staggering histrionically to see what would happen, but decided against it. I assume the bureaucratic maze can be short-circuited when bloody screaming occurs. Finally, about an hour after arrival, a woman began putting on a mask and had me lie down on an examining table. Ever the good guest, I slipped off my sneakers, but she had Yinghua ask me to put them back on. (Something about the smell.) She jammed something plastic against my cheek, told me to hold it, and manipulated my head position. Wiping and dripping ensued, the bathing of the cut in yan shui (saline solution) and alcohol; the plastic thingy was a runoff basin. Ah.
I’m still not sure if there was a local anaesthetic or not. There was an early pin-prick, and then more or less pain during the suturing process. Hen teng ma? she would say (“Very painful?”) and I would say yi dian dian (“a little”), my pride at communicating helping to distract me from the pressure she placed against the cut and the occasional jab of a piercing, followed by the sound and sensation of thread being passed through my skin, and her occasional inscrutable grunts. (What is the Chinese for “oops”?) After about 15 minutes of sewing, she allowed me to admire her work in a mirror, once Yinghua explained that I wasn’t critiquing her work; my clumsy zhege you yi si, wo yao kan ni de gong zuo just meant that I was curious to see what her sutures looked like before she bandaged me. The cut took five stitches, looking pretty much the same as repairs I’d had as a kid, including the neighbouring scar from a pond hockey stick that cut me not a quarter inch from the same eye.
Done! And it occurred to me that we don’t sew like this in the West anymore (do we?). Back home, it would be the “butterfly” stitches. I also was supposed to return to the hospital daily to have the bandage changed and the cut cleaned. (That’s where I’m still writing from now, a more pleasant writing-table-away-from-home than the McDonald’s was.) Zhen de ma? (Really?) Yes, I really was supposed to return. We also had to go down to, hmm, possibly the third floor, for injections. The first was a forearm prick to test for allergies, followed by a half-hour wait. The second was, well, I don’t know exactly, maybe a tetanus shot, something against infection, Yinghua thought, followed by another 30 minutes to see if it made me sick. (Or something. It didn’t, although a week later I had a bloom of itchy swelling on my right butt cheek for several days, and I think I got an infection from the anti-infection jab. It’s gone now.) After about two and a half hours, I was on my way, with a fairly large hunk of gauze taped garishly across my forehead. Chinese doctors doesn’t put much emphasis on cosmetics, as I’d noticed from other walking wounded I’d seen from time to time. I got even more and longer stares on the bus than usual.
On my return visits, with my fluent son or with Xiaoqiang standing by on the telephone to help me communicate, I paid another few yuan to register, and got my bandage changed and the cut cleaned. I got another doctor to agree that daily visits weren’t necessary until it was suture-extraction day.
I’d never had an injury quite like this in all my years of basketball, though I’d take this over any of the third-degree crutch-and-cringe-worthy sprained ankles this game has given me. I can’t stop wondering: how did he manage to come down from his jump leading with his elbow? I still think it was clumsiness, or just a freak accident. But. I’ve had other elbows, of course, usually the more typical swinging, post-rebound big-guy elbow; one of them – from Rick Phillips, Cayuga Warriors, 1975 – resulted in the prosthetic front tooth that still graces my slightly snaggle-toothed, crooked smile. Of course, at my age, the morning-after aches are always a souvenir of the previous day’s athletic indiscretions. That next morning, though, and for a few afterwards, the purpling and the patch next to my eye, the ache in my head, and the blood-stained laundry were unusually insistent interrogators. When is enough enough, dimwit? Aren’t you a little past all this gung-ho sweating? Isn’t it time to take up tennis? I probably won’t, not yet anyway, but I know my jumpshots are numbered. But hey, if it wasn’t for yesterday’s play-date with the twenty-somethings, I wouldn’t have had this thoroughly Chinese experience. I wouldn’t have this story to tell.
That has to be worth something, doesn’t it? At least sixty bucks worth.
James Howden is a Canadian educator, writer and worn-out hoops warrior who lives in Dalian, Liaoning province. He writes about hoops and other stuff over at www.JamesHowden.com.