Monday, December 7, 2009

H1N1 in China

The moment you get on a plane to China the search for H1N1, the swine flu, is on. You are peppered with questions before landing, you walk through a metal detector that has been jerry rigged to measure your temperature, and health officials coral you into a room marked “quarantine” if you look tired. This happened to one of our students who was tired because she had been traveling for over 24 hours.

The hysteria amped up when I brought a student to the hospital with nausea and a fever a day later After testing her blood and taking her temperature they told us that she had to stay in the hospital that night until a throat swab could be done and an H1N1 test came back negative. I protested because I had 12 other students back at the hotel waiting for me and I could not leave this one in the hospital without a translator. However, we had set a chain of events into motion that was now being monitored by provincial officials.

Over the next 24 hours the student was quarantined, or “jailed” as she put it, in one of the most sparsely furnished rooms. She slept on a bed with many-day old sheets in a room that was painted white but had the stains of years of dirt and disease on the walls. The windows were barred, keeping her in but not keeping the mosquitoes out. The walls of every room were covered with charts screaming “H1N1”, reminding you to wash your hands, showings images of Caucasian women coughing clouds of disease, and telling doctors and patients alike the chain of care and command as the disease progresses.

24 hours later, 3 IV drips later, 15 phone calls later and 4 doctor changes later, the H1N1 diagnosis came back negative and we were allowed to go home.

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