China Adventure

Golden sunbeams sparkled on the waters of Hong Kong’s harbor. I paid my money and boarded the top deck of a ferry that would take me across the bay to mainland China and the city of Kowloon. I was to work in the X-ray department of Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital just for the day. My Kansas City hospital director of radiology had heard that Queen Elizabeth’s had great equipment and different techniques than we were currently using. I’d been asked to take a look and see how we could improve our hospital’s services.

Surrounded by well dressed Chinese and tourists, I stood at the window watching the other boats in the harbor. We passed brightly colored Sampans, floating Chinese junks that brimmed with humanity – women with babies strapped to their backs cooking over tiny glowing stoves – men manning sails or bamboo poles – children playing on the decks.

In a short time, the ferry pulled up to the Kowloon dock and amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy city, I found the right bus that took me up the hill and along the busy streets to the big hospital.

The lobby hummed with activity – people in wheelchairs being pushed by relatives – children stoically clinging to their mother’s hand – men and women carrying bundles of food to sick relatives. I found the x-ray department where my contact waited, a doctor who spoke perfect English. He expressed delight that I’d come to visit. Our quick tour was constantly interrupted by someone handing him an x-ray film to view. Very soon, he turned me over to the Chinese technologist I was to shadow the rest of the day.

The techs were dressed in colored hospital uniforms and my white uniform and face made me conspicuous.

While most of the people I worked with spoke some English, many spoke none, but our common world of operating x-ray equipment and caring for patients made up the difference.

This was a very busy department. There were no coffee breaks or donuts as was the case back in the states. The equipment settings for taking x-rays were modified to handle a smaller-boned population. I found techniques and positioning differences interesting enough to report back to my hospital.

Queen Elizabeth’s led the U.S. in interventional radiography, the technique using catheters in veins to transport contrast material to internal organs for better x-ray visualization. These procedures were done without anesthetic in an operating suite teaming with activity. Uncomplaining patients were whizzed in and out at breakneck speed. I witnessed full-blown surgeries performed on people without the benefit of anesthesia and was told that those patients coped with mind control. Excellent results with faster recovery. Amazing!

I was overwhelmed by the number of exams the department accomplished and was told that actually, it was a relatively slow day. Patient exams took much less time than in my home hospital. Nevertheless no one complained. Could I implement some of what I saw in my own hospital?

The day sped by. It was late and dark when I finally returned to the lobby. I was told the buses had stopped running. Exhausted, I needed to find a way back to the ferry. A receptionist called me a cab. After a bit of a wait a small car with a hand-written cardboard ‘taxi’ sign pulled up. The driver looked like a sumo wrestler.

I remembered tales I’d heard about women being kidnapped. My heart beat a little faster. Was this really a taxi? Might he take me up into the hills, do bad things to me, and leave my body where no one would ever find it? I looked around for help but there was no one. Queen Elizabeth’s entrance seemed stark and unfriendly. The sumo wrestler waited restlessly  in his car. I climbed in.

He drove along deserted, winding streets I didn’t remember seeing before. My temples pulsed with fear. I tried deep breathing. Every once in a while, I could see the driver looking at my frozen form in his rear view mirror.

“How far?” I asked.

“Not far,” he answered. “You American?”

“Yes.” I said – then offered up a weak warning.”I can’t miss the ferry because my husband and his friend the police chief are waiting at the Mandarin dock for me. He’ll he worried if I don’t show up.” True I hoped, since I’d called them to tell them I was on my way.

At last we seemed to be moving downhill. I saw the lights of the city. We burst onto a main thoroughfare, the harbor in sight. I began  breathing more regularly. We pulled up to the ferry. I got out and paid the driver. He drove off.

I remembered paying fifty cents for my trip over but I now saw a sign that said twenty-five cents. Must be a special rate, I thought. I dug out a quarter and handed it to the ferry ticket taker. I headed for the top deck but he pointed to the lower deck stairs. On this crowded, stuffy level all the seats were taken. I stood, clutching my purse. I was the only foreigner. The passengers stared at me and chattered to each other. Up went my fear level.

No windows on this deck  to protect from the weather. I tried to concentrate on the harbor. It looked like a fairyland. Lights twinkled off the water and I could hear the soft whoosh of the passing sampans.

At last, we reached the shore. My husband and the police chief  waited for me on the dock. The policeman looked surprised when he saw me come up the steps.

“How come you rode across down there?” he asked.

I shrugged.

“Very dangerous. You’re lucky you didn’t get robbed.”

“I never thought of such a thing,” I lied.

A great day but I was glad it was over.

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