An unexpected setback: getting sick in Taiwan.

On Monday, a nurse asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Taiwan. I told her we came from the U.S., and we were here for travel.

“How did you end up here, then?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “The hospital was not on the sight-seeing agenda.”

There , in a nutshell, is the story of the past three weeks. To drag the telling out is kind of monotonous, and I’ve already had to live through it once. So the short version is that I fell sick with a high fever, and we spent a whole week hoping it would go away, taking lots of Tylenol, drinking water, and visiting a local clinic and getting what Steve called “Dr. Feelgood’s Pills,” because they were just a packet of unmarked fever pills. Finally, we went to the nearby public hospital, and they took my temperature (40 degrees Celsius, or a balmy 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and promptly admitted me.

I was stuck there for an agonizing week and a day. I mean, in a good way. Steve and I did not know what we were dealing with, and the hospital proved to be much better at that. At first, they took blood and urine samples and sent them off to the Taipei CDC (Center for Disease Control), and made me sleep under a mosquito net on my hospital bed because they thought I had dengue fever. Fortunately, that came back negative, so I could ditch the net, and before long, the doctor started me on a rigorous course of multiple antibiotics, which saw me make improvements by steady leaps and bounds. Though we’re still not sure what kind of infection I have yet (possibly an organ infection or some sort of hepatitis), whatever the doctor ordered was highly effective, and I’m still on it.

What has been surprising about this experience? The food. Being stuck in the hospital, tired from the fever, and endlessly drinking water made every new item of food Steve brought in taste absolutely amazing. The miso soup? Excellent. The Caesar salad? Amazing. The fruit salad? I made noises, but we had pulled the privacy curtain around us already. I mean, all the real food just tasted so good that I almost cried. I have never gotten so emotional over a salad before! Bless whoever made 7-Elevens in Taiwan, because they stock such a good, rich assortment of freshly made ready-to-go foods, like salads, sandwiches, soups, and fruits. This isn’t exactly an ad, but it is the easiest place for Steve to navigate and find everything I need, so pretty much most meals are catered by 7-Eleven. We toasted over Twix one night and Skittles the next. Getting a bottle of Coke was like Christmas.

What has also been surprising? My loss of strength. I was weak when I was at home, starting to get sick that first week, but on Friday, the first day I woke up in the hospital, I was just a feverish headachey mess. It took me until Sunday to make the trip to the bathroom by myself and until Monday to take a shower mostly standing up. On Tuesday, I triumphantly took a slow walk by myself from one end of the 8C sick ward (where the trash room is) to the other (where the water machine is), but I still felt dizzy after I sat down. I’m so impatient with the rate of progress, because I just know that this is still light-years away from the strenuous physical activity I’m used to. How am I supposed to shoulder my 60 liter travel bag and troop with Steve to different trains and planes?

What has not been surprising? The great medical care. (Kate is probably punching a quiet fist in the air right now.) This is one area in which Taiwan has the States beat hands down, no doubt about it. When we showed up at the emergency room, I was triaged and getting blood drawn within 15 minutes. Our initial emergency room visit, which included a chest x-ray, blood and urine lab work, totaled < 5000 NT, which is about 165 USD. And my hospital stay of 8 days with all medicine and bloodwork included ran us 33000 NT (1100 USD).  And these are all out of pocket costs for the foreigner who is not a Taiwanese national and doesn’t have the National Health Insurance (NHI), which would cover eeeeeverything. And of course, everything is clean, well-run, prompt, and high-quality.  I’ll let you quietly speculate about the astronomical sum I’d be running up in the States for the same supplies and service.

What has also not been surprising? Steve. He’s been great. As soon as I landed in here, he just sprang into action, figuring out what I needed, asking me what I wanted to eat, handling notifying my parents, his parents, close ones at home. He’s nurse, caretaker, cook (in so far as making PB&J sandwiches and pouring water into 7-Eleven noodle cups), and all-star boyfriend. He comes every day in time for lunch and stays until I’m ready for bed, and brings me two fresh meals, juices, a fresh change of clothes, funny emails and Tweets from home to keep up my spirit, helps me shower, reads to me, watches movies with me… I feel like I have my own guardian angel.

This hospitalization, aside from being an unpleasant experience, has raised new questions about the rest of our travels and how we will cope. Are we still going to those weird Southeast Asian countries where I’m sure to contract weirder things? What about getting immunizations for India? And it sure sounds real appealing to spend two weeks with Stella and celebrate a South Carolina Christmas by watching football and eating mac-and-cheese, but we’re figuring that all out.

For the next few days, I get to laze about our apartment and enjoy the fresh air of the outside world. Next Tuesday, we’ll head back to the hospital for a check-up and hopefully to get the formal report from the CDC on what exact sort of infection I had. For now, I am enjoying being done (!!!!) with this hospital and finally updating the world on what has been happening. No flowers necessary!


2 thoughts on “An unexpected setback: getting sick in Taiwan.

  1. Wow, Connie, that’s crazy! I’m so sorry you were so ill, but I’m really glad you had such great care (from both the hospital and Steve) and that you’re getting better! I know it can be pretty scary to get sick in a foreign country (even though I never got as sick as it sounds like you were). Take it easy – I’m sure you’ll be back to normal soon, but don’t rush yourself.

    I just got into Nashville last night after what felt like an eternal flight (we had really strong headwinds across the Atlantic). Happy to be home for Christmas, though I had super reverse-culture shock in the Atlanta airport when they had on some kind of talk show at my gate featuring panelists debating Christianity and sin in reality TV … that would NOT happen in the UK! And everything seems so big here, even my parents’ new condo. Anyway, take care of yourself and know that there are people all over the world wishing you well!

    1. So glad to hear from you! Yeah, it was a not-fun situation, but I’m slowly making my way back to normalcy. Steve and I walked all the way from our apartment to a nearby restaurant for dinner tonight, and we toasted to my freedom. =)

      I do think if we decide to go back to the U.S., I will feel similarly about the culture shock! I’ve really gotten used to Asian-sized portions for food and for clothing, shoes, etc. etc. Funnily enough, the TV here in Taiwan is equally interesting. When we were in the hospital, Steve and I often sat in the “Family TV Room,” where the channel was perpetually tuned to some late-night panelists arguing heatedly about how xyz official in Taiwan was betraying them to China and all the possibilities of how they were a double-agent. It was about as rational as I’ve heard FOX newscasters debating Obama’s birth certificate. So… every country has their crazies!

      I’m starting to do more than okay, and I’m really glad I have you and other friends to rely on! Thank you, and enjoy your holidays in Nashville!

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