He looked like a genuine doctor with the all props: white coat, stethoscope, thermometer in his left hand and pressure gauge in his right. I could be at any hospital in the UK except that I was at a hotel room at 4000 metres suffering from altitude sickness and my doctor didn’t speak any English – he was Chinese. My Chinese stretched to ‘Njihao’ and ‘two beers’ which in the present situation weren’t helpful at all and whilst I was pleased to see him with all the western props I was worried in case he started treating me with Chinese Medicine. The Front Office manager, a very calm guy from Nepal who spoke Chinese and English, acted as translator. The cleaning lady was present only as a witness in case of inappropriate behaviour…
I knew I had altitude sickness – nose bleeding, dizziness, headache, breathless – I’d had it before at Everest Base Camp and after taking oxygen I’d been fine. I asked for it now, finding it hard to speak. The front office guy reassured me the doctor would take care of me…and he did…Very professionally he took my blood pressure, my temperature and checked my heartbeat…I was fine according to him…They opened the window to let fresh air in, they covered me in a few more blankets and they offered me something to eat…They stood around my bed and stared at me and talked in Chinese but did not bring oxygen …I felt like a caged animal…occasionally the front office manager would ask how I felt….
“The same” I would reply time and time again. Seeing there were no changes he decided to translate the doctor’s conclusion…After touching my pulse the doctor said I had indigestion and my body would take care of the situation and I didn’t need oxygen at all…I just needed to relax…The words were flowing in and out my head not making any sense…I wanted to believe them and continued to stay still under layers of heavy blankets…then I started to shiver, slowly and gradually – firstly just my arms then my legs then my whole body…In between heavy shaking I realised that I couldn’t have indigestion as I’d been sick since yesterday morning, since we entered the 4000m area, and that I hadn’t had breakfast today…there was no food in my body to give me indigestion… The front office manager, the most experienced person out of the three in my room, took the blankets off me and my socks then started to massage my feet…he was mumbling “Oh My God, Oh My God” but trying to cheer me up me saying that I will be fine, just bad circulation, I just needed to get the blood to flow all through my body….From somewhere burst the sheer terror of ending up at a Chinese hospital in the middle of nowhere, and I grabbed the last vestiges of energy to sit up and yell in a very unladylike way “Get me f****** oxygen, now!”
That galvanised them. Within a few minutes I had a big blue oxygen pillow behind my back with the pipes going straight up my nostrils. With the first flow of oxygen I felt calm, peaceful, I began to feel human again! The cleaner made tea for herself and the doctor and sat on the corner of my bed staring into nothing, and the front office manager managed a smile.
“Chinese medicine is fantastic. They can lower cholesterol with tea. Can you imagine, with tea? Western medicine can’t do it even with medication….He is a good doctor…The whole village goes to see him when they are not well…”
Slowly calming down I ignored them and tried to get some sleep. After almost four hours after the first symptoms of high altitude sickness struck I could think straight. Exhausted I felt asleep. When I woke up I found the room clean, stocked with bottled water which I drank endlessly, and two pieces of toast. The doctor and front office manager came back to check on me and I offered to pay, thinking that bill could go into zillions of pounds and that my insurance may refuse to pay due to the fact that I did have a beer last night on an empty stomach. The doctor refused any payment but I insisted on giving them some money as a token for everything they did for me.
Soon after they left I called the concierge for more bottled water to be delivered to my room only to be told that this time I had to pay for it. Obviously I was healthy now!
– If you are visiting a mountainous region, always check the altitude -especially in Yunnan Province – talk to the local guides, they are not trained to give you much information about high altitude in their area, unlike in Tibet where you are warned as soon as you arrive!
– Before booking hotels in high altitude areas check if there is a doctor on standby and if he is practising Western or Chinese medicine
– Check with the hotel if they have oxygen bottles or pillows. Buy a bottle and carry it with you. It’s not expensive or heavy but very helpful
– Take aspirin 75 mg
– Drink plenty of water
– Talk and walk slowly
– During my stay at Mt Everest Base camp I was told to drink ginger tea
NOTE: I visited Yunnan Province in October 2011 going from Kunming, Dali, Lijiang to Zhiongdian. If you need any information regarding travelling in China please email Tara@ReadyClickAndGo.com