Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Injury So Unfortunate, It Merited Flying Home From China

Please BE WARNED: The following blog contains graphic depictions of a horrible bodily injury that I recently suffered in Beijing.

I've been fortunate in my travels across the world over the last few years. With the exception of one stolen bike in the Netherlands (which, in retrospect, was partially my fault in that I only had a wheel-lock and not a chain-lock), I've been able to avoid much thievery, injury, and general misfortune while traversing two oceans and four continents.

This all changed during my first 2 weeks in Beijing. As my last post outlined, my first night in Beijing ended with my wallet being gone, which was pretty inconvenient, but still manageable. The events of Thursday, August 18th, however, are something I will never be able to fully wrap my mind around.

It all started with a game of cricket. Some of the British kids from the program and a handful of Peking University students decided to play a bit of pickup cricket, which was a nice throwback to my days at HKU with their cricket club. After a little bit of playing, I was standing fairly nearby the batsman (as is common) when he hit the cricket ball directly into my groin. At about 90 miles per hour. Needless to say, I was on the ground writhing for the better part of 30 minutes, simply not knowing what to do. By this time it was evening, and there was no way I was going to try to find my way to a Chinese hospital. Shortly after the incident, my balls began swelling incredibly quickly--by morning they were literally grapefruit-sized. Anyway, now that we all have a wonderful mental image of grapefruit-sized balls... the next day I decided to go to Mandarin class in the morning and teach that afternoon, fulfilling my duties first, then go to the hospital after teaching. I ended up taking a cab with Victor, one of our program's Mandarin professors and a fully bilingual Chinese man, to a wealthy expatriate hospital in central Beijing. Upon walking into the hospital, I was pretty relieved to see that every other patient was either white or Middle-Eastern, which lured me into the false sense of security that this hospital would include English-speaking doctors and good facilities. Upon walking into the first doctor's office, I was asked to remove my pants. His two-word response to what he saw was incredibly discouraging... "Big problem!" He then left the room immediately. After that lovely bit of encouragement, Victor explained to me that the situation probably was not quite so bad--he reasoned that the doctor's English was quite poor, so while he may have had a more thorough and less pessimistic observation to make, he couldn't do so in English, so he simply said the simplest phrase he could think of while also somewhat describing the problem. Just as well there wasn't a fully fluent translator in the room, otherwise that argument would make no sense. Anyway, so I ended up getting an ultrasound at this Chinese hospital (bit awkward certainly) and the verdict was that there was no permanent damage (thank God), but that if the swelling doesn't go down in 2 weeks or so, I'll need to get an operation. He also told me to make sure to ice it. A brief side note: there is NO ice in China. They DO NOT BELIEVE IN ICE. It is, quite literally, the worst country in the world to find ice. Consequently, I was using popsicles to ice it for several days.

So the hospital visit was borderline encouraging in that there was no permanent damage, but a bit iffy, given that they'd basically implied I wouldn't be healed for a couple of weeks. Given that I was living in the amazingly interesting megacity that is Beijing, the prospect of being utterly incapacitated and resigned to my hotel room almost 24 hours per day was just devastating. After 3-4 days of basically hanging out in the room and leaving only for class and meals, the swelling wasn't really improving much, and there was starting to be a devastating pain when I stood up to walk anywhere. At this point, I had a chat with Scutt about what he would do in this situation, and he basically told me he'd without question go home and get the situation taken care of, then try to come back to China as soon as possible. After Skyping with the parents and going over the situation, we decided that it would be best if I came home. Yes, that's correct, Blaine Curcio, the kid who has to be on the brink of death in order to go from his house back home to the doctor's office--a 10 minute drive--decided to come home from Beijing, in order to get a medical problem taken care of. Should give one an idea of how bad the situation was, I guess.

On the morning of Wednesday August 17th, I went to Beijing's Capital Airport, hoping to catch a flight using a "Friends and Family" ticket from a good friend of my dad's. The beauty of this program is that the ticket is dirt cheap...the drawback is that I am not guaranteed a seat on the plane until about 1 hour before the flight, and if the plane is full that day, I'm not getting on it--better luck tomorrow. So at around 4:00pm, I went to the ticket counter asking about whether I can get on the plane or not. The ticket agent had a rather concerned look on her face, and was telling me "well there's still a chance you'll get on the plane... one moment". As I stood there, I realized that going home was certainly the correct choice, given that the pain in my groin caused by standing was enough to make me come close to collapsing. After several minutes that were agonizing both due to the pain and the uncertainty of whether I would be spending this night in Beijing Airport or getting on this plane in an hour, the ticket agent told me that there was one ticket left, and I got it. If I was nearly collapsing due to pain the minute before, I nearly collapsed from relief at this point. I basically ran through security.

Three minutes after the flight, the very Asian (read: inconsiderate) man in front of me threw his seat back with such vigor that I nearly ended up with a shattered kneecap. And such was the case for the next 12 and a half hours of my life. Also--the entertainment on United was complete crap as always. United is the only airline I've been on that still doesn't give everyone their own TV screen on trans-Pacific flights--even Air Canada did it!

So I got home. In the line for passport control, I nearly collapsed again from pain. Not good. The next day I saw a renowned surgeon who is also the brother of a close family friend. His reaction after asking me to remove my pants was simply

"This is better than it was before?!"
"Yeah. The swelling used to be about 3 times that size."

Not encouraging. Anyway, after seeing this surgeon and a urologist, the verdict was such: I suffered a minor hernia and what the urologist called "massive testicular trauma". Fortunately, there was no permanent damage, so I will one day be able to grace the world with offspring, but for the time being I'm basically in a bit of an iffy situation. It looks like I'll be able to return to China sometime in late September/early October. I've been informed by the teaching program that I can possibly get my visa reissued, but it's a bit questionable. If that doesn't work out, I've been applying like mad for jobs in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Singapore, Shanghai, and Beijing. Worst case scenario, I can just go back to Shenzhen and tutor English for 250 yuan per hour. At any rate, it seems the most important thing I can do for myself now (and by now I mean in the next year or so) is learn Mandarin Chinese. Every trip I've taken to China has just further confirmed my feelings that China is going to be the world's economic powerhouse, and soon. Therefore, Mandarin is a MUST! And of course, the best place to learn Mandarin is... not Chicago. So it looks like it's the Orient for me for the foreseeable future, at least as soon as my testicles heal.

So what can we learn from this whole situation? Like I said before, prior to this, my luck had been pretty good when traveling abroad. I'd been pretty careless about safety in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, etc., so I guess eventually it would have to catch up to me. It's also going to be a hilarious story to look back on once everything is healed and I'm not walking around with a horrendous pain in my groin. And perhaps, just maybe, this will all work out for the best if I don't get my teaching job back, but do get some great job with a consulting firm or something of that nature in Hong Kong. In which case I'd have to devote the rest of my life to popularizing cricket in the US, so that other young men like myself can have their manhood all but destroyed only to have it be beneficial to them in the long run. Or not. But seriously, this whole situation reminds me (just as did the bike theft from July 2010 in NL) of the story of the zen master:

“So there’s a small village somewhere, and in this small village a farmer’s horse runs away, and all the villagers say “oh how terrible, the horse ran away”. And the Zen Master said, “we’ll see”. Two days later, the horse returns, bringing with it three more wild horses. Everyone says “Ah, how wonderful, now the farmer has 4 horses to tend to his crops!” and the Zen Master says, “we’ll see”. A short while later, the farmer’s son is riding one of the untamed horses, and he falls and mangles his leg. All the townspeople say “oh how horrible, his leg is broken”. “We’ll see”, said the Zen Master. A couple of weeks later, a war breaks out. All the young men are required to go fight in the war, except for the boy with the mangled leg. All the townspeople say “oh how wonderful”, and of course, the Zen Master replies… “we’ll see”.

Big thanks to anyone who's read this far, hope you got a laugh out of my immense misery, more to come as updates flow in!

Also please note: anyone reading this that's in the Chicagoland area--if you are around at all during the next month and want to hang out, let me know! Most of my good friends from home are either back at school for a 5th year, doing grad school, or have moved elsewhere, so if you want to see THE Blaine Curcio before I leave for China again, shoot me an email (blainecurcio@yahoo.com)

1 comment:

  1. OMG. This is insane. I am SO sorry Blaine. I'm going to text you about getting together :-)