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Published: August 28th 2008
Pulled back from the brink.
Many years ago, in South Africa when I was still jogging regularly, I experienced some chest pain every now and again. The doctor I consulted suggested I should visit a friend of his, a specialist heart surgeon. I assume X-rays were taken although I can’t remember that and on the strength of what I told him, it was decided to widen a narrow coronary artery with the help of a “balloon”.
After I had undergone the operation no change was experienced and I developed a suspicion that the “operation” had been just another way to make some money fast.
During all the time we traveled, over three years and the years before that, when I worked and sometimes lifted heavy loads I never had any chest-pain.
There still was no sign of trouble to come when Ann and I left Kunming and traveled by train to a place where we were welcomed by the agent who had booked a three-day boat-trip on the Yang tse river, the so-called three gorges cruise. It is the cruise on that part of the river that runs down-stream towards one of the, if
not THE largest dam in the world, where the Chinese government hopes to get one third of its total energy supply from eventually. A gigantic (controversial) engineering project.
We were taken to a new youth hostel where we were to stay one night and frankly, I couldn’t have stayed longer. It was situated close to the river, an offshoot of the Chang tse and to get to the shops and commercial part of the city you had to climb a number of steep steps along the build-up incline of the valley. Although the room we had was clean and specious, the mattresses on the bed were filled with cardboard. That is no joke; we checked and all the beds in the hostel were the same, impossible to sleep on.
The next morning we were taken by bus to the place where we were to board our “luxury” cruise boat. That proved to be a bit less luxurious than expected.
Buckled deck plates, bent railings, dirty old carpets and small cabins with 4 births but no space for luggage welcomed us. We shared the cabin with two Chinese chaps and a rat that was after Ann’s oats. Otherwise there was little
to complain about. Although right over the engine room and propeller shafts, there was little noise and even less vibration.
The cruise was not spectacular, but certainly a nice change from moving by train. The weather was good with a little rain now and again, the food was enjoyable and generally speaking the trip was a big success.
At the end of the cruise we were dropped off near the dam wall and proceeded by bus to another place and from there by train to Guilin. It was here that I really started to have some problem with chest pain and, since a hospital was nearby, we decided to consult a doctor. That was on August 14.
As in previous occasions the treatment was incredible. Within minutes of our arrival we were led into the doctor’s room, examined, X-ray arranged and so on. Conclusion: angina. Not severe enough to worry about. Prescriptions were filled out, invoice prepared and payment effected. No fuss and no problems.
Guilin is this place along a river where there are those strange camel-type mountains. We arranged for a trip by speedboat and found ourselves the next day in a small boat with outboard motor and
We discovered that the seeds of these plants, embedded in seed-pods, are also on the menu in China
in the company of two other people to share the cost. That wasn’t altogether a meaningless thing. The cost for hiring the boat for a trip lasting a few hours was Y1000, an outrageous amount of money. But, once again, it was a pleasant trip and we enjoyed it very much.
We went back to Guilin by bus but decided to spend a few days in the place we had just left, because we liked the place and the mountains are very spectacular here. And we had to wait for the return of Ann’s passport with the extension of her visa. This little town is the most touristy town I have seen sofar in China. It has rows and rows of tourist shops. They line the streets, fill the sidewalks and alleys, always competing with numerous little and bigger restaurants of every description.
Of course we wanted to have a closer look at the mountains but voted against walking, Instead we hired a moped. Battery-powered and quietly gliding along for about 50 km when the battery needs to be recharged.
After 2 days we went back to Guilin again, picket up the luggage we had left in the youth hostel
and bought train tickets to Kunming to pick up Ann’s passport. That was August 17. By now I had real trouble with chest pain. When we arrived at the youth hostel at Kunming, “the Hump” where we had been earlier, I had to ask Ann to carry my luggage up the two floors to the hostel; I could not do it myself. It was as if a 100kg weight was lying on my chest and I could not move from underneath.
The next day, Monday, we went to the hospital nearby and although I had thought I could easily walk the 500 m, I had to sit down and rest twice before we reached the entrance.
I’ve never really made a lot of noise when hurt, but this time I felt it was justified.
In the youth hostel we had made an arrangement to be met by an English speaking orderly who escorted me to a doctor’s room and had me lay down on a gurney as soon as I came in. The pain was incredible and I must have been moaning quite a lot. But after three injections I started to feel better again. I was admitted without delay (no questions about the name of your father or the birth date of your mother as would have been required information before you can be helped in SA) and wheeled into a ward where I underwent a whole series of tests to establish what would have to be done to get me better again. (Ann had to sign a paper to confirm she was aware I was seriously ill.)
During that day and the next the pain was kept under control and the day after that on the 20st the operation took place. Saturday the 23rd I was discharged.
I’ll never forget the whispered words by one of the nurses when I was about to be wheeled out of the operation room: “You were lucky”.
It adds yet another of such an occasion to a growing list of lucky events where I almost went over the brink, but was hauled back just in time.
Still in Kunming, in “the Hump”, I’m alone in our room. Ann went on a trip of 5 or 6 days to see the “Tiger Leaping Gorge”, partly on horseback because it involves an 8-hour walk. I’m staying here to recouperate, a better word for being lazy.
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