As i said in the last blog post, surely the arrival in China signalled the end of my woes, right? This was not the case, not the case at all. In fact, this was when the stress really began.
I’d already been told that on landing, officials would board the plane and check everything was as it should be before they would escort us off the plane and into the airport. This is, in fact, exactly what happened. But what nobody had told and what I hadn’t thought about was that having a hundred plus people on a thin metal tube was that things would get warm. Very warm. I started doing the one thing that you really don’t want to do when one of the main indicators for a worldwide pandemic is a temperature: I started to overheat. I could feel it happening, and fanning myself with the “What to do in an emergency” card didn’t help at all. Nor did taking off my hoodie.
I felt a little better when we were finally allowed off the plan and escorted through the airport, and I even managed to pass at least two infrared thermal imaging temperature check things that I passed through.
However, it also turns out that I have a physical reaction to stress, and that reaction is to get warm and having many well meaning but not understanding fully people trying to help me get an app and fill in a form that I already had and had already filled in, made me more stressed because of the not entirely understanding part, and the fact that all of the officials were in hazmat suits, multiple pairs of gloves, with a hairnet over the suit hood, and old style goggles that I last saw in my school chemistry class, a mask and visor. If they weren’t hot in all that get up themselves, then I’m a goose.
Finally, after an age of waiting I got to the official health check where I presented my phone to give proof of having the app as it had a required QR code on it, and I was given an old style mercury thermometer for my armpit. There were a couple of what were considered to be irregularities with my form, because I hadn’t included Finland, the stopover and in the interests of being entirely honest, I had included Exeter, the city, because I didn’t particularly fancy the $1000 fine. But, since these officials didn’t speak a lick of English, and in my stressed tired etc state, all Chinese I knew completely abandoned me, they didn’t understand Exeter, and after some back and forth with the help of a translator (device, not a person) in a bag, about whether it was a country or whether I had left England at all , other than Finland en route to China, it was removed.
My temperature on the mercury thermometer turned out to be 37.5˚C. The Chinese limit is 37.3˚C. I have no proof of this other than anecdotal – that I saw the temperatures of approximately 70 Chinese people every day twice a day for two weeks – , but it seems that the Chinese run at a lower temperature than Western people, as they would consistently record temperatures at 36.something low, and I couldn’t get my mercury thermometer below 37.9˚C (I therefore used my gun zapper thermometer) which I think is partially why they have a lower threshold compared to the British 37.8˚C.
This 37.5˚C didn’t budge, so I was taken away. Literally, I was walked down an arm where you’d normally board the plane and then down the fire escape to a concrete bunker, whereas everyone with a temperature below the beloved 37.3˚C went further into the bowels of the airport.
In the bunker, my passport was taken from me and I was doused in disinfectant. I will admit that by this point, I was crying. I wasn’t hysterical but I was incredibly scared and confused. I didn’t know what was going on and honestly, it was my worst nightmare. In all the planning and preparing to come back to China, this hadn’t really crossed my mind. My temperature had never been high enough for it to be an issue. Now I was thousands of miles from home, with no way to contact my family, not that they would answer anyway, since it was 3am UK time. I was tired, starving, overwhelmed and my release happened to be crying.
After disinfection, I was interrogated, for want of a better term. The officials asked me what date I’d left China, and although I initially gave it confidently, I then lost confidence in it. It didn’t help that when I tried to tell them that I’d gone from Shenzhen to Heathrow via Frankfurt, they didn’t seem to get the via Frankfurt part. From what I could tell, from the screen in Chinese, they seemed to be trying to find the passenger manifest, so they could corroborate my story, which they wouldn’t if I’d accidentally given them the wrong departure date, or if they were looking for a direct flight to Heathrow. They kept checking the date and city with me over and over and over and over and over again as if they were trying to find a hole in my story, but they didn’t exactly seem all that interested in my answers either, especially when I tried to clarify that I might have got the wrong date and that I went to Frankfurt, then London. This wasn’t exactly helping with the crying thing, either.
They did, in their own inimitable Chinese way, try to comfort me once. They told me I didn’t need to be scared, that China was the safest country in the world, and that I’d be welcomed and surrounded by my Chinese family and Chinese family values (paraphrased). This was, of course, not at all helpful, but I did appreciate their attempt. They took a break from the interrogation to give me a Covid test, which was a nasal swab that tickled my throat and triggered my cough response in an attempt to dislodge the intrusion. This was in both nostrils, because just the one was clearly not sadistic enough for them. I then got a face full of disinfectant and tissue, before they moved onto the throat swab which just so happened to trigger my gag reflex. They were lucky I hadn’t eaten in a few hours or they would have had to clean up my vomit. Yum. Next up, they told me not to be afraid, but they also needed to take my blood, which was honestly the easiest part. So long as I don’t have to look at the needle puncturing my skin, I’m good.
They tried a little more interrogation, but it didn’t really work as I had literally told them everything I could, so I was finally given my passport back with my entry stamp, and told to wait outside for the ambulance to take us to the hospital. I was with one other girl, a Chinese national whose temperature had been 37.4˚C. If they’d taken my temperature then, as I was sitting outside in 15˚C and a light drizzle with just a t-shirt on, I probably would have passed with flying colours, but it was clearly too late at this point.
We got lights and standard horn to the hospital, rather than the sirens, but it still seemed to work quite nicely to get us there. At the hospital we had to wait in the ambulance, presumably so that they had time to prepare our rooms and a crowd full on gathered while we waited. Some of them even had their phones out. I actually wondered if this was what it was like to be a celebrity. I also took a couple of pics myself. It was an experience, and I wanted to document it. On the ride, I’d also spent all of my phone credit on my English sim card to let my parents know what was going on, and I was still confused as to why my Chinese sim card didn’t work.
When we were finally shown to our rooms, I told the nurse through the Chinese girl who had a very good grasp of English, that i had no internet and they made their phone a mobile hot spot for me for the afternoon. My room consisted of a hospital bed, bedside monitoring machine thing, a squatty potty and a sink. This was not idea, because the stress had also had a negative impact on my bowels, but I guess that’s just another Chinese experience to cross off my shower list (opposite of bucket list – the list of things you really don’t want to have to do in your life). they had also not provided loo roll, so I had to carefully ration my tissues and wet wipes. I did have a jug of boiling water and the promise to refill it whenever I needed.
Using the mobile hot spot, I was now able to talk to my mum – cue more tears, of course – and the company to tell them what was going on and the situation with my phone. It turns out, that if you don’t top up your phone for 6 months, the number gets cancelled so that was fun.
In the evening I had, of all things, a CT scan. It was focused (I think – I’ve never had a CT scan before and I got distracted by the pretty colours on the inside of the machine) on my lungs. Understandable, I suppose, given the nature of the virus. I also asked about my suitcase, as I had no idea where it was and I only had the clothes i was standing I and had been wearing for well over 24 hours by now.
At 8pm my Wi-Fi went off as the nurse whose phone it was had to go home, and at midnight, my suitcase was delivered. I had been trying to sleep as I’d also not done that in about 24 hours either. I’d managed to sleep a little on the London-Helsinki flight but hadn’t on the longer leg from Helsinki-Zhengzhou. But once the suitcase turned up, my jet lag kicked in and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I ended up listening to several hours of Harry Potter.
The next morning, bright and early, I had another blood test and throat swab. This nurse decided that my best veins were in my wrist, and so took the blood from there, which hurt way more than the crook of my elbow and left me with a massive bruise.
The rest of the day was spent in a haze of boredom and napping. I was afraid to sleep for too long or get too much out since, as far as I was concerned, I could be told at any time that I was leaving. My temperature had been back to normal since I had arrived at the hospital the day before and as far as I was concerned, I was Covid free. In the evening, I asked the nurse who came to take my temperature, when I would be leaving and she said that it would be the next day, as long as my morning test came back fine.
I nearly overslept the next morning, and had to rush dressing before the test when I asked again when I would be leaving. I was told the afternoon. By noon I had pretty much packed everything, and could be ready to go within a couple of minutes. At around 3.30pm, I was told to get ready to leave and I was allowed Wi-Fi for about another half an hour. I rushed to pack my last few bits and then lay on the bed reading on my phone, checking the door every few minutes to make sure that I wasn’t left behind (as if Chinese efficiency would allow such a thing).
At about 5.30pm the nurses all came to my room and asked for photos with me. Given that Zhengzhou isn’t exactly a tourist destination, I was the only white person that they had treated. So i was an anomaly to their usual work day that they wanted to record. It has made me wonder over the last few weeks, in a way that I never have before, how often I’m mentioned to a spouse or a roommate as a weird or unusual thing that happened that day. Its rather unsettling to think about. But anyway, I dutifully posed for my new fans and snapped a couple of my own cheeky pictures, then got my things. Oh nope, not yet; I had to wait for the bus.
Welp, it wasn’t a bus but an ambulance and this time we were treated to the lights and sirens. But in fairness it was half an hour to the hotel through rush hour, so I hate to think how long it would have taken without them.
At the hotel I finally had permanent Wi-Fi and wasted no time in reporting on my new confinement chambers that had both a shower (I hadn’t been able to wash since England) and a Western style toilet. Now all I had to do was choose a bed and wait out the rest of my quarantine.
I’ve gained a story, and experienced a Chinese hospital (I’ve now had a few more, but that’s next week’s story) and all it cost me was a mere 3000¥ I didn’t have and my 482 day streak on Duolingo, which to be honest, I’m most annoyed about.