The Hospital

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.

Inside the ambulance
This is the look of an overwrought Englishwoman

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.

A curious crowd

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.

I got an ouchie!

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.

Top Tips on Making it Through Lockdown

As the UK goes back into lockdown, I’ve realised that I’ve got a bit good at this quarantine thing. And I specify quarantine and self isolation as I’ve done both of those a couple of times whereas I’ve done lockdown the same number of times as you have: precisely once.

Snow leopard at Dudley Zoo.

But, having quarantined twice now; once on returning from China with Lauren and once on returning to China, by myself, in a hotel room, I didn’t find it the worst thing in the world.

Lauren and I on a socially distanced walk on the Malverns

However I will admit that I am an introvert who in the before times would occasionally fantasize about having time home alone with no reason to go out and no interruptions. So I understand that the more gregarious of people who read this may find it a lot harder.

Baby giraffe at Dudley Zoo

But I can say that I managed to survive with my sanity (mostly) intact, so I thought I’d share what helped me get through my quarantines in the hope that it may help someone else.

The best selfie I’ve taken with my Dad, ever.

Disclaimer: I’m not all knowing and this helped me. Please approach with caution. Not proven to get anyone mentally well. You know your mind better than I do. I hope.

Domino, my baby, being a babay

->Keep busy. This may seem like common sense but it is really helpful. Write yourself a To Do list and try to cross off at least one thing a day. Include jobs that you’ve been meaning to get round to for years but never quite had the time for. Include jobs that will probably take hours or even days to complete. always include write to do list at the top of your to do list as it really helps me to see that first little tick at the top of the page. Include your hobbies because there’s nothing like feeling productive when you’re reading a book. I found that an utterly unproductive day was bad for my mental health but a single solitary tick turned that mood upside down, especially if it was a project that I’ve been meaning to complete for the last eighteen months. I frequently include my cross-stitching on my list, because I can then be productive while watching TV.

My pandemic cross stitch

-> Keep a routine. Again, this seems obvious, but the quickest way to an unproductive day, at least for me, is to wake up later than normal, and then not wanting to go to bed until much later than normal and realising that you actually have to be up at 8am the next morning, while also realising that the majority of the day is gone without actually having done anything because you were asleep/in bed/thinking about moving and doing something soon, and then realising what’s the point because it’s already the evening.

Arctic fox with summer coat at Dudley Zoo

Of course, if a nocturnal cycle is one that works best for you, then go for it, but I find that unless I have something due the next morning, I am functionally useless after about 7pm regardless of what that thing I should be doing is, or what time I actually go to bed. I work better in general if I keep to a routine. During my Chinese quarantine (as opposed to the British one), I knew that food would be delivered to my room three times a day, and I had to submit my temperature twice a day, during a specific time frame. Now, I was still suffering from jetlag, so I’ll admit that my 8.30 alarms were occasionally ignored, but I was able to build my own structure around that which I was given.

Being functionally incapable in the evening is a family thing

-> Nap. Now, this may seem counterproductive to the last two of my points, but I argue that it should be built into your schedule and routine, the way that Chinese schools do. In fact, I am writing this while my Chinese colleagues are napping, and I haven’t joined them, because honestly, their napping location isn’t the greatest (however, since I wrote this I have napped twice at school, during our lunch break), doesn’t look comfortable (I napped at my desk, which was also uncomfortable), and I tend to get home and become about as useful as a dried up marker pen (I am only typing this up in the evening due to today’s nap).

I made some things, that I then had to model, obviously.

But the reason I advocate naps is, as well as them being refreshing, that they eat up time. You may have found that you are one of these weird, uber-productive people who isn’t adding to-dos faster than she can tick them off (Hi!) and so you have ploughed through your to do list and can’t add anything more until the 3 socks and single pair of pants has finished in the washing machine and you’ve eaten a meal to create washing up (if you are, please tell me how you do it. i really want to know!), how about taking a nap? You’ll be surprised at how much time can pass (it’s not wasted, honest) while having a little snooze, and when you wake up, you can make washing up while you cook and you can hang the socks to dry, while searching for the missing of the pair.

Socially distance walking with the famalam

Plus, if you wake up befuddled, as I often do, you can lose track of what day it is and that really helps time slip by.

A friend’s kittens, napping. They know what’s up.

-> Make use of technology. And no, I don’t just mean Netflix. I mean, Zoom, Google meets, or hangouts, or whichever is your preferred platform. I know, trust me, I know it’s not the same as a real person – as my new besties, the English speaking folks who emerged from quarantine at the same time as me can attest to (I’m sorry that a- I talked your ears off and b- started a load of anecdotes without finishing them), but it does help keep the loneliness away. And if my severely technophobic aunt can do it, so can you. I believe in you.

Another cross stitch I did, in about a week. Honestly, I credit cross stitch with my continued good mental health

-> Be forgiving, especially towards yourself. Look, humans are naturally social creatures, so locking yourself away is against that nature and is going to have an effect on you, and the people that you cohabit with. I’m sure that in quarantine with Lauren, we squabbled a bit. And I definitely had a couple of spats with my mum during lockdown, but we forgave one another and moved on, which was honestly the only way we could deal with it healthily, even if there were a couple of hours or more of avoidance beforehand, if only so our tempers could cool.

Cross stitch I designed and made in honour of the NHS and Pride

And due to our social natures, isolation means that some days it is hard even to get out of bed. I didn’t, a couple of days of quarantine, or if i did, it was to fetch my laptop, my food, and to pee. but i forgave myself and tried again the next day. it helped that something like “taking a shower” was on my to do list.

Lynx, at Dudley Zoo. He also knows the importance of self-care

And also, please remember that the world is a dumpster fire, and we are in (I’m shuddering as i write this overused cliché) unprecedented (ugh. so much ugh) times. nothing is normal and so if all you can manage everyday is feeding yourself, I’m proud of you, because I even struggled with that for a couple of days in quarantine and I didn’t even have to cook for myself. it was only when I felt dizzy from standing too quickly that I realised I needed to eat more than two yoghurts and a satsuma each day.

Peacock my mother and I found on one of our government permitted walks.

-> Hobbies. We all saw on the news how everyone started baking during the first lockdown, and honestly, kudos. i couldn’t have come out the other side relatively unscathed if it hadn’t have been for my cross-stitching. if there is something that you have always wanted to try, now is a great time to start. i also did a free psychology course, much to my parents’ chagrin as they became my test subjects and a friend of mine started to teach herself programming. there are so many resources online, and a lot of them are free. so go, master that language, learn to write in calligraphy, or knit a scarf that rivals Tom Baker’s.

Even more cross stitching

Look I can’t pretend that self-isolation is easy, and I have a naturally optimistic outlook which is something I am very grateful for, and yet I still had anxiety and depressive episodes. I’m just sharing what I found to help me, having had to endure it twice now. It’s okay to struggle as long as you keep fighting.

Teeny tiny, randy marmoset from Dudley Zoo

Now go forth. Except don’t. Stay at home. Go forth mentally. I know you can do this. I believe in you.

Domino also believes in you

P.S. I hope you like some pictures from the summer (since it won’t get its own post anytime soon).