We had just returned from an amazing week in Vietnam this past October for Chinese Harvest Festival Holiday when it happened. I was getting set to write about my favorite Southeast Asian country and the glorious week we had spent there between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Con Dao, a virtual island paradise off the southern coast of Vietnam. This has been the story of our life these last 4 years – – spend about 8 weeks in Shanghai, jump on a plane for some exotic Asian destination, do at least a week there then fly back to China where I later write about our trip for this blog.
I had my Vietnam post in the chamber ready to go, as well as a new post on the continuing insane growth of craft beer in China when my life was changed forever. I was on a scooter with my two daughters and we were crossing a huge boulevard, something I had done a million times before, when a car shot out and hit us broadside. It is hard for me to even think of it let alone write about it, but car connected with scooter and the outcome was what you would expect.
The scooter, the girls, and I all went down. I found myself lying in the street with lots of Chinese people looking down at me. The girls had been thrown to the street and had some scrapes, but luckily they were wearing helmets. I took the brunt of the accident. My head hurt and I quickly realized that I couldn’t move my right leg. We have since seen the video of the accident (everything in China is on video) and it is ugly. So I’m not going to relive it here. We were fortunate that our driver Steven was very close by. I was able to call him to tell him what happened and where we were. The driver of the car that hit us actually stopped and got out to check on me, which is not something that happens in China very often. Steven arrived at about the same time an ambulance did and he was able both to translate and, more importantly, make sure the girls were taken care of. And thus began my odyssey into the Chinese medical system.
I fractured my leg in 7 places below the knee, and smashed my ankle. I also had 12 stitches in two places on my head. Steven negotiated me into the ambulance, and off we went, slowly in Shanghai traffic, to the hospital. I have written about the medical situation in Shanghai before, and up until now, our experiences had all been good. There are many Western medical personnel serving in China. I and many expats I know have received good treatment for a variety of ailments in Shanghai. Now however we were testing the system with a severe trauma. The first hospital the ambulance took me to refused to admit me because they did not take my insurance. The next hospital we went to, Shanghai Pudong East Hospital, not only admitted me, but after putting stitches in my head took me up to the “VIP” floor, where they house Westerners in comfort. So far so good.
I spent the next three days at Shanghai East where their practices were like something out of the Middle Ages. They kept my leg in some form of “traction,” which entailed hanging it over the raised end of the bed and attaching a weight to it and letting it hang. On the third day, I called Dr. Edward Southern, an American orthopedic surgeon (from Michigan, ironically) who works out of Parkway Health here, a very good, Western oriented health care system (parkwayhealth.cn). I had seen him the previous month for a lower back issue. I explained to him what the doctors at Shanghai East were doing to me and he said, “you need to get the hell out of there. I’m sending an ambulance tomorrow. Get in it.”
I’m going to quickly summarize what followed because this post is about healing. Dr. Southern operated on my leg the next day and I was later told by doctors in the States that he quite possibly saved it. Unbeknownst to me, my brother Tim had flown to Shanghai from Detroit when he heard about my accident. (I love that guy.) It quickly became clear to all of us that the Chinese medical system could not handle the traumatic nature of my injuries. If I ever wanted to walk again the way I did before the accident, I needed to get back to the U.S. for treatment. Karen worked with SOS International, a company that provides healthcare resources to people living and working abroad (internationalsos.com). They arranged for my brother, myself, and an English speaking Chinese doctor to fly back to Detroit so I could go to the University of Michigan (U of M) for the rest of the medical treatment I needed.
My wonderful sister-in-law Peggy, who is a pediatric orthopedics nurse at U of M, had been following my situation through updates from my wife. She was keeping her doctor colleagues abreast of my progress. Thanks to her, they decided that they would accept me as a patient and immediately upon landing at Detroit Metro Airport, I was whisked to U of M. I had the good fortune to be treated by Dr. James Goulet, considered one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country (medicine.umich.edu). He and his team did great work on me and, after surgery, I was sent home to Grosse Pointe to recover. My wife and daughters came home from Shanghai for Christmas, and the holiday in Michigan was all about family, friends, and healing.
As I reveled in having my family home with me, I had one other major objective on my mind: getting back to China. It was an obsession with me and I worked hard on my rehab and physical therapy so that I could get clearance from the doctors to fly back to Shanghai in January with my family. I knew that I would be better off with my family in Shanghai — even better than staying in Michigan near my doctors (and the Michigan winter). I was not ready to let go of our Asia adventure. Because of the suddenness of the whole situation, I had lots of people, expats and Chinese alike, that I had not been able to say goodbye to if was going to leave for good. So, after tests and X-rays, I got the okay from Dr. Goulet and flew back to Shanghai on January 3rd.
Once in Shanghai, I jumped right back into my life here, with the added activities associated with physical rehab. I was not able to get properly treated in China, but I am able to heal here. The energy of this city is so good for me and my recovery. I also am surrounded here with wonderful professionals like physio-therapist, Dr. Ozgur Surencock. Ozgur works at Parkway, with Dr. Southern, and had treated me several years ago when I strained my meniscus tendon in Thailand. I now see him twice a week and I’m working very hard so that in the next several months I will be walking and running as I did before the accident. We stretch, exercise, and use stimulation therapy to slowly but steadily heal my leg.
I also work out weekly with my incredible Chinese physical trainer Jessie Li at Megafit gym in Jinqiao (megafitchina.com). She works very hard to help me increase the flexibility of my ankle and leg, as well as strengthen the parts of my core that were under-utilized during my operations and recovery. Finally, my great friend and genius Yogi Christina Zeng stretches me through yoga in ways that help me heal my leg and deal with the day to day aches and inflammations caused by the surgery. I’m well on the road to recovery in Shanghai thanks to the infrastructure of healing I have been lucky to build here, both Western and Chinese. Would I be in the same place physically if I had stayed in Michigan? Probably, but I was not ready to let go of China and our Asia Pacific life, no matter what my physical condition.
And, as I said at the beginning of this post, part of that life is travel. As soon as I got back to Shanghai, I began planning for our Chinese New Year trip. We decided to go back to Thailand, and Koh Samui in particular, for a variety of reasons including my belief that a tropical vacation would be good for my recovery. (I don’t need a lot rational rationale to go to Thailand.) We went to Bangkok for the first weekend and stayed at the beautiful Anantara Riverside Resort, which is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya river that runs through the city (anantara.com). Then we flew to Koh Samui and spent a tropical week at Baan Sawan, a villa high up in Bophut Hills that is beautiful beyond description (baansawanvilla.com). That trip brought me full circle mentally — I was completely back to my Asia life.
I fought hard to get back to China and I think most expats in my situation would have done the same. Yes, it is about family and friends, but it is also about Shanghai and Asia Pacific. Our experience here has been life-altering in the best of ways. I do believe that there comes a time when you are ready to leave China, and then you need to go. I also believe that this China journey is so wonderful that being forced to leave it early hurts. I have good friends whose working spouses were transferred back early, with no recourse to stay, and they are still angry about it. I would say to any Westerner coming to Shanghai that you better be prepared for how much you will love this experience, the lifestyle, and the travel, because if you let it, it is going to take hold of you and never let go. Unlike my leg, that is something from which you can never heal, and I’m okay with that.