Pre-tea ceremony in Shanghai

Sick in China

by Heather on 17 December, 2012

This week marks my tenth week in China. It is also marks my fourth week being sick in China. When I moved, I knew that I was bound to get sick in China. I just didn’t realize I would get this sick this often. I’ve suffered through three illnesses and a few handfuls of symptoms. I think it’s safe to say that my body is not welcoming China with open arms.

“Welcome to China” sickness
I knew I would get sick within my first week of moving to China. Everyone gets sick when they move to a new country. It generally happens within the first seven to ten days after your arrival. I arrived on Thursday and I was sick the following Thursday. Clock work. It’s something about your body adjusting to the new germs.

All I know is that I spent my second weekend in China feeling like death. I only left my bedroom to go to the bathroom. I was smart enough to bring plenty of American medicine, which helped me sleep through most of the sickness. I didn’t and I still don’t trust Chinese medicine. Sore throat, earache, running nose, and coughing. Welcome to China!

The Chinese are very fond of tea. They use it for medicinal purposes.

The Chinese are very fond of tea. They use it for medicinal purposes.

What did I eat?
My next sickness was much worse. It started the Monday before Thanksgiving. Another sore throat, coughing, and head congestion. Monday turned into Tuesday and Tuesday turned into Wednesday, but by Thursday (Thanksgiving) I felt great. On Thanksgiving night after my expensive, pseudo-American Thanksgiving dinner, I woke up with intense cramping. I was having cold sweats. And then came the vomiting.

The vomiting only lasted one day, but I didn’t eat much for two weeks because everything I ate came out the end much faster and more liquid-y than it should have. I had no appetite. It got so bad that I was getting light-headed and dizzy throughout the day. I made sure that I drank enough water and Gatorade, but I didn’t much solid food for almost two weeks.

After being too “runny” (read: I had diarrhea) and too dizzy for class, my teaching liaison insisted that I visit the campus doctor. Her initial reaction was to give me an IV. I was a little surprised by this, but it’s very common to handle illness with an IV in most part of Asia. Apparently, it cleanses your body of the illness, or so they seem to believe. But the doctor changed her mind and gave me medicine for diarrhea, cramping/bloating, and cold medicine.

Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure what caused this sickness and neither was the school’s doctor. She thinks the cold might have caused the diarrhea. I think the food I ate the prior weekend in Lianyungang caused the illness (as my boyfriend suffered a similar fate a few months earlier in the same city). Who knows? It could’ve been as simple as contaminated water. Either way, I think it was either a gastrointestinal infection or “traveler’s diarrhea”.

A sample of my Chinese medicine which I still haven't brought myself to try

A sample of my Chinese medicine, which I still haven’t brought myself to try

An attempt at vitamins
This week, I’m sick again. I don’t know what caused it, but I have a suspicion. Sore throat, no voice, throbbing headache, and a sore body. It may be the cold weather. It may be my body still adjusting to the germs in China. Or it may be the vitamins.

Feeling a little defeated, I decided I would buy American-branded vitamins to try to avoid all future sickness. I started taking the vitamins on Friday and I was sick on Sunday. This happened to me once before. I started taking vitamins and I got sick within a few days of taking the vitamins. I think my body might be rejecting the vitamins and/or the bacteria in my body is trying to fight off the vitamins. Maybe I’m being a little paranoid. Maybe it’s a simple, alas lengthy, cold or maybe it’s a bacterial or viral infection.

Either way, I stopped taking the vitamins two Sundays ago. Today is Monday (eight days later) and I’m still sick. I think I might try taking the vitamins every other day when I’m feeling better. Well, IF I ever feel better.

Sick abroad?
Have you ever been sick abroad?  How did you deal with the sickness?

James December 17, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Careful what you label Chinese medicine. You might want to pull out the leaflet in the box and google the listed name of the medicine. They will always have the actual substances name in English. Often times its European versions of stuff we get in the US.

Heather December 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I mostly mean that the packaging and labels aren’t familiar/are written in Chinese when I call it “Chinese medicine”. Chris mentioned that some of the medicines were probably made in the USA or somewhere else other than China. Some of the boxes didn’t come with leaflets of information. I haven’t used any of the medicine aside from the antibiotic that I started taking today after being sick for over a week. The package didn’t have any information, but I googled the name on the box. Let’s hope it works!

Agness December 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Bad news! I’m so sorry to hear it. Listen, maybe your body has some problems to get used to the new food, environment and the weather. What you should do is to try these Chinese medicines: any kind of tea and pills. I used to have a food poisoning and it was gone after 1 day of taking the pills I was described by a Chinese doctor. They really work! Especially Chinese herbs. Just give it a try!

Heather December 19, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Thank you for the advice! I think it’s definitely my body adjusting to the new environment and germs, as you suggested. I’ve been drinking more tea, which seems to help. I started taking an antibiotic on Monday. I’m starting to feel a little better. It’s been rough, but I think I’m finally on the mend. :)

Will December 28, 2012 at 1:43 am

Heather:
Interesting to see your site. I’ve been traveling in eastern China (Beijing, Dandong, Fushun, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, etc.) for much of the last few months, returning to U.S. twice – both times with serious throat/chest infections. Interestingly, both times I suffered coincided with five-day stays in Beijing. I have never received any intestinal/stomach problems – thankfully. However, my respiratory issues (sore throat, sinus congestion, lung/breathing problems, phlegm, coughing) were severe enough to require something far beyond the medications I secured in China. One thing I did (in China) was to make sure I clearly described the symptoms to the white-coat people in the little brick-and-mortar pharmacy clinics. I also e-mailed my U.S. doctor, describing symptoms and a list of drugs I should try to get in China. I took the list and had it transcribed by my Chinese girlfriend, and then went to the little green/white cross storefront pharmacy. I pantomimed my symptoms to the white-coated medical professional, showed a list of drugs (in Mandarin and English) that my doctor was prescribing (most of this stuff is common, such as amoxicillin, etc..) and then awaited the results. It worked. Kind of. I received something similar to my requested antibiotic – a common European antibiotic, roxicillin – and some common OTC pills for head congestion. I said “no thanks” to the herbal stuff and walked away spending a few bucks. I then emailed the names, etc. of everything to my doctor in the U.S. and he instructed me on dosage, etc. It worked.

Many Americans get respiratory problems in Beijing and other highly polluted Chinese cities. My advice: consult a physician before traveling, get a nice package of antibiotics and other drugs, and make sure to have a Skype or e-mail contact with your physician/office – or have a cellphone that works. Avoid Beijing, if possible, it’s very toxic to the lungs/respiratory tract. Skip the local remedies – they seem worthless. Hope this helps.

Will December 28, 2012 at 2:14 am

Follow-up:
Beyond prescription antibiotics, the two drugs that helped clear my lungs/respiratory issues:
Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, etc.) – OTC
Methylprednisolone tablets, 4 mg., 21 pills/6-day regimen (prescription only). This prescription worked like magic for me.
Hope this helps.

Heather December 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Thank you for the information and advice. One of my Chinese friends had a similar illness and suggested an antibiotic. I bought the medicine. (Isn’t it so strange to be able to get an antibiotic without going to the doctor?) It seems to have worked. I still have a little bit of cough and some extra phlegm, but I’m feeling much better than I was two weeks ago. A lot of the medicines from the corner pharmacies in China are made in Europe, which makes me a little bit more confident. I don’t really like the idea of going to a hospital where everyone is coughing and spitting, especially when it means being outside in the cold for extended periods of time. Plus, Chinese medicine just scares me! As far as the herbal remedies, I haven’t had any luck with those approaches. I think Nanjing has a similar pollution that may have caused this illness. It’s very likely that the adjustment to a new country and the cold weather hasn’t helped either. I appreciate the input!

Chris December 31, 2012 at 12:55 am

You really have had it rough since getting here. Hell, I’ve been sick twice since you got here myself! You’re clearly bad juju, my dear ;-)

Glad you’re finally starting to feel a little better. Hopefully someday, that’ll be 100% better.

Heather December 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I’m sorry about getting you sick. Let’s hope we’ll both be healthier from here on out.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: