Introduction to My Chinese Physical Therapists + Vampire Pop Culture!

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After the last two detail-heavy posts on my surgery, I thought it might be good to lighten up a bit and introduce you to my physical therapy staff, fun people with whom  I will be spending much of my life over the next two years.

The entire Kunming Walking Programme nursing and physical therapy staff is amazingly hard-working and enthusiastic in their dedication to patients … and I’ve discovered they also seem to have a great sense of humor.

As discussed in one of my earlier posts, there is a certain routine that I perform each day, which includes five different exercises along with standing upright while bearing my full weight.

Once I have completed my surgery, I will also start to practice walking down the hallways, but for now I am just conditioning my body to standing up in the standing frame with the help of three therapists.  I stand for two 30 minute sessions each morning.

While I’m standing, I’m looking out from the seventh story of Tongren Hospital onto the beautiful mountains of Yunnan Province (actually these are Himalayan foothills) and out onto Kunming’s rapidly expanding skyline.

Most days I chat with my therapists to learn new vocabulary and more generally to improve my Chinese. Yesterday, our conversation took an entirely wacky but hilarious turn.  One of the therapists began by asking me if I thought a famous actor was sexy or not. I could not understand the translated name, so she typed it out on her phone, and it turned out to be Rob Patterson!  I started laughing so hard that I swung my right hip out to one side and very nearly fell out of the standing frame.

For those (hopefully most) of you who are unfamiliar with Rob Paterson, he’s the lead actor in the “Twilight” series of teeny-bopper vampire movies

My therapists continued on with the conversation about how good-looking this guy is, constantly bringing up pictures of him to show the entire exercise room. Even the male physical therapists decided he was quite a good-looking guy  🙂

The conversation then took another turn in which the therapists took turns naming all the American vampire movies they loved.  I had no idea how obsessed my entire PT staff is with vampires!  🙂

I then started laughing so hard again that blood from my head rushed to my feet, my blood pressure fell quickly, and I had to sit down and have my legs lifted into the air in order for me to regain consciousness. Yes, I literally passed out laughing at the staff’s enthusiasm for American vampire flicks.  Now, mind you, I have passed out from laughing before, but it was at a comedy club in Miami after quite a few glasses of champagne … here it seems I come to work in a comedy club!

Otherwise, I have a quick side story to share with you about costs in the Chinese healthcare system vs. in the United States.

Last week my Mom was rushed to the emergency room with tingling feet and hands and difficulty breathing, eventually to discover that her potassium levels had fallen dangerously low.  Before the Chinese doctors worked this out, they put her through a full EKG, a CT scan as well as an MRI and ran her blood panels and urine panels … finally putting her on an IV drip to boost her potassium.

Now, from experience in Miami, I’d estimate all this high-tech service and lab work would cost at least $5000.  Well, over here we just got the bill for my mother’s stay in the emergency room + all these services.   The total cost turned out to be the RMB equivalent of $250.

Seriously, what?   Yep, that was the cost in a brand new, private Chinese hospital.  No wonder medical tourism is taking off all over the world.   Private hospital rooms here with en suite toilet and shower still go for the equivalent of $14 a day.

All right, I will steer this post back to my therapists and offer you a brief introduction to key members of the team.  You can match the names to the pictures below.

Shen Jie is the head physical therapist and had worked in the spinal cord injury field for the last 13 years with Dr. Zhu Hui over at the Kunming Peoples Liberation Army Hospital.  When Dr. Zhu retired from the PLA last year and joined the new private Kunming Tongren Hospital, she took Shen Jie with her.

Shen Jie is a true fountain of sunshine and always smiling. You can tell she really loves her job, but she is also very focused … not a broad to be messed with!

Niu Feng is the second in command to Shen Jie and is also from the People’s Liberation Army Hospital. She has been working with spinal cord injury patients for the last eight years. Niu Feng has a great sense of humor and was the one who started the vampire conversation.

When new patients start standing balance training, someone has to be sitting on the little box stool in front to hold the knees and feet straight, which prevents knees buckling and a bad fall.  Niu Fang alternates with Shen Jie in this particularly uncomfortable task, but neither one ever complains.  They just perform with a smile whatever needs to be done.

Xiao Kong is one of the newer physical therapists who graduated from a local PT school about two years ago. He is small, but he is very capable.

I had a conversation with Dr. Zhu Hui a few weeks ago about assigning one physical therapist to work with me consistently every day so I can teach the team how to handle me properly. I was trying to make the point that when more international patients enroll in rehabilitation here, the program may need to offer more personalized care, because every patient has different needs. So Dr. Zhu assigned Xiao Kong to me personally for the next few months until she hires additional physical therapists, and so the idea is that Xiao Kong will teach the others.

I have taught Xiao Kong how to transfer me safely using a transfer board, which in the past they have not used in China because most of the Chinese are under 120 pounds … J.  He’s my new buddy, goes wherever I go, and he is funny as hell. I am quickly learning how to understand jokes in Chinese.

Xiao Mai is the other male physical therapist who has been with the program for about one year. He is a little bigger and stronger than Xiao Kong, so he spends most of his time in the hallways with patients helping them walk with the standing frames.  He is a little bit more quiet, but always very helpful.

These are the 4 main physical therapists with whom I work every day.  Other new therapists have just been hired, but I do not know them well enough yet. There’s also the entire nursing staff to get to know, as many of them also help out with the Walking Programme when there are too many patients. I will save introduction of the nurses for another blog post.

Finally, I wanted to end by commenting on how hard the Chinese work.  Next week, for example, there is a three-day holiday … there seems to be a holiday for almost everything here.  Anyway, the Chinese have to make up these holiday days-off by working the weekend before or after every holiday!

So, next week the Chinese get Monday- Wednesday off, but they have to work the weekend before and after.  It’s sort of a funny arrangement, because they actually don’t get any more days off for the holiday, rather essentially they just end up re-arranging their weekends.

Try to imagine the comparable situation in the U.S.  If we were in Miami, there would be a full-on riot if people were expected to make up legal holidays by making up the lost time on the prior and subsequent weekend!

So the lesson is that it really pays to keep an open mind about cultural differences and to go with the local flow … “when in Rome … “ 🙂

NuJiu & Shenjie

NuJiu & Shenjie

Taking a nap on Xiao Kong while Niufang is hard at work down below preventing me from falling while standing :-)

Taking a nap on Xiao Kong while Niufang is hard at work down below preventing me from falling while standing 🙂

From the left: Xiao Mai, Shenjie, Xiao Kong, Niufang, (New PT 3rd day on the job, Xiao Liu)

From the left: Xiao Mai, Shenjie, Xiao Kong, Niufang, (New PT 3rd day on the job, Xiao Liu)

2013-04-24 11.37.12

Niu Fang awaiting her next patient

Shenjie ... This picture was very hard to take because she always refused to take a picture. Most of the women in the hospital do not like to have their picture taken because they always tell me they did not have their makeup on, their hair was not pretty that day or had a bad "looking day." Women! :-)

Shenjie … This picture was very hard to take because she always refused to take a picture. Most of the women in the hospital do not like to have their picture taken because they always tell me they did not have their makeup on, their hair was not pretty that day or had a bad “looking day.” Women! 🙂

ShenJie and me riding the bike. Yes, the Peacesign is a universal Chinese thing when taking pictures!

ShenJie and me riding the bike. Yes, the Peacesign is a universal Chinese thing when taking pictures!

5 responses »

  1. Hi Ali ! So reassuring to read that you are being cared for by vampire fans ! Seriously they look very nice and I’m happy that you’re working hard and yet have so much fun. Still it does not look that easy. Keep up the good work and laughters. Love to you all from Sassa xoxoxo

  2. Your therapists look absolutely lovely (in spite of their taste for vampire movies which could be a bit worrying in a hospital!) Hope your Mom is feeling better now. One more thing: I think the ‘real’ cost of health care is somewhere between China and US but much closer to the Chinese costs. I love your blog!

  3. I so love reading your blogs. It seems like we are not only keeping up with your progress, but learning close-up about another culture. Keep up the great work – we think of you so often. I did hear about your Mother’s episode and was so glad to hear of her recovery. Love to all. Pat and Quen

  4. Hi Ali- Love your blog and excited and amazed by your bravery and strength!! You truly are an inspiration and I am so glad to be able to follow your adventures through the blog and Mattias and Nellie.

    much love to you girlie! xxoo Sheri

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