Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wuhan Days 4 and 5

Friends: Stephen miscalculated the time of his train trip from Guilin to Wuhan thinking it was 3 hours, when it was in fact 15, so he arrived at 11 a.m., not 11 p.m., making our appointed rendezvous of noon impossible. He didn't realize the length of the train trip until midnight when the train hadn't arrived in Wuhan yet, so he had no way of letting me know of his delay.

I waited for him at the appointed McDonald's until 1:30. I wasn't the only one there lingering. It was an unofficial warming center for lots of people, many of whom bought nothing. A grandmother sat knitting while her grand-daughter did homework. I finally went to the Internet to see if there was any message from Stephen and also to send out one of my own.

I didn't envy him at all trying to get to our meeting point in pelting snow flurries on icy roads. If he had arrived at noon, we would have had the dilemma of setting out in these conditions. I didn't mind at all having the decision of "no go" forced on me. Little did I know what travails he was suffering. The train station was on the other side of the Yangzi, so he had to cross the long, high two-mile bridge in such conditions. He was lucky though to be doing it in daylight hours, and after some sleep, having paid for a bed on the train.

When I went on line there was no word from him. He was trying to find an Internet outlet at that point himself. He had arrived at what he thought was our meeting point right around 1:30. Unfortunately, it was the third of three McDonald's all within a few blocks of one another, one that I wasn't aware of. It was near an Adidas store that was one of our landmarks, but not the same Adidas store as the one I described. The way to the hotel I was staying at was near the second Adidas. When Stephen tried to find the hotel using the other Adidas as a guide, he couldn't.

We knew it wouldn't be easy to connect in China, but it was turning out to be harder than we thought. We finally both found ourselves on line a little after five. We were just a few blocks apart. We made arrangements to meet at the McDonald's on the pedestrian mall that I first suggested between six and seven. But we failed again, as Stephen stuck to the McDonald's on a different pedestrian mall that I didn't know about, failing to follow the detailed directions I had sent him several days ago to a different McDonald's on a different pedestrian mall a few blocks away.

So it was back to the Internet at my hotel. No further word from Stephen. But when I signed off and came out the door there was Stephen lugging his bike up the stairs. He'd gone back to my original email and got the directions right to the hotel. He was desperate as he'd run out of money. He had tried to check into a hotel leaving his watch as a deposit, but he was refused, so he had to find me. At last, seven-and-a-half hours after we had hoped to connect, we finally had. It was too good to be true.

Stephen in his wanderings had discovered a Wal-Mart Superstore nearby. We both needed long underwear, which we knew we could find there. Wal-Mart also offers a surprisingly good deli and also a warm place to eat, something that is not easy to find. If I had known about this Wal-Mart I would have spent a considerable amount of time there the past two days. We were thrilled to find a set of fleece-lined tops and bottoms for less than $15. As we sat and ate, it was the first time either of us had been warm all day. As we gabbed away, raving about how much we both enjoyed China and much more, just barely making a dent in all we have to talk about, we were told the store was closing. We were shocked to see it was ten p.m.

Stephen had had his credit cards stolen in Vietnam and had to arrange a Wells Fargo money transfer with his mother. He was down to his last seven yuans after paying for the hotel. He was on line until one a.m. arranging it. There was a Wells Fargo outlet just a few blocks from our hotel. We had to go to several different places though to find it and then to another to get the cash. We couldn't find it, so returned to Wells Fargo to ask again where it was. Stephen commented, "If I make it through today without a seizure, I'll be happy"

It was nice to hear that he had a sense of humor about his epilepsy. He kept apologizing for putting me through this. I said I didn't mind at all, as I had frequently wondered how I would deal with the loss of my credit cards. I was getting a first hand lesson without the personal agony. When we returned to the Wells Fargo office, we were told their shipment of US currency for the day had arrived, so we had to search no further. Stephen was given the money he was wired in US one hundred dollar bills. Then we had to go to a Bank of China to have some of it changed into yuans.

Outside the bank a couple guys offered to change money. Their rate was agreeable, especially since it didn't include a commission nor a long wait with a lot of paperwork. When one guy seemed to say he had to go and get money and was going to take the one hundred dollar bill Stephen had given him, I saw Stephen start to protest and then slowly collapse into my arms. At first I thought he was just faking incredulity that the guy would suggest such a thing, but no, that feared seizure had struck.

It wasn't a tremendous surprise after the stress of the past day, but it still wasn't something I expected to happen. I hadn't even bothered to ask Stephen what I should do if one should strike. Fortunately, I had read about his two previous seizures on this trip, and knew that he just needed to slowly regain consciousness. Still, it was a most unsettling sight to watch him writhe on the sidewalk for a minute or so and gurgle out some blood, having bit his tongue, and vomit, as his eyes rolled about.

A crowd quickly gathered, with several people offering tissues to wipe his face and helping to keep his arms folded on his chest and assisting in putting his gloves back on his hands. He was unconscious for ten minutes or so. I was about to dig out my sleeping bag to drape over him when police and an ambulance showed up. I knew he didn't need to go to a hospital, though it took considerable effort to prevent it. A crew with a stretcher was very eager to whisk him away.

Someone from the bank came out who spoke English. I explained the situation. The paramedics agreed to let him lay in the back of the ambulance until he recovered. I at first kept a door open and maintained a position to block the ambulance if it decided to make a break for it. When they assured me they would stay put, I joined Stephen in the ambulance. The woman from the bank offered to look after our bikes. I said our hotel was just four blocks away and that Stephen would be okay soon.

By now he had regained consciousness and was talking a bit. He was concerned when the ambulance started moving, as I asked it to back up alongside our bikes. He assured me he didn't want to go to a hospital and he was slowly recovering, just a few minutes more. A woman paramedic spoke some English. The police and a couple of the other attendants really wanted to take him to the hospital. I kept telling them them it would be pointless.

Stephen was becoming more and more coherent and knew he was just a couple minutes away from being okay. When he was ready to rise, he came out of it with great aplomb and even had the strength to carry his bike with all its gear up the two fights of stairs to our hotel, where we had checked out of less than an hour before.

Stephen said he just needed to sleep and he was sure he would be fine and ready to roll tomorrow. We have plans to watch "2012" tonight at the multiplex on the seventh floor of the department store building down the street. A day's delay will also give the snow and ice along the road a chance to melt. All is well. What might have seemed like a traumatic crisis is just something that is part of Stephen's life and that he knows how to handle. I was happy to be on hand to keep some calm among all the pedestrians and officials.

Later, George

1 comment:

Julie Hochstadter said...

I'm sure Stephen appreciated having a friend there with him when he lost consciousness.