Sickness and Pets

About two weeks ago, I took a walk on a sunny day following some days of rain. I came upon a manhole cover sunken in the sidewalk, holding an inch or two of water. In that little bit of water, I was amazed to discover some 40 to 50 tadpoles swimming sluggishly around. Right on the sidewalk!

I had recently discovered that in China, it’s a common childhood thing to keep some tadpoles as pets and watch them develop. When I was younger, I had had rabbits, mice, dogs, lizards, fish, and even a snake. But never a tadpole.

The water in the manhole depression was slowly but surely evaporating, and there already wasn’t much left. I decided to rescue some of them.

I managed to get about 20 out of the depression using a spoon and a plastic bowl. I bought a little glass fishbowl and some fish food (for 7rmb total). When I fed them, they gobbled up the food greedily. Up to that point, they had been cannibalizing the weak.

Keeping the tadpoles alive proved to be harder than I expected. I’m not sure whether the water got a little too dirty or what, but they were slowly dying off.

Then last Friday I got sick. I woke up early with a case of diarrhea that was completely painless but utterly sincere. I was rushing to the toilet every 5 minutes, it seemed, and I was losing a lot of water. I had to call in sick to work. By evening I had a fever, and my girlfriend insisted I go to the hospital. So I did. It was 10:30pm.

It took forever to get treated because I had taken an anti-diarrheal and thus couldn’t supply the sample they wanted. Eventually they took blood. The Chinese medical solution to virtual any malady seems to be an IV, and this was no exception. It was midnight before I finally had the IV in me, supplying my bloodstream with vitamins and antibiotics.

For this IV treatment I was seated in the emergency room. My girlfriend kept me company for a while, but she had class in the morning, so had to leave. Being right in the emergency room, I saw all kinds of people come in. Most of them ended up with IVs.

One guy was almost catatonic, brought in on one of the cargo tricycles used all over China to transport goods. His family must have been pretty poor, not wanting to resort to hospital treatment unless absolutely necessary. About an hour later, the awful sound of a woman’s wailing came from the back of the hospital. “Someone died,” the people around me whispered.

Another woman was brought in writhing, and laid out on a gurney. She was there on an IV nearly the entire time I was, and never seemed to get much better. Eventually her husband took her away.

One guy was brought in completely unconscious by some friends. Alcohol poisoning. Baijiu, his friends said. The vile white rice wine. I’m not sure what happened to him, but his friends wondered around the room drunkenly for hours.

For a while an old man was seated next to me for his IV. At one point, he had to go to the bathroom, so the people with him unzipped him, stood him up, and had him go into a plastic bag right there.

Around 3am it started to get cold in the room, because inconsiderate people would leave the main door open. Around that time two women arrived with a man. The girls look like the type that sing at karaoke bars. Very pretty. Only one of them had been battered badly across the face. Her face was all black and blue, her eyes swollen shut. Later, hearing her talk to her friend, my suspicions were confirmed — some man had done that to her. Two of the guys in the room tried badly to hide smirks when she came in. Why, I can’t imagine. But I wanted to punch them. The girl got an IV too.

Soon thereafter, more loud sobbing seemed to indicate that someone else had died.

According to the doctor, my IV (2 bottles) was supposed to last 3 hours. They ended up lasting 5. I couldn’t sleep and had nothing to do but watch sick people. I got home at 5am. The hospital bill was 150rmb (under $20). No medications were prescribed.

I had decided to release my remaining tadpoles into the pond in Jing An Park. It seemed like a good day to do it. I waited for my girlfriend to arrive first. When she showed up, she surprised me with a gift of two cute little white rabbits.

It was a nice surprise, but also an impulisve, irresponsible purchase. I was not in the best position to care for rabbits, and I did not want to be responsible for their deaths. The vendors that sell rabbits and other little animals don’t tend to sell them in the healthiest condition to begin with.

Still, she had bought them and given them to me, so they were my responsiblity. The remaining tadpoles (less than 10) were freed. But now I had rabbits.

I was stunned by some of the “advice” I was given by various Chinese people on how to care for rabbits. Some of the things I was told: “Rabbits can’t be given water. It’ll give them diarrhea and they’ll die.” “Don’t give them vegetables, or they’ll get diarrhea and die. Give them bread.” “Don’t let them eat much grass or they’ll get diarrhea and die.”

Exactly how do these people think rabbits live in nature?! Unbelievable. Anyway, under my care, two sluggish little rabbits have become lively. They actually have both solid and liquid waste now, too, which didn’t happen for about two days, owing to their previous diet. The new diet: grass and water.

Yesterday, the evil diarrhea come back at 5am. I couldn’t go to work again. I returned to the hospital, but not the emergency room. This time I went to the part of the hospital “for foreigners.” The hospital has one big building devoted to plastic surgery. One floor deals with ordinary medical cases like mine.

To make a long story short, I was not given any clear explanation as to why I was sick. It wasn’t food poisoning. But the hospital was much cleaner and more orderly. Everyone was friendly and spoke English (until they realized they didn’t have to). I was given an IV again, which took five hours for two bottles again, but this time I was in a bed the whole time. I walked away with 4 different kinds of medication to take. The total bill was 850rmb (over $100).

So I’m feeling better now. And I have rabbits. I wonder how those tadpoles are doing…

Related entry: Verbal Horror


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Looks like the going rate for a bed at the hospital is $80/night. They seem to know that the foreigners can pay. While the other was more interesting, this last time was probably more comfortable. May you continue to improve in health.

  2. I didn’t stay the night in the hospital; I was there for most of the afternoon. The bed only cost 100 rmb (which is not cheap in China). The majority of the cost was lab testing and medications. I’m quite sure the price had nothing to do with me being a foreigner. It was higher quality service.

  3. Doctor 99 Says: April 28, 2004 at 7:11 pm

    But what did the nurses look like?

  4. glad to hear you’re ok.

  5. your tadpole story brought back sad memories of my goldfish. and my plants. and you’re plants (now greg’s) for that matter. why does it seem so hard to keep things alive here.

  6. WilliamW Says: April 29, 2004 at 1:00 am

    Hope you recover real soon, John. I’m a new Sinosplice fan. Incidentally, which hospital did you go to (the second time)?

    Perhaps a picture of the rabbits on your blog? 🙂

  7. Da Xiangchang Says: April 29, 2004 at 5:47 am

    Ahhhh, Chinese hospitals. Relentless IVs, paleolithic restrooms, and smoking doctors. How fondly I remember them all! I remember my own time spent in hospitals–not in Shanghai, but in Jiangxi Province. Two hospitals, in fact. And good old John to accompany me while the IV went drip, drip, drip. Remember, John? 😉

    I’ve also spent time at hospitals in Shanghai, once to get a HIV test and another because I feared testicular cancer. The blood test and the ultrasound came out negative in both cases. Thank God in Heaven!

  8. Congratulations on your pairing of “sincere” and “diarhhea”! On another note, were you concerned about whether or not the IV needle was clean? After reading a story in TIME (at some point) about the spread of HIV in China, I would be very concerned about needles there. But I’m sure you get a sense of what’s safe just from living there.

    This was another great post. Great job with the small details and mixing insights into a light story. I’m trying to do similar things with my blog (, and it’s great to see someone else doing this so well.

  9. Hope u r robust now again 😉

    “The Chinese medical solution to virtual any malady seems to be an IV…” Well, many a time, you can decline it, and sometimes you should. For me, i’ve never received an IV. Also, Chinese herbs are always amazing.

    “Don’t give them vegetables” No! Rabbits love lettuce leaves, very much! Take it from me; try that.

    Are there still tricycles in Shanghai? They are said to be abolished in Hz, which may make the city look better, but it was useful somehow.

  10. Your hospital visit sounds hellish. Sorry you had to endure that experience. Jamie and I recently visited the hospital by school. It was a neat little adventure. No privacy at all however. The doctors were talking to other patients about my eye infection (not that I really cared though). It was not depressing until we had to go to the another section, the run-down section, of the hospital to pick up some medication. Glancing into some of the rooms you would think China is a war with somebody who is inflicting horrible wounds on its people. Most likely, China is finding very creative ways to injure its people on the job.

  11. Tricycles were abolished in Hangzhou. Lots of people lost their livelihood. The traffic is not a smudge better and they were never ugly in the first place. “Handicap” vehicles take that cake. So please do savor tricycle trips if you can still have them where you are.

    Does baby rabbit have some pseudonym like baby cow “veal”?

  12. Doctor 99,

    The nurses were cute at best.

  13. William W,

    I don’t know the name of the hospital. It was in Jing An District, near Xinzha Road on Xikang Road.

    I plan to put picture of the rabbits up soon.

  14. Da Xiangchang,

    I remember going with you to the hospital in Jiujiang. But I better remember abandoning you in the IV room to check out the city for a few hours. Sorry about that! I did keep you company for a while… 🙂

  15. A Gray,

    I was also worried about needles when I first came here, but I think there’s little cause for concern in “developed China” (the eastern coast) now. Even years ago, those incidents were not anywhere near Shanghai.

  16. I like your article, just small things but very interesting and significance……

    But I suggest you take some medicine after you have the syndrome of diarrhea more than half day,that will keep you away from IV……

  17. i hope your rabbits will live wonderful and long lives 🙂

  18. Sounds like aomeobic dysentary. Watchout…. that shit’s bad.

  19. Tricyles are banned in Hangzhou? That’s strange, I see several dozen of them go down my street every day.

  20. Hello
    Interesting story. i really wish i looked up this saturday…
    i went to Miami with the family, while there i decided to buy a rabbit, it looked so unhappy. i ask the owner of the shop how to take care of it, he didnt speak enough english, so a lady translated it for me. She said “you know feed her lettuce and grass…”& then i bought a water thingy. When we got back home, i wentout and bought a cage, healthy food(that has all the fiber,vit she needed(with some grass feed) but after fixing everything for her she looked to be getting better on sunday running in circles in her cage, running to the cage door when i would walk over to her, then i would let her out on the tile floor & run around(she loved it), but monday she wasnt looking so good(had really…bad diarrhea, grinning her teeth, be in a ball, wouldnt drink or eat(all animals need water, so i feed her water thinking she would get better if she drank…) she died the next morning(tues), said but if i knew all the chinesse saysing sooner i bet i could have kept her longer(i cant believe i did everything wrong you could possible do-make her drink,feed her too much grass, & vegs…that just made her more sick than she was).

    (off subject but also, we have to put my cat to sleep cause leukemia-today, too many deaths in one week ive always had animals, but never so many deaths in such lit time, but i guess its better to put him to sleep then let him suffer cause i cant say good-bye…i will always love Ty!!!)

    Anyway-have you researched into different type of intestine problems or a made food diary(helps keep track of what might be hurting you if your intestines cant take it or allergies) intestines things like IBS, or a diease…you should find an answer too the problem-it could be a really bad problem…(it might be embarassing to talk about,but it will be the best help for you, to learn what it is your body is doing, and how to help it(im not a doctor but i have been through rough health issues which this is one of them).When i started the food diary & payed more attention to my body-i have been alot better off.
    Best of luck to John & health,happiness to the rabbits too lol=)
    (btw-smart girlfriend haha)
    (srry if i wrote too much-what can i say= im a girl lol)

Leave a Reply