ShellyAnn Wauchope a Jamaican Teacher living in China shares her experiences in monthly letters. In this month's letter she talks about the SARS panic in China.
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Avoiding a Plague – Letters from a Jamaican in China

About a month and a half ago construction on the apartments across the hall left my apartment covered in white dust (hopefully not asbestos). Being asthmatic it caused lots of respiratory problems, which I figured would pass once the construction was done. It took them an entire month to build 2 new apartments, and pollute my lungs with dust and paint thinner. I had to take a trip to Hong Kong and though I wasn’t feeling well that morning, I decided to go anyway, because it’s only 2 hours away and I wasn’t feeling that bad. I walked around that day, and began to feel worse. So bad in fact, that I bought some cold medicine and checked in to a hotel room, hoping I would be better in the morning. I wasn’t. I wasn’t better for 7 mornings, 5 of which were under the care of friends in Hong Kong and a doctor. Even if I wanted to go home, I was visibly sick, and there was no way I could fake it when crossing the border back into the mainland. I “did my time” in Hong Kong and returned to Guangzhou feeling much better. I went to work the next day and got sick again. And then better in the next few days and then sick again. This went on for about 3 weeks. When the flu finally, brought me to my knees, the group of friends who were taking care of me in shifts, decided to call another friend’s dad who is a doctor. He had the same cure we came up with, “I think you can tough it out, I’d avoid the hospital as much as possible”.

Why would a doctor tell me this? Why would someone who has been sick off and on for over a month avoid a hospital? Bird Flu, that’s why. Not that I thought I had it. However,I was here from the beginning to the end of the SARS outbreak. And being a first hand witness to how the entire situation was handled, there was no way, I mean no way; I would go to a Chinese hospital in the midst of another epidemic panic and just after the great Pig Virus Epidemic. I can honestly say with my expert 10th grade high school anatomy and physiology education, SARS was grossly mishandled. First by ignoring it when about 57 people died of the exact same symptoms within 2 months. Then by lying about being over. Then creating a panic while at the same time lying about the number of actual deaths. There were a lot more deaths than was ever reported. I was still teaching then and we were told that all foreign teachers were to go to the one hospital handling SARS patients to get tested. We were to sit in the SARS wing, in a SARS waiting room, with other potential SARS patients and have SARS nurses draw our blood (sanitary conditions here are not the best either). You could have the virus for 7-10 days before you had any symptoms. So even if you tested negative then, if you contracted it in the hospital that day you wouldn’t know for another week. Yeah right. Dem mussy’d mad. Let’s just say I found a note so polite way to refuse the test. Then there was the missing classes issue. We were told they had an “emergency field trip”. To which I replied, “The only people I know that take “emergency field trips” were firemen and paramedics and they don’t stay gone for weeks at a time. Eventually all foreign teachers had their classes cancelled for about 2 months. People were fleeing the country like rats off a sinking ship. But I didn’t have that luxury, because I live in Guangzhou where it all began. Other provinces refused any buses or trains from Guangdong (the province) all flights were suddenly full. I was pretty much stuck here. I’m sure I could have gotten out if I really wanted to but I wasn’t worried. Nothing to do but make the most of it, so that’s just what I did. Since everyone was in SARS panic mode me and one brave friend of mine took the opportunity to hit all the bars.We had the dance floor and DJ all to ourselves. Since we were the only people there we got a huge discount on drinks. I guess SARS wasn’t so bad after all. Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

About the author

Shelly Ann Wauchope