erik lundegaard

Friday May 19, 2023

A Different Kind of Taiwan Sightseeing

For a time during this trip, I began to wonder why I'd ever left Taiwan. I never stood out anywhere but I stood out here (mostly positively). Girls I didn't know never flirted with me anywhere but they flirted with me here (always positively). Taipei is a 24/7 city with so many opportunities, and we arrived on a sky-blue day with low humidity and everyone was just so nice. Why did I ever leave?

And then I began to have trouble breathing.

Oh, right.

It began as a dry lump in my throat in the middle of the night late last week. Every day it got worse, but every day I kept hoping it was some other thing. A temporary asthmatic reaction to the pollution and humidity? The higher altitudes at Sun Moon Lake constricting my lungs? Maybe when I got used to the air again, and/or when we came down from the mountain foothills, I'd be OK. 

Last Sunday in Lukang dashed those hopes. I woke up at 11:30 PM with coughing spasms that wouldn't stop and thought, “This has to be bronchitis.” That afternoon, when we'd arrived at the Union House Hotel in Lukang, I'd mentioned at the front desk that my asthma was bothering me and did they know of any nearby pharmacies? They said, basically, sure, but pharmacies don't dispense asthma meds, which, sure, I knew, but I was hoping to roll those dice abroad. Bummer. One of the staff later told us, sotto voce, that if I went to the hospital I'd be able to get medicine there. We knew that, too, but it was nice that he mentioned it. 

After I couldn't stop coughing that night, after I began to cough up stuff, we decided to take the midnight ER route. 

As emergency rooms go, the Lukang Christian Hospital wasn't bad: quiet and efficient, without a trace of blood or drama. I told them my problem in my shitty Chinese, and they asked for my passport. I thought I would just get meds—prednisone is what I was hoping for—but they hooked me up to a IV for an hour or two to stabilize me. Patricia sat by my bedside. Also in the room: a quiet elderly woman with a quiet elderly man by her bedside; an unconcious kid, late teens or early 20s, with scrapes around his face like he'd been in a biking accident, being watched over by what I assumed was his father. Patricia remembered a businessman. It was a different kind of sightseeing.

After about two hours, they gave me meds. I was hoping for that prednisone six-pack but got a three-day regimen: 12 prednisone pills four times a day; nine dextromethorphan pills (cough suppressant) three times a day; and six ketoifen pills (antihistimine) two times a day. It was nice to get, and not expensive (the whole ER trip, with meds, cost about $US50), but I was dubious of the secondary meds. But I was hopeful about the prednisone.

Ironically I'd just been telling Patricia about the first time I began feeling the effects of asthma. It was spring 1988 and I'd just returned to Taipei from Thailand, one of those required six-month sojourns for foreigners who arrived on student visas, and I was finally getting around to visiting one of the great sites of the country, the National Palace Museum, with an American friend and my Chinese girlfriend Janet. As we were walking through the exhibits, I began to feel ... wrong. I was having trouble catching a breath. My chest felt tight. I didn't get it. It was hard to process. Why couldn't I ... breathe? I told the others I needed to leave. We wound up in a garden area, where I felt a little better, and we took some pictures there, clowning around, with Janet wearing my high school letterman's jacket. (I was 25, had recently graduated from college, but I still brought it with me to the other side of the world? How odd. But she loved wearing it.) Outside, I still felt off, and some part of me felt the best solution to my off-ness was to keep moving—as if the problem was surrounding me rather than me. In the fight-or-flight reaction, I guess I tend to land on the latter. (“As if you couldn't tell that by the everything about me.” — John Mulaney)

When it really got bad, later at my apartment in Tien Mu, I stumbled from my bedroom to the bathroom and started a shower. I didn't get in the shower, I just thought the moisture would help. No idea why I thought this was a good idea. Because the vaporizor that used to sit in my sister's bedroom when she was sick when she young? It's scary. It's scary not being able to breathe. And then for six months my breathing problem was misdiagnosed as bronchitis that wouldn't go away. 

I told Patricia all of this while we were visiting the National Palace Museum on our first full day in Taipei. It felt like I was talking about the past but it turns out I was also talking about the future. 


It's nearly a week later now and the Lukang meds only did so much; then it was back to the same bad feeling. This morning, Saturday morning, after another coughing jag, and just tired of feeling as if I was drawing each breath through a pipe cleaner, we went to the hospital nearest our hotel in central Taipei. This ER was a little dirtier, a little more chaotic. No IV this time, but a chest X-ray (negative). They still gave me that tube to inhale, with vapor coming out the other end. In Lukang I thought it was a test of some kind but it's actually supposed to stabilize my breathing. Here, maybe because the entryway was busy, I was placed outside in the driveway for the 10-15 minutes the experience lasted. Afterwards the nurse asked if I felt better, and I shrugged and waggled my hand. So I got more meds but it's basically the same shit as before—but without the prednisone. So it goes. Now I'm resigned to waiting to get back to the States before getting better.

How sad is that? The second half of my original stay in Taiwan in 1988 was restricted by my breathing problems, and now that's true for the second half of our trip 35 years later. I still don't know whether it's bronchitis or the environment—or both. I would love to come back to this lovely country when I'm healthy, but I don't even know if that's possible.

Posted at 09:24 PM on Friday May 19, 2023 in category Travels  
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