Chapter 34: Love in the Time of Stomach Inflammation

IV drip
Sometimes you hope for romance in China -- and instead, you end up with an IV drip, and your Chinese boyfriend caring for you.

When you’re in love, and only see each other every two weeks, on the weekends, you romanticize every meeting. You want it to be as perfect as a Tang-dynasty couplet, and script out the possibilities even before your lover arrives. You practice a new phrase, such as wàngchuānqiūshuǐ (望穿秋水 – awaiting you with great anxiety), to say when he comes, and might just even stand on the streets with roses to greet him — just as I had before.

After my painful meeting with Mr. Fang, I romanticized the arrival of John, my Chinese boyfriend, on the weekend of December 13, 2002, even agreeing to meet John at the Hangzhou railway station, as if I was starring in some dramatic reunion scene in a movie.

Except, real life often departs from your own script. Sometimes, you hope for romance — and what you get, instead, is stomach inflammation.

I should have felt it coming, the way I inexplicably collapsed into his arms during the taxi ride home. It wasn’t like me to feel so drained. I expected it was simply the lingering stress of Mr. Fang’s confrontation, weighing on my exhausted frame. A good night’s sleep, with John, my Chinese boyfriend, by my side, would surely restore me.

Or not.

Early Saturday morning, I awoke to a grizzled stomach. I’d had such a symptom before — usually because I’d eaten the wrong thing. With a little care, it would go away once things passed through my system. Except, this time, things decided to pass out of my system — right into the wastebasket beside my bed. The heaving continued, over and over, until, like a mugging victim, I had nothing else to give. Yet, even so, this affliction didn’t care, callously commanding me to hunch over that wastebasket, even when it made no sense anymore.

It made no sense that my romantic weekend had turned into a medical drama. Instead of my Chinese boyfriend taking me out for sightseeing, or an intimate dinner for two, he was taking me out — to the hospital. Instead of cocktails, I was getting an IV.

“The IV will help you heal faster,” the emergency room doctor explained, as he wrote out the prescription. IVs were popular in China — a fast way to relieve a variety of illnesses, from colds and flus to stomach upsets. I’d already had several that year, including when I lost my voice early in 2002. But, nevertheless, they still challenged my irrational side — I feared needles.

“It’ll be fast.” John had his arm around me, rubbing my shoulders in consolation, and in the hopes of keeping me from heaving in the hospital. The nurse slid that IV — painfully — into a vein in my hand. But while the pain left, the possibility of retching on the floor remained, as long as I stood in that hallway.

“We need to find a place for me,” I moaned, doubled over in the hopes of controlling the inevitable. John walked down the hallway off of the emergency room, searching for an empty bed in one of the rooms. Room after room, he seemed to find nothing — and the doctors and nurses seemed oblivious to my distress, and potential to erupt right there, in the hallway.

“I found a room!” John took my hand and led me to a small, clean room with two beds, and helped me into the one closest to the door. But it was too late. Just as I reclined, my reflexes were roused from their own rest, and I just barely leaned over in time to aim for the wastebasket.

For the next four hours, I laid on that bed, waiting for the drip-drop madness of that IV to end, and end the suffering. Normally, I cherished long periods of time alone with John — but this was love in the time of stomach inflammation, in a hospital. Even with the medicine flowing into my vein, I had moments of uncontrollable desperation. While John went to the cafeteria for some dinner, I suddenly felt ill, and, instead of bending over to reach the wastebasket, I missed and sullied the floor right next to my bunk. Not the kind of present I had in mind for John, when he returned.

But the thing about love is, it has a way of surviving, a language of its own, even in the most desperate situations. Maybe that’s way John and I fell into a soothing conversation about our childhood, and he told me about his tea-egg tantrum.

“Some workers had come to our house to do redecoration, and my grandmother set aside eggs for them to eat after working for a while. But I wanted to eat these eggs. I didn’t understand they were for the workers. I was hungry and wanted food. So, when my grandmother said ‘No,’ I just started crying and making a fuss, until she finally gave me an egg.”

It was fun to imagine this scene, with a little John having a little tantrum in the kitchen, that happened long before he and I had met. With story after story, the IV dripped away and I nearly forgot my stomach discomfort. Until it — and the IV — were practically gone.

When I was done, John had to help me out of bed, and support me as I walked down the linoleum-floored hallway. My stomach illness had drained a life energy from me that even the IV medicine couldn’t replace so fast. We hobbled out of the hospital, to a taxi, and finally, back home, where I recuperated for the rest of John’s visit.

In the end, it wasn’t the kind of romantic weekend I wanted to star in. I wouldn’t have asked for this part. But even so, it was still John and I, and still true love. And there’s something romantic about that.

Have you ever had your romantic meeting in China — or elsewhere — disrupted?


Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.

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