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  • Blindsided Abroad
  • Chuck Dean

It has been said that an out-of-body experience has little lasting effects, but a near-death experience is capable of changing a person's life in the most dramatic ways. I had such an experience while visiting China in 2006, and can vouch for the truth in that saying. There were no warnings that I was up for a heart attack. Heart disease doesn't generally run in the family and my high blood pressure seemed to be under control by using the medicine issued by the VA pharmacy. However, it did happen and there was nothing I could do but go through the experience.

It began on a hot, steamy summer night just three days before I was due to fly back to the U.S.A. My gracious hosts wanted to make sure I had a good send-off with a nice spicy meal, so they took me to one of their favorite street barbecues. Not long after returning to my apartment, however, I was suddenly stricken with what I thought to be acid reflux. It felt different though—much worse—so I downed the pills I usually take to counter the acid. It did not let up though, and by 9:00 pm it had turned into the excruciating chest pains. I agonized for the next several hours but kept taking pills until morning, when it finally subsided. Never having had a heart attack before I had no idea what one felt like, and was not even thinking in that direction.

The next day I was pretty wasted from lack of sleep and the trauma my body had endured all night long. We went through the day, and like clockwork as 9:00 pm rolled around, I had the same attack again. Immediately I began downing the acid reflux pills hoping that I could catch it before it got worse. In a moment of calm I sat down and e-mailed my doctor at the VA in Seattle letting her know that I needed to see her as soon as possible upon my return. I told her that something needed to be done about the horrendous acid reflux I was now having. As the evening went on, I experienced the same terrible chest pains for another four to five hours. Sunday was no different, and as if the pain was on a clock, the attack returned at 9:00 pm. [End Page 82]

Exhausted, I made it to the airport early Monday morning for my flight home. I few from Nanning to Guangzhou where I was supposed to make a connection on a Delta flight to Los Angeles and then connect from there to Seattle. It was going to be a 20-hour ordeal, but I was happy to be going because I would then go directly to the VA hospital to deal with the intense pain.

That didn't happen. After lugging my baggage to the Delta counter, I was informed that the flight to LA had been cancelled and that I needed to stay over to leave the following day. At first I became frustrated but then decided that perhaps it was for the best. A restful day and night in a hotel before the long fight would be good a thing.

I checked into a hotel adjacent to the airport, and around 9:00 pm (once again on the clock) I was assaulted again with chest pains. I happened to be on instant messenger with my host in Nanning at the time and all I could do was type "in pain" and then collapsed on the bed. She called the hotel front desk and told them I was in trouble and soon two young hotel employees came to my room, and one, speaking good English, said "sir, we must take you to the hospital."

I was checked into Guangzhou People's Municipal Hospital and rushed to the intensive care ward. I was afraid that the language barrier would be an issue, and so far no one in the hospital spoke English—not even the head cardiologist. He came to visit and only looked me over but could not...


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