Pneumonia, and the political nature of the beast, and other things that are hard to understand....


It's been a week since I left Beijing. Maybe a little more. And I'm finally feeling better. Three months of one pulmonary illness after another, My training has been tossed to the wayside, and my trip to Shaolin discarded into the dustheap of my history. And I'm humored. The Chinese government is just now telling the world that this SARS illness, originally thought to have started in Hong Kong or Hanoi, has been slightly rampant in Guandong province since November. Or, possibly, since last year.

From seeing people on the streets of Beijing, I'd say it's far more than slightly rampant.

I've never gotten so ill so fast before. And I've had pneumonia, of different types, many, many times. In fact, the last time I had pneumonia in China, was during one of my training trips to Shaolin. I got it fairly bad, but, I still trained every day with the exception of one. I just never got really short of breath with it before. This time was different.

It all happened over a pizza. A Pizza Hut pizza, in fact. Layla, my little Beijing honey, likes Pizza Hut, so, that became the preferred lunch and dinner place during my stay in Beijing. Actually, that Tuesday morning found me feeling pretty damn good; so good in fact, I had thought that my lungs had finally cleared up from all the insults of the January pneumonia in Las Vegas, and the damn infuriating allergic asthma that followed. Yes, I was all ready to make the trip to Shaolin with Shi Xing Wei, who had come up to Beijing to visit with me, so that we could train together for a few weeks. All that was stopping us was Lu Yong. He had some pretty serious gastrointestinal illness which was causing him to become well acquainted with Beijing's public lavatories.

It was a bacon and pineapple pizza. I've always snickered, in a snobbish sort of way, at how people can love these things that Pizza Hut pretends to call pizza. I grew up on the streets of New York, at times in Italian neighborhoods, where pizzas were made by fat slimy sweaty middle aged guys with balding pates and aggressive, in your face, attitudes. And boy, could they make pizza. With real Italian sauce. And great cheese. And perfect crust. Grandma used to come get me during public school lunch so that we could get a slice or two, before I had to return to class, and suffer through the indignation of third grade. Those were pizzas. With, lots of yummy sauce.

In Beijing, if you go into a Pizza Hut and ask for extra sauce, they smother the pie with ketchup. I always wondered exactly what they put on those damn little pizzas. But, it made Layla happy. And one thing I've learned during my long life, is that a man's happiness is completely and totally derived from his woman's happiness. Annoy and irritate the little bitch, and you've had it.

There were sick people in Pizza Hut, as usual. I've seen nothing but sick people on the streets of Beijing; in fact, some people had been wearing surgical masks. I started to feel weird as I ate my imitation mushroom and chicken soup; by the time we were halfway through the pie, I was telling Layla that she had to stop talking so much, and hurry up and finish. I just wasn't feeling well. A cough, and some overwhelming feelings of weakness, and I just wasn't right. Layla sure could talk. For a girl who's only four foot ten or so, a lot of air comes out of that little body.

By the time I got back to my hotel room, a good hour later, I was very weak, febrile, coughing, and generally, feeling like something was seriously wrong. The shortness of breath that I was starting to feel, was something that I had gotten used to over the previous three months, but this time, it was accompanied by a feeling of incipient doom that I just couldn't get out of my head. I laid down in bed, with Layla sitting by my head, during that afternoon. At least until Purple Snow, my Dengfeng honey, made her surprise appearance. Now, two women in the same small hotel room, who don't know each other, but who each have the same suspicions about each other, is not a good thing. But, with me dying between the sheets, it was an issue which caused me no consternation. Layla stormed out of the room, leaving Purple Snow to take care of me. No matter, it turns out I had already infected Layla. Yong was starting to cough too. I guess it was Purple Snow's turn to get it.

Purple Snow left within a few hours, and by that evening, after taking a few hundred milligrams of Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin C laden Flintstones vitamins and Nyquil (my personal cure for viral infections), and some added Ceclor, to fight what I thought might have been a godawfully fast bacterial pneumonia (the green sputum kind of clued me in to that), I was feeling slightly better, at least good enough to get something to eat. I was still terribly short of breath, not really able to walk any decent distance, at any decent speed. Layla met us for dinner, as Purple Snow had left, and it became very noticeable to me that Layla had also become quite ill. Yong had been coughing more and more. I had never seen such a highly communicable illness such as this before, nor one this rapid, with such sudden onset of dyspnea. It frightened me to some degree, enough to decide that my three month long ravaged lungs were just not going to heal in this environment. I made the decision to leave for Thailand, to get into the sun and the warmth, and get my health back.

Layla ended up being sick with this nonsense for a week and a half. During that same time period, in Thailand, I slowly got my breath back, and eventually rid myself of the damning cough. A cough is easy to deal with; the shortness of breath that you get when you climb four stairs, is tough to live with. It completely ruined any possibility of my continued training at this time; it certainly changed all of my plans to a significant degree. I had thought all the while, that this SARS illness, was far more rampant in China, than China was telling. Smoke and mirrors, a phrase which can really describe China's interaction in the world, all made more obvious by their acceptance of this new pneumonia which was rampant upon their streets.

More smoke and mirrors: The international political leanings of the Chinese

It seems to be a recurring theme.