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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Entering a Hospital in China - Pt 2    

By Garreth Humphris
2678 Views | 3 Comments | 10/26/2010 8:24:13 PM
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Continued from the previous article.....


You join the crowd (again, not a queue) around the doctor’s desk and maneuver your way to the front. Again, using elbows is advisable, and falling asleep while waiting in-line is ill-advised because your place evaporates! Luckily you will get to the front of the queue but just because you get a chair doesn’t mean it’s your turn to be examined either – you must be in the doctor’s face. If you want some semblance of privacy, offer him a cigarette – and the really sick people will step back a few paces when he lights up!!! 


So, now you have a tired, sullen person in a whitish grey coat sitting in front of you. Are they interested you are there – no, you are a distraction until smoke break! If you are thinking privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality, forget it – you will be the main attraction with a thousand onlookers – if you do have some ‘private issue’ and need to drop trousers then you will simultaneously excite and disappoint a few hundred Chinese!

If you haven’t brought your long-haired Chinese dictionary, whip out your written description, make excited and feverish gestures. Draw pictures. Do an expressive dance. The more dramatic the better, the onlookers will appreciate your completeness and performance. If you can, show some lily-white skin, that always impresses. If you have a large stomach like me, exposing it from time to time is also helpful and will obtain you 'entertainment points' with the crowd. Have guessing games over weight, whoop it up a little - the more popular you are, the higher the doctor gets paid (not!!!)

Often the doctor takes notes in your little booklet, swipes your card, and orders up some tests that are probably totally unnecessary but keep the hospital income coming in!. Of course, before anything is done, you have to pay a fee – and it’s not to difficult to find find the payment window (it probably says “shou fei,” or 收费) where you receive another receipt. Every trip to a hospital is like old-growth forest genocide! I'll give you a hint - these windows are everywhere in the hospital - it feels like even the nurses will swipe a creditcard for you if you need it.

As an aside, there are horror stories about medical staff doing insufferable inhumanities to people who do not offer enough 'assistance money' (ie ‘tips’) - one midwife in southern China was said to have sewn up the anus of a patient who's husband did not offer sufficient hongbao (red envelope - a payment in a red envelope intended as a gift), and when he complained to the medical staff, she tore out the stitches without anaesthetic! Maybe they won't try it on a foreigner - but do you want to be the first to find out????

Now you’re off to find the lab, give them their samples, and wait for the results. If you need to remove clothes, you will have an audience – try not to get in the way of bleeding people or their teary relatives.

With luck, the tests your doctor ordered will be ready fairly promptly. In fact they just take the sample, look at it in the sunlight and just write down a few numbers - smile nicely and be patient with these people - your life balances in their hands!!!! Just one bad number and you disappear into the bowels of the hospital never to be seen again!

In this small quiet time, take the opportunity to sit back and observe the compelling mayhem that is the Chinese hospital. Highlights to observe will be children with their hands caught in household appliances, workers struggling in with arterial bleeding and yelling in a dialect that nobody understands and many sniffling people just sitting around looking bored! Look to for the immovable cleaning lady sloth and the old guy who is just inside the hospital waiting room because it is the only place around that is air-conditioned.

After you pick up your results, you return to the doctor, hoping that he or she won’t try to hospitalize you! If there is a chance of this, you will have decided to run by this stage!!! There is no way you are staying there overnight!!!

Sometimes they want to hook you up to an IV for a day or two simultaneously fill you with liquid and drain you of cash, and if you aren’t prepared to share a room with lots of ill strangers, their families and assorted animals then more cash than you want to spend is needed. You can bribe for western medicine (aka tablets) so you can stay home or try to get a less-crowded perch somewhere near the back of the waiting room! The IV method is painfully slow and no matter how much you ‘open the valve’ or vigourously pump your fist to get the stuff inside – it still takes at least half a day! You are more likely to pickup some other illness from all the people crammed in the small space than cure your own ailment! But you also meet many people in these places so sometimes it is worth the laugh and the time of day.

Luckily, this time the doctor simply writes a 3 page prescription in your booklet, swipes your card, writes in your booklet some more, and sends you to the payment desk again, where you pay, get a receipt, have your card swiped….. okay, so you know the drill by now!!!

Last major offensive is to locate the pharmacy, which is usually divided into Chinese and Western medicine counters. You can find these either in the hospital (expensive but probably has the correct medicine in the boxes), outside on the street nearby the hospital (cheaper, but probably 50% chance of correct medicine) or down some sly back-alley (you get what you pay for!).

It is generally advisable not to take the two kinds of medicines (traditional and Western) together because of poorly understood drug interactions, but doctors in China love to over-prescribe so even if you take half the recommended dose, you will have gotten too much!

I have found from bitter experience that Chinese medicines applied externally have some great healing powers, but stay away from anything you need to put nearby your mouth/digestive tract. My favourite exterior salve is Dog Skin Medicine, which has amazing anti-bacterial properties and can ‘suck the blood from a bruised ankle’ overnight – it's a tumeric-based paste you mix with urine and slather it on the offending ailment, wrap tightly in a bandage overnight and then wash off in the morning. Wash very thoroughly, my friend!!!

So, in general, you ignore the Chinese medicine unless you know exactly what it is and go for whatever Western medicine they give you. Or Chinese medicine designed to look like Western medicine!!!

Following the doctors’ prescription, you receive three different types of antibiotics and some mysterious other pills, a brown powder and some black gooey stinky stuff! You should go to the nearest internet café and look up Wikipedia (or YouTube, because some crackpot has already filmed the side-effects for you!). You need the internet café because the people inside are the only ones who know how to get around the Great Firewall of China to see YouTube…

Exactly which of the 3 anti-biotics and in which dosage are usually left up to you because you cannot read the instructions anyway!

Now you can go home - catch the crazy taxi from outside the hospital, if you can - you will invariably get into the oldest, rustiest taxi there is sitting in the back seat of a car with a driver who chainsmokes ChengHua (the roughest, smelliest cigarettes available in the world) and hasn't washed in 3 days - he won't understand anything you say and will head off at breakneck speed in the wrong direction! Eventually you will convince him to stop and turn around once the meter reaches 15RMB, or do a runner at the next traffic lights and find a more reliable taxi! How do I know this? Taxis are like vultures, circling the carrion waiting to pounce on the weak and those not able to care for themselves - and the best vultures are the scruffiest vultures!!! Q.E.D.

Upon getting home, your friends, neighbours and the local rubbishman will all hear about your ailment and offer any number of ‘home remedies’ to try and repair your body – the general concensus will eventually be ‘drink more water’ and ‘lie down for a while’, and you will notice that this is the exact remedy offered by the first tier of medical assistance in China. Maybe there is something in that!

If your body hasn’t eventually fought off the pathogens in a week, you will eventually drag yourself shivering and dirty to one of the big, gleaming, foreign medical facilities in a capital city where you will pay 20,000 rmb for some purified water, an aspirin and a good lie down, all the while cursing yourself why you didn’t take out health insurance and medivac cover!!!

And this is a medical emergency on a good day!!!! Good luck!!!


Caveat:

Of course a lot of this is in jest, but it is also quite true in many respects!

You must remember you are living in a country with huge strains on it's basic facilities due to huge population and difficult access to services. By nature, these services can be quite dehumanizing everywhere in the world, and if you are fending for yourself in a foreign country and sick at the same time, it can be a horrible experience.

I recommend that people living, working and traveling in China obtain sufficient medical insurance to allow them good medical coverage in case of emergency. Also consider medical evacuation.

It's a good idea to have sufficient self-medicine that allows for common ailments such as food-poisoning, constipation, mild infections, headache, insect-bite, disinfectants, bandages and ladies personal hygiene products (if you are a lady). If you are traveling outside major cities, supplies of these things can be limited.

if you need specialist medications, you should consider bringing extra supply.

This article is loosely based on the another online article, Expat, Heal Thyself... (www.eChinaCities.com), but has been extensively rewritten to reflect my own experiences - thanks to the reader who highlighted some earlier issues concerning similarities.

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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(Showing 1 to 3 of 3) 1
#2010-10-23 01:30:18 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I can't decide if the fact that so much of what you've written here and in part 1 is true makes it more or less funny, but either way it is damned funny the way you've summed it up.

I came to China with a permanent blood disorder that requires I take an anticoagulant and regularly monitor the "thickness" of my blood. Any screw up is fairly life threatening. Needless to say I've seen a lot of hospitals in several major Chinese cities. Several of them have been very good, others have delivered exactly the quality of medical service you've described or even worse.

And twice I've had to drop my drawers for an ultrasound on my lower abdomen with the best of me in full site for over 10 nurses, lab assistants, etc, to gawk at and gawk they did, barely interrupting their staring even to blink. I couldn't decide whether to be humiliated or excited.

#2010-10-27 03:38:19 by thedragonb1 @thedragonb1

Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii*t, after reading the horror stories, Garreth, and John Abbot confirming it, I'm thinking I should think twice about retiring in China! Florida is starting to sound better and better! :)

#2010-10-27 12:43:25 by williamong @williamong

exactly.... took the words right out of my mouth. 2 cities that i lived in. Dalian and hangzhou. It's better to stay fit and healthy than pay a visit to china's hospital.unless there is a VIP ward for expats

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