Thursday, December 19, 2013

Adventures in Chinese Hospitals

A few concerned people gathered around me, asking things like "why is she sitting on the ground?" and "does she understand Chinese?"

"I'm siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick," I told them in Chinese. I had come out of my apartment because someone was coming to take me to the doctor. But she hadn't arrived yet, and I was too weak to stand, so there I was, sitting on the ground, crying.

The security guard got a chair for me, and a few minutes later, my friend arrived. Actually I had never met her before- she was my dad's colleague who worked at one of the China branches of the company. We'll call her Lydia.

At this point, I had been sick for about 10 days. A few days before, I had gone to the hospital and gotten an IV, but things had gotten worse. I had turned yellow. My skin was yellow. The whites of my eyes were yellow. It's kind of terrifying to look in the mirror and OH DEAR GOODNESS I'M YELLOW.

Image source.

I hadn't gone to work the past few days either. I was so weak I couldn't even go out and buy food- but still, when Lydia called and said she was coming to take me to the hospital, I tried to tell her "no no, I'm fine." But I was too weak to even tell her that, so... yeah.

So we drove to a hospital- a different one than before. We waited in the waiting area to see a doctor, and I heard my name called and we went into the doctor's exam room. (Again, we used my Chinese name and nobody ever asked for ID.)

The doctor examined me, and we told him all about how I had a cold and everything. And how weird it was that I was yellow. I remember showing him a photo on my cell phone, telling him "this is how white I'm supposed to be."

The doctor was very concerned and thought I might have hepatitis. He sent me to get an ultrasound and said maybe I'd have to stay overnight at the hospital.

So we went down to the ultrasound room. I laid down on the bed thing, still wearing my big winter coat, and the ultrasound doctor told me to pull my shirt up. Uh... I'm wearing like 3 thick layers of clothing here... So I took my coat off first, then pulled up my shirt so she could move that ultrasound tool around on my stomach.

Oh also the door to the room is open, and other patients keep popping in during the ultrasound, waiting for their turn.


Then Lydia said we had to go to a different hospital. Oh, and we can't mention that I might have hepatitis because then they won't treat me. At this point, another guy showed up- a friend of Lydia's. He drove us to the next hospital (there are many hospitals in this story). We'll call him Shen, because he doesn't speak any English.

So at this point, I was starving, so Shen dropped us off at the hospital and then went out to buy me some food.

Lydia stopped by the cashier to pay and then we went to wait to see the doctor.

I will try to describe what "wait to see the doctor" means. So, in a medical exam room, there's a doctor (or was she a nurse?) sitting at a desk with a computer. Crowded around her desk are a bunch of people, maybe 6 people. She seems to be talking to one patient, and everyone else is crowding around, waiting their turn. Lydia and I stood there in the little crowd, and then I sat down on a bed because I was too weak.

Shen showed up with the food, so I ate some, and eventually Lydia pushed her way in and the doctor saw me. I don't remember much, just that she ordered a blood test and urine test.

We went down the hall and a nurse took my blood and I cried a little. Then I went into the bathroom... so... the "toilet" is a trench in the floor, and you squat down and straddle it, and of course there's no toilet paper and no soap. Oh China. So I did that, got the urine sample... oh geez.

Then we had to go to another hospital where I could spend the night.

So we get there and tell the doctors what the deal is, and they said I would have to stay for a month. I then told them that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, because they don't even know what sickness I have yet.

So they took me up the elevator, into a room with 2 beds. One bed had an old woman, and her husband was sitting beside her. The heater was turned way up- my glasses steamed up when I walked into the room. (Whenever anyone suggested turning the heat down, the old couple was like "we're freezing!!!")

So, they put me in the bed, and gave me a stupid IV. Also a wristband with my name on it, and under "allergies" it said "无 (wú)" which means "none." Umm...? They never asked me. Oh wait, they hadn't asked but I had TOLD THEM ANYWAY, that I'm allergic to ibuprofen, and yet it says "无 (wú)" on the wristband. Upon seeing this, I immediately told the nurse, in Chinese "Hey you should write I'm allergic to ibuprofen." So she did.

Makes me wonder why they even have a spot on there to write allergies...

I slept there, and in the morning they wanted a urine sample. The room had a bathroom attached, and did I mention that the bathroom was a Chinese-style hole-in-the-floor toilet? And there's no soap? Hey, if I have to squat down and pee in a cup, over a hole in the floor, you know I'm gonna pee on my hand... and there's no soap.

Image source.

While I was in that hospital, I mentally prepared a list of all the places that should have soap in the bathrooms:
  1. Hospitals.
  2. Everywhere else.

(Am I just biased toward American culture, or is this objectively wrong?)

They brought porridge and mantou (馒头, kind of like a little bread-like thing) for breakfast, and gave me an IV again. Everyone's always getting IV's in China. I had that stupid needle stuck in my hand for hours.

Meanwhile, I have a group of friends and coworkers and people who know someone who knows my dad, and they decided to drive me to an international hospital in Shanghai, where the medical care would be much much better- like, American-quality medical care, and the staff speaks English. That afternoon, I checked out of the shady little hospital and we drove a few hours to Shanghai. I threw up once on the way there. Yay.

[to be continued...]


  1. I'm so glad you're feeling better (or at least better enough to write this, because it's hilarious-in a kind of unnerving way)! I had a similar hospital experience in India--the ultrasound with random people peeking in, the same style bathrooms as China, trying to explain that I'm allergic to rubbing alcohol so if they want to give me an IV they have to use something else but please don't give it to me without sterilizing the needle, and the most terrifying part: when patients got an IV or got blood drawn as a sample it happened in a corner of the (extremely crowded) WAITING ROOM in front of other horrified patients. I just remember some poor Muslim lady in a gold-spangled burqa whimpering in the seat next to me as they drew her blood and turning to my Indian friend and being like "I think I'm going to pass out now."

  2. Oh goodness. Yeah it was pretty much like that.