inside thoughts on China and beyond

Twisted Care

Yesterday, I twisted my ankle, if not worse.

All I know is that while cutting trees and branches in my back garden, I jumped off a wall, onto a chair. Well, that was it. Not that I haven’t done that before –from higher walls even. Of course, I blame the chair. Never jump on Chinese chairs. They are just not made for it. Anyway, I jumped onto the chair, the chair made movements I’ve never seen it do before and before I know it I’m in the mud, crawling like a snake with an ankle that within seconds is twice its normal size.

Well, just go to the hospital and check it out! I can just hear you say it. But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? Normally, one would go to the hospital to be healed or helped, but I’ve learned that this is not the case in China. Here, any visit to the hospital is a risk and a life changing experience. And for quite some, life ending.

I’m not just babbling away based on stories from the China Daily or the Peoples Daily or whatever Daily, though recently, their articles aren’t encouraging either. One was about the late-model XL. (In line with the general displayed respect for privacy in China, I shall use her initials only.) XL decided she wasn’t beautiful enough and she wanted her tits (sorry, but there it is) to be enlarged, and, while under the knife anyway, her nose too; and widen her jaw and her eyes. Well, a long story short, they never had to replace her nose and her jaw was separately send back to the parents. She was cremated before autopsy.

Many others have come to the hospital healthy only to leave deadly sick. Another article reported that in Guangdong, doctors had decided they deserved a bigger house and a better car and started to find cancer and other deadly illnesses in their very much healthy clients in order to prescribe expensive medication, taking a good bonus with every sale –and lots of it. In other cases, patients really suffering from cancer were sold fake expensive cures. The doctors figured that if they recycle the packages (with the government approval seal) and fill them with simple and cheap painkillers and sell them to the terminally ill, they are helping the society –not to mention their own wallet. But hay, nothing for free, right? When asked, the doctors said they thought it would be OK because the patients were dying anyway, so there was no need to waist these expensive cures on them. Care with Chinese Characteristics. Excesses of a booming economy, you might think.And that it is, but here I am, needing to go to the hospital.

If my knowledge of the quality of hospitals only relied on stories from Party-directed newspapers such as the China Daily, I would still have given it the benefits of the doubt. (Makes you wonder what the Chinese government hopes to accomplish by publishing this. It’s not exactly supportive to their goals of ‘stability’ and ‘harmonious society’, or is it?) No, unfortunately, I have real-life experience. First hand. First with my daughter, then with my son.
My daughter was just a little girl of about 8 years old when one night she woke up with a loud cry that tore the curtains: she could no longer breathe. Fearing for her life, we got our act -and our son- together, found a taxi and flew off to the nearest children hospital. Roads were not as congested back then and we arrived soon after we left. I should have asked for the pilot’s phone number.  We ran into the hospital’s front lobby, all the while carrying our daughter who was wildly gasping for air, not unlike a fish on dry land, and found the helpdesk. We asked for a doctor; they asked us to line up. (Afterwards, this was funny, because in those days really no one ever lined up.) On our turn, we told them the problem, more like showed them our daughter biting for air, looking more and more white; they gave us a form.

“First fill this out.”

“ We can’t read Chinese. How do we know what to write?”

“ OK, just write your name here in Chinese.” Good, that’s better. We did.

“Can I see your ID?” I gave my passport that I by His grace had remembered to bring.

“Oh, but your name is different here…”

“Of course! This is my real name! Now can we move on??”

“Well, your passport should have your Chinese name…”

“What if I write my Western name on your form, that might be faster and you have 2 matching names?”

“Well, but we can’t read ..”

“If you don’t hurry up I’ll make sure you won’t be able to read anything anymore!”   My daughter’s lips by now were turning purple. Quite a sight for the other 1123 patients-in-waiting, all of them being stuck in the lobby for the same reason as we were, and all of them wanted to have a closer look at this laowai (foreigner) and his white daughter. There are those moments when you really feel that all those Chinese use up too much valuable oxygen. Well, this was surely one of those.

“OK, OK, I’m just doing my job, OK? Now take this copy and find the line to pay.”

Now I had a breathing problem too. And just when I was about to jump over the counter, an angel appeared.

“Do not be afraid,” it said, “I have come. Just follow me.”  Later I learned that ‘it’ was our Chinese colleague we had called while flying in the taxi to the hospital. In the end, our daughter was attended to by a good doctor and she is still breathing lively. Very lively, I might say.

My son’s case was quite different. His foot had slipped into the bicycle wheel while I was biking high speed to get him to his you’er yuan (kindergarten) on time. It had chopped off the meat down to the bone. The doctors told me that a few days of ‘dripping’ was needed and at least a week in Intensive Care. The drip didn’t surprise me: Chinese drip for everything. Just last year many gaukau (state-exam) students took a dripper with them to the exam…  But the intensive care? For a scratch on the foot? For one, I just couldn’t imagine what care they would intensify. They couldn’t tell me either. When I called the one trusted doctor in town, his advice was clear: “Be nice; take the medicine they prescribe so they’re making some money out of you, and get out of there!”

So. There you have it. I’ve told you everything. Nearly everything. I won’t tell about the time doctors put a ‘thing’ around my neck and lifted my body off the ground by pulling on it; or when I found myself, a week after a visit to a orthopedic specialist, happily smiling on a large advertisement poster of a ‘mother-and-child’ clinic; or…  well, I’m sure you had enough for today.

And all that to say: I’m staying. My experience may be half a decade old and somewhat twisted over time, but I’m not going. I did call some expat clinics, but they are all on holiday. My wife –against my wish!- did call some Chinese hospitals and found that of all she called, only 2 were open. Two hospitals. Twelve million people. Just imagine the queue.

I’ve just treated myself with help from the online and use my trekking poles as crutches. So don’t worry. I’ll be fine.

4 responses

  1. cyberscriber2world

    Nice article, more pre-ex-pats should read up on health care before getting on the plane. Been there, got the scar but no tee shirt to prove it. Ruptured appendix in 2002, Saudi Arabia. Same politics, same money issue, same name language issue (Arabic only has one vowel, “a”) . Somehow despite it all , if God intends you to survive the third world medical experience, then you will. If not? Well, in-sha-Allah (God’s Decision/choice). Like your blog!

    October 6, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    • I can relate to your experiences. I have brought sick or injured students to hospitals in China before, and like you say, they are not places you want to hang around at for long. One time at the Shaolin Temple outside Luoyang, I cut my thumb pretty badly, spurting blood all over the place. We were a long way from any hospital, not that I was anxious to get to one. Luckily there was a doctor in around who stopped the bleeding and bandaged me up. When I got back to my hotel that night I pulled out my first aid kit and used butterfly bandages to close up the wound. It certainly should have had stitches but I didn’t want to take any chances with used (dirty) needles at some country hospital. It healed up nicely, but the nerves were cut and I now have a tender nerve bundle at the base of my thumb that bothers me only when I hit it on something. I think it was worth not going to a hospital in China.

      I always carry a pretty good first aid kit when I travel in China, or anywhere for that matter.

      Nice post.


      October 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      • Quite a story, Matt; always good to be prepared!

        October 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm

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