I made it nearly 3 years before I finally caved. Millions of speeches to concerned Chinese friends or coworkers, countless explanations and feelings of superiority have passed...until this past month.
I went to the hospital.
Every time that I've had just a cold, or a stomach bug, or even been feeling just a little "down", I've been told that I should go. And I've refused. I've spent many cell phone minutes explaining that "sometimes we just get sick" and that all we need is rest and maybe some OTC wonder. I've even called a doctor friend in the U.S. to confirm that I was correct in my home remedies (thanks Dr. Watson!). And I've been fine!
I've been through food poisoning, parasites, a kidney stone, countless colds, allergies, a huge allergic reaction to some shrimp hidden in my food, and whatever else with nothing more than my bag full of meds that I brought from America, sometimes picking up some prescriptions from a pharmacy (you don't need written prescriptions from doctors to pick up what you need, and since many have the english (is it english?) name, you can find out what you need and pick it up on your own), and lots of water.
But yes, our friends and coworkers over here are usually quite insistent that what we should really be doing is going post-haste to the hospital. And after a recent spat of bad health, I finally gave in.
The "hospital" here is also what we would call "the doctor's office." I'm not sure, but from what I can tell...there aren't really "doctor's offices" over here....the hospital is the only option.
Two weeks ago I came down with a cold and an intestinal bug simultaneously. After 2 days of whatnot, I realized that no amount of drinking water was keeping me from dehydration, and no amount of pepto was fixing the problem. With the cold and cough I was worried that the flu had got me, so I finally shrugged my shoulders and followed a Chinese friend to the hospital.
Then again yesterday, I came down with the same stomach bug and was worried that it was a recurring thing. After a day of vomiting, I again called up a friend and made my way back.
The first thing you notice about the Wuhan hospital is the level of you-it-yourself efficiency. This cuts the wait time in half, but if you're shaky and nauseous, it's also a chore. First you register and get what looks like a credit card with your patient number on it, and a little booklet for the doctor to write you diagnosis in. They don't keep records themselves and the only patient files are the booklets that you carry yourself.
Then you see the doctor--in both cases I was sent to the emergency room, though I'm assuming that might be because I'm a foreigner? I was seen immediately in an informal setting...a small room with about 5 other patients waiting. The doctor heard my symptoms and sent me for blood work (and a chest xray the first time). The doctor prints out a list of the procedures that you need, then you walk to the cashier and pay for them. They swipe your card and you walk to the blood station, or the x ray room or whatever.
When your results are ready, you go to a little electronic station and swipe your card, and the station prints out your results. I was given my xray to keep--it's now decorating my refridgerator. Then you walk back to the doctor and let him/her read the results and write in your booklet the diagnosis.
From there, it's back to the cashiers to pay for your prescription, then to the prescription station to swipe your card, which is like placing an order because they immediately pull it together from behind the desk. You pick up your prescription and then head to the dreaded transfusion room for your treatment.
This was why I've avoided hospital visits since I began living here. In China, the doctors all prefer to put patients on IV drips over prescribing pills. From what I've heard, the Chinese (generalization) don't like taking pills, and often stop taking them as soon as they begin to feel better, instead of completing the full round of medication. This can lead to the creation of superviruses or superbacteria or other horrible things. So they get IV treatments here instead. Sometimes the procedure can be completed in one day, but sometimes the patient must return for 3-7 days in a row for an IV treatment every day. Ugg.
So yeah...I get a little squeamish about IVs. It's just weird having a needle stuck into your arm. My first trip, I begged the doctor for pills instead. My translator just kept saying "IV is better. Doctor say IV is better." The second trip, I didn't even bother.
After walking all around the hospital, swiping cards and picking up test results, you get your prescription and take it to the transfusion room, which is a large room filled with about 100 chairs with metal poles mounted to the sides of them. The dead and dying sink into the chairs languidly and stare into nothingness (dramatization). You wait your turn while they mix your meds into an IV bag and sit at the counter while they inject you, then follow a nurse through the maze of bodies, filled with terror that someone will trip and rip the cord out of your arm. You are placed in a chair and your bag is hung from the metal pole above you, while an old man gapes open mouthed at you, the foreigner across the aisle. And then you sit, for an hour or longer (two and a half today), while a nearby tv showcases an American Idol style show with girls in glittery too-toos singing Beijing opera.
When your drip is done you press a little button next to your chair, the nurse comes and removes your needle, and you go home. I will say that the drip did work wonders with whatever intestinal bug I've been getting. And that the whole thing is AMAZINGLY cheap...I think I spent the equivalent of $40USD for a chest xray, blood test, and IV drip the first time, and about $20USD for the blood test and IV drip this time. It was also fast...from entry to transfusion room, I never had to wait in line for longer than 5-10 minutes.
So I'm a little over my fear of the hospital, but am also hoping that those two experiences will be the only ones I have. And despite the fast service, I will say that I miss being assigned a room and being able to sit and wait while the doctors and nurses gather my test results for me and bustle in and out. It was pretty difficult having to stand and walk all around from here to there....but I can see how it speeds things up.
According to the doctor, my first visit was a stomach virus and my second one was food poisoning. All in all, I'm thankful that I haven't had any more serious troubles and that I've had Chinese friends to join me and help translate for me. I feel like a pro at living in China now--the thing I was most hoping to avoid has come and gone and come again...and I'm still ok! And now able to share with all of you the experience! I wish I could post pics because I took a couple today...maybe when I return to the US I'll have a couple a picture posts to finish out my Chinablog existence!
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