Going to Hospital
In my first few months in China it seemed as though every second bowel movement was an emergency. I’d often find myself at the end of the day lugging bags of shopping up several flights of stairs to my appartment only to drop the shopping outside the door. I would then feverishly fidget with the keys while crossing my legs in an attempt to stop whatever it was that was trying to fight its way out of my bottom. After some contemplation about my dietary habits I decided to become less gastronomically adventurous, to say no to street food vendors and start cooking more at home. Eventually things downstairs began to settle down.
Everything was plain sailing until I got my first case of food poisoning. I was teaching a kindergarten class when it happened. Right in the middle of “The Wheels on the Bus” I got quite a strong urge to vomit on the front row of children. This was unusual because such songs usually only give me a mild urge to vomit on children. I took my urge seriously as explaining to a group of fretful Chinese mothers why their five year olds are covered in laowai spew seemed like something I would best avoid. I pushed past my assistant. She was her usual useful self - like an ashtray on a motorbike. She made a retarded face at me as I was pushing past her. She said something about the class not being finished. Her hollow words rang in my ears as my diaphragm began to spasm with the first few contractions that often lead to an extended bout of projectile vomiting. I barged through the crowds of slack-jawed, gawping onlookers that littered the hallway. I pushed on to the safety of the boys lavatories where I heaved into a dirty squat toilet. A small group of boys gathered outisde the cubicle. I could hear their concerned mutterings between my contorted heaves. Waiguoren...Laoshi...Outu... (Foreigner...Teacher...Vomit...)
On seeing my greyish-green hue my boss decided that I wasn’t sick but was missing foreign food. I had only been in China for a short time and he thought that some greasy pizza and french fries would cure me. I explained to him through my assistant that I had food poisoning and that no amount of pizza would help. I told him that the best thing for me to do would be for me to go home, get into bed, watch a season of Game of Thrones and let the natural healing power of the human body do its wonderful work. I didn’t tell him about the Game of Thrones bit but this was definitely part of the plan. He announced that if I wasn’t going to go to Pizza Hutt then I should at least go to the hospital. That was it, my fate confirmed. I was going to a Chinese hospital.
I walked through the foyer door of the hospital and everyone stared at me. I was used to it. The city that I live in is officially a 47th tier city. People stare at you no matter where you are. I felt the stares burn deeper than usual due to my weakened state. I shuffled off into the corner and waited for my assistant to speak with the nurses about a doctor examining me. I half expected to get lobotomized or get gender reassignment surgery considering how inept my assistant was at completing the most basic of tasks. She was in well above her head.
I waited. An old man stared at me balefully as he chain smoked cigarettes under a very large and visible “No Smoking” sign. I hadn’t yet reaised that No Smoking signs were a mere decoration here in China. I was later to learn that zebra crossings, road surface markings, traffic lights and many other things were also simply decorative. These are the things that a developing country arms itself with to appear developed - the trappings of a modern society.
I was eventually lead away to see the doctor in his consultation room. When I think of a doctor’s consultation room I think of a quiet, wholesome and sanitary sanctum. One in which you can divulge the innermost secrets of your body’s workings to a dilligent and highly-trained professional. What I was about to experience was to challenge some of the preconceptions that I had about modern medicine, bedside manner and doctor to patient confidentiality.
The doctor was perched on a small chair behind a desk. The air was thick with cigarette smoke. You could see a pile of some 40 or 50 cigarette butts stubbed out beside him on the dirty, yellow, linoleum floor. He was old yet solid - barrel chested. He looked as if he had only just woken up - bleary eyed and his thick black hair was like a rat’s nest. I half expected to see a small bed behind his desk. The front of his white doctor’s coat was a palimpsest of the remnants of previous meals.
My appearance at the door of hardly raised his attention. He lit up another cigarette and looked me up and down. There were 7 other people in the consultation room. Their otherwise dreary wait to be treated by a doctor had suddenly been turned into something far more interesting courtesy of my arrival. The doctor gestured for me to take a seat. The peasantry shuffled forward to listen to why this strange looking foreigner was in a Chinese hospital. The consultation began with the doctor pointing at me and saying “Ting bu dong” and having a light chuckle as he turned to his audience who also chorused in with their own round of “Ting bu dongs” whispering and laughter.
My assistant asked me what was wrong with me so that she could tell the doctor. I looked about hesitantly. I didn’t really want to tell a room full of over inquisitive Chinese people that I’d been suffering from uncontrollable pooing. My hesitation abated. I just wanted to get the hell out of here. In a plain, matter-of-fact tone I stated “I’m sick. I’ve been vomiting.” My assistant relayed this to the doctor. The audience gathered closer and parotted what my assistant said. My assistant turned to me and asked “Is that all? What about your bottom?” I replied “Yes. Diarrhoea. Quite bad.” A few members of the audience chuckled at the translation. The doctor asked her how many times, she asked me. “Twelve times today maybe. Seven or eight since lunch. I lost count.” Members of the crowd quickly drew in their breath at hearing such numbers. Their interest piqued by tales of my suffering.
The doctor scribbled on paper and scratched himself in various places. He informed my assistant that I needed an intravenous dose of anti-biotics. I told my assistant that I would be having no such thing. The doctor was a little taken back by my refusal. I’ve sought second opinions before but this was obviously a first for this doctor. He asked my assistant why I wouldn’t take his advice. I told her to tell him that I didn’t take doctors that smoked cigarettes during consultations seriously. He laughed and gave me a pat on the shoulder. He prescribed me some pills that were huge and looked funny. Needless to say I didn’t take them.
I am a 33 year old male from New Zealand. I am teaching in Guangzhou. I have 10 years experience, including management experience. I have 5 years teaching experience in China.
Yup, that sounds like a pretty standard visit to a Chinese hospital. It is all mostly a complete waste of time. It starts with being looked up and down by some dude that could be replaced by the janitor... to getting the sagely advice to get an IV... Best to just stay and home and let your body do its thing. Everyone knows Chinese and foreign bodies aren't the same (as Chinese love to say)... right?
Hospital sucks! Useless waste of time. Crippled with sciatica so bad I couldn't walk 2 meters. Finally dragged to hospital where the two quacks declared that I had "Piriformis Syndrome", prescribed two lots of pills that did sod all. Was only sorted out by a TCM guy recommended by the local taxi driver who suffers with his back too. TCM guy has a prod about and says "Nope, L3 disk" and proceeds to give me a massage that pushed it back in. I drew the line at accupuncture when he brought the needles over in a dirty cup. Well you can't have everything! But he knew his stuff!
I live literally like 30 or 40 minutes away from you in Rugao, I have the same issues here when going to the hospital. Aside from astronomical medical bills, going to the hospital hasn't always been completely helpful. Aside from the time when I was bleeding as I was shitting, the doctor there was competent enough to give me the right medicine as it stopped the bleeding.
I think it is so funny (and sad) that a group of like 5 people go with one person to the hospital for a headache. Of course, the men need to smoke so they do so in the elevator lobby or stair case. The funniest thing, to be a doctor in China, you buy that right from the hospital....with some medical training for example CPR training...bam Chinese cardiologist. There is such a giant attempt to save face over their lack of normal medical knowledge (ie cat scratches do not cause rabies) that they act often rude and super controlling.
Great post :) We are two English teachers originally from Christchurch, currently working in Chenghai, Shantou (Guangdong province) and now finding our way around the confusing maze that is our new home and culture! You're not in Guatamela now, Doctor Ropata.
Thanks. I've had food posioning before. Getting better depends on what you've got. Usually about 3 days of eating simple food and drinking water will sort you out. Imodium is a wonder drug here in China - don't leave home without it.
My experience in a Chinese hospital wasn't too bad... my wife went to medical school, and many of her old classmates are senior physicians (and a few are highly skilled docs). As is often the case in China, who you know can influence what you get.
I am Chinese. I went to hospital to find a way to cure acnes on my face in the UK. A doctor wrote a prescription for me, and I went to pharmacy to take three small bottles. After I used them, the more acnes came out because the medicine was very oily.
Oh goodness, this post is hilarious! And accurate. Who else would think of taking a person to Pizza Hut after vomiting if not a Chinese? My assistant's English is so poor that she wouldn't know the word 'diarrhea'even if I had one. Sometimes in the class I switch things up or come up on spot with more interactive ways and then she is so puzzled because she has no clue what I am saying. The best description on their traffic rules I have seen so far: "I was later to learn that zebra crossings, road surface markings, traffic lights and many other things were also simply decorative. These are the things that a developing country arms itself with to appear developed - the trappings of a modern society." Thanks for sharing your adventurous visit to the hospital. I am so happy that I did not have to do that (yet), but I have had runny nose for about 2 weeks and it does not seem to want to stop...so...who knows what a dreadful experience is awaiting.
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