That title is worthy of a best picture award. Well, ol’ Zhou has been off on a medical adventure the last few days. Fortunately, this wasn’t a bloody rags adventure, a ‘is that needle new?’ adventure or an ‘I’m in agony how do I say pain killer in Chinese?’ adventure. No, this was a scheduling an MRI adventure. Nothing too fancy. If you want to know what it is like to live in China, read on. Sure, you see temples, eat crazy food, meet great friends and live it up. But you also go to the Chinese hospital from time to time. It’s no less a part of life in the Middle Kingdom than eating tofu.
* (special note) – For those not familiar with China, there are no doctors’ offices like we have in the west. If you are sick, you must head to a hospital for medical treatment. A few (and expensive) private western style medical clinics exist but they are usually only for the wealthy/expat communities. Still, these clinics cannot offer the more complex medical procedures provided in a traditional western hospital. Translation – you’re going to end up in a Chinese hospital eventually if you stay here long enough.
My typical Chinese medical adventure begins
I’ve been having some becoming an old man issues. On the advice of a medical doctor back in the states (thanks!), I know that these old man issues require an MRI. The goal of any medical adventure in China is to make it the most boring and successful adventure possible – no easy task, I assure you. Well, I started out on my quest by attempting an end around. I went to my favorite (go here) small, out of the way hospital near Dushu Lake.
I love you. Let me count the ways. No people, cheap, clean, fast and I know all of the doctors – and they remember me – plus they aren’t shy with the drugs.
I talk to my usual general practitioner. I tell him what’s wrong. I show him my stateside medical advice translated into Chinese. He agrees and tells me I need an MRI. I ask him for drugs….
They will be mine. Oh, yes, they will be mine…
It’s bad news. No drugs, no MRI referral. I’m told it’s time to head into the city. A trip to Suzhou Hospital #1 is suggested. Well, ladies and gentlemen, play time is over. Time for this medical adventure to kick into high gear. Good thing this failed trip the doctor only cost me 8 mao ($0.10 – that’s right, ten American cents).
Into the meat grinder
Here’s the thing about China, there are a lot of damn people here. Seems obvious, right? Yeah well, statistics are just numbers until you live them. A real Chinese hospital in a big city is a modern marvel. Not in quality of care or unparalleled medical miracles but in volume. It is impossible to convey the sheer volume of patients that a Chinese hospital deals with at any given moment. It’s mind blowing and must be experienced to be believed. I arrived at the hospital, took a breath of fresh air and jumped head first into the meat grinder.
In China, you pay first and receive treatment second. You pay to see the doctor, you pay before you get any tests, you pay before they give you medicine. You will stand in this line often. Good thing I have insurance. Oh, did I mention how cheap medical care is in China? Some aspects of China are still communist in nature – well, a little anyway. And screw you for-profit American medical system – just because you suck so bad. You suck so fuckin’ bad.
On to the waiting room.
Three hours spent in the room, on walks, going to horribly, horribly dirty bathrooms and waiting around. Did I mention there were 100 people in front of me in line. At 8:30am. For a specialist.
My number has been called – on to the doctor’s office
Yeah, that guy sitting at the desk is my brave and valiant doctor. All those people crowding him, trying to take cuts, interrupting and getting on his nerves. Those are his patients.
Here’s how it works. After they call your number, you go to the doctor’s room. I was in room 6. Inside that room is the doctor and about 20 patients waiting to see the doctor. The doctor organizes the medical books and works his/her way through the patients by the assigned numbers. Everyone tries to take cuts even though the doctor has all of the numbers in order and is yelling at everyone to wait their turn.
Oh, did I mention that this is where your exam will take place? Yeah, right in front of 20 people. Privacy? What the hell is privacy? Doctor-patient what? Yeah, not in China. Guess what happens when it’s the white boy’s turn. All eyes on me. This is going to be fun.
I start telling the doctor what’s wrong with me in my pidgin Chinese. I’m speaking, pointing and trying my best. What’s the first thing the doctor says?
“This foreigner can speak Chinese well.”
The room laughs. Sigh. I continue. I want an MRI. 10 seconds later he agrees. I ask for the recommended drugs again.
Well, you can’t win them all. Good thing this took 3 hours of my life. Next.
Let’s make an appointment
Nice try sucker. You’ll need to wait three and a half weeks to schedule an MRI appointment here.. Or you can go to Kowloon Hospital in SIP. The wait there isn’t as long.
The adventure continues….
I cab it over to Kowloon Hospital. Indeed, there are only just a lot of people at this hospital instead of the ‘holy shit, look at all these people’ numbers of Suzhou Hospital #1.
The cycle repeats. Pay 1 RMB, wait, see doctor, get MRI referral, pay 56 RMB for the MRI ($9), wait, schedule MRI. Mission accomplished. Time to go home….6 hours later.
To be continued….
Well, not this post. This post is over as are the private details of my current medical adventure. No, what I mean is that another medical adventure is always right around the corner in China. Could be food poisoning, an e-bike accident or a slip and fall (triple knock on wood). You never know but you should know what a trip to the hospital really means when you’re in China.