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LAST WORD: I Survived a Chinese Hospital
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altThe once blue wall looked sickening to me as I got out of bed for the first time in 5 days. Blue was my guess, as big parts of the wall were so scratched by passing hospital beds or dirtied by countless unwashed hands leaving the original colour questionable. I was tired beyond belief after all that bed rest, my breathing still was that of an 80 year old smoker, which my 39 year old brain was having a hard time dealing with. My goal was the restroom, which I had yet to lay my eyes on. As I opened the door, I came to the conclusion that I had not really missed much, with the stench hitting me like a bus, and the state of it horrifying me. Tissues were scattered over a dirty floor, and the sink looked unkept with water all over the counter, mirror, and walls. The toilet, a westernised version to my relief, was there, but no toilet paper, towels, soap or any other such commodities were to be found. I returned to my bed with a sigh.

Five days earlier, I had apparently been close to death. Having already gone to the doctor a couple of times, I was still convinced that this was a case of a dog allergy in combination with the flu. However, I wasn’t getting better, and that evening I was struggling to breathe.

altBeing unable to breathe is a scary concept, like drowning on dry land, a feeling of your body betraying you or going on a strike. It was clearly demanding of me that I deal with this and so was my wife, calling for an ambulance after some objections from me.

The ambulance staff gave me a single order: Do not move or you could die. When I insisted I could walk to the ambulance, they shook their heads furiously and after having helped me onto a gurney in a half raised position, one of them had his hand on me for most of the ride to the hospital to ensure I did not move.

In China, emergency vehicles do not seem to have the right of way, slowly making their way through traffic, often with lights on and sirens blaring which other drivers seems to completely ignore among a symphony of honking horns. My wife now got into a frenzied discussion with the driver of the ambulance, and at the same time was making several phone calls. Later, I found out that my wife needed to pick a hospital for the ambulance to go to.

Pick a hospital!!! I just couldn't believe it. I can just imagine poor half dying people in ambulances across China, with the staff giving them options for hospitals, and asking them to call and make sure they can be received. As we got to the hospital, I was pushed directly to see a doctor, or so I thought. Here, there was no special room for you to be looked at, no nurses that asked you to wait for a while, no silly anatomical figures, or posters on the wall. Instead, there was an area with room for about 6 beds where everyone that needed seeing-to was. My father-in-law arrived, which was a good thing, as now the cat and mouse game of treatments and payments ensued.

As a project manager by trade, the disorganisation of payments for treatments and medicine astonishes me. Even though it would be a challenge, surely, simple procedure enhancement could simplify the whole process. In China you pay to see the doctor, at which point he will possibly tell you that you need some x-rays, blood tests, or other diagnostic procedures. For each, you have to pay, often separately, and always beforehand, and still go back to the original doctor for analysis. In my mind, having everything done and checked, then paying the bill as you leave seems more efficient, or even paying a large deposit at the start, with settlement at the end.

That night I was almost glad to be stuck in bed, as my wife and father-in-law had to make several trips to an ATM, paying for anything from blood tests, drugs, bedpans, and an asthma inhaler, not to mention the actual hospital deposit. I felt fortunate that I had my family with me, and it started to dawn on me why families in China stick together so tightly.

I spent the better part of the night in the emergency centre. My surprise of how different Chinese hospitals are, compared to my experience, kept on growing. I was sent to take some tests, with my wife wheeling me out through the general public, where I had to wait in line, on my gurney, in the hallway. Taking shallow breaths, I surrendered to my situation and squeezed my wife’s hand.

In the morning, I was brought up to some type of lung and asthma wing, and got a bed in a first room. Seeing as I was sharing it with someone else, and that no curtains were available for some privacy, I faintly asked my wife to see if she could get some screens. Later, I found out I got the only screen on the whole floor.

During my next 10 days, I got much better care than I had expected, while some discoveries simply left me flabbergasted. Possibly the biggest surprise, was that the hospital does not provide any food or drinks. The hospital expects someone to stay with you at all times, which made for some bonding with my father-in-law as he watched over me while I slept (my wife was home with our daughter). Chinese also have perverse interest in blood pressure, temperature, water intake, and your toilet trips. This would all be recorded on a religious basis
Today, I can look back and smile. The doctors and nurses at that hospital were kind and gentle to, most likely, an often difficult foreigner. They all took great care of me and were never dismissive. When I went back to my home country, I got their diagnosis confirmed, along with learning that their treatment was exactly the same, as I would have received in a western hospital. I also got to hear that the ambulance people might just have saved my life by insisting that I stay still.

Just remember that if you ever have to go to Chinese hospital, that you need family and friends, and cash!
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