Going to the hospital in China

Before actually going to any hospital in China, I had already heard a ton of horror stories. I am not sick easily so I wasn’t very worried. I have never had any kind of surgery and never had to stay in a hospital (well, except one time that my father had an operation and I slept in his hospital room, but that doesn’t count). The only time I can remember that I have missed a day of class or work because I was sick was once when I was 19 and I had the flu.

The first time I went to the hospital in China was during my second year in Beijing. I woke up to an itchy and very red eye and decided to go to the campus clinic, as it was nearby and included in my student’s insurance. I was ready for the worst but to my surprise, the clinic looked more like a primary school than like a hospital, and it smelled like the herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. There were no other patients waiting. The doctor saw me and then prescribed eyedrops and an ointment that I got in the pharmacy inside the clinic. In total I paid less than 2 RMB (0.2 Euro with the exchange rate back then), including the visit and the medicines.

Nasty pic. Didn't I look like the dead girl in The Ring? I hope I don't have conjunctivitis ever again!

Nasty pic. Didn’t I look like the dead girl from The Ring? I hope I don’t have conjunctivitis ever again!

The first time I worked in Shanghai, in 2010, I experienced how it was going to an international hospital. I was working as a hostess in the Spain Pavilion, in the Shanghai Expo, and suddenly my toe started hurting like crazy. Our insurance was only valid in international hospitals so I went to one of them. I don’t remember which one it was. The doctor was an Australian who barely looked at my toe, said it could be anything from gout to cancer, or maybe it wasn’t anything at all so he just prescribed some analgesics. The visit, which took less than 2 minutes, and the meds were 800 RMB. That is what I call a complete rip off (insurance-covered rip off, but well). The clinic was very clean and modern and everybody spoke English, I have to give them that.

Then I started having my annual gyn check-ups in Suzhou. The hospital I usually go is quite new and not terribly crowded, but it is not empty, of course. Usually women lay pants off in the examination bed under a curtain but with the doctors’ office door opened and everybody trying to push their way inside. When it is my turn I push them all outside and close the door.I find it funny that Chinese women don’t give a crap about being naked in front of other women and even seem to enjoy it (why else would they choose to dry their hair or apply their make up completely naked in the gym’s changing room?). The full check up is a little bit over 500 RMB, not bad considering that I do several tests and 4 or 5 doctors see me. However, the last time I went something nasty happened. After seeing the results, the doctor said I had fluid in my pelvic cavity and that it was very serious and I needed medicine. “What medicine?”, I asked her. But she was already gesturing for me to go and the next person to come in. I had her write down the medicine’s name but of course no one could decipher her handwriting. (Does that happen with doctors all over the world?). I felt uneasy so C.’s mom took me to another hospital she trusted, where I was seen again and told I was completely fine. Turns out Chinese people don’t really like the hospital I went to in the first place, they say they try to give you too much medicine.

The hospital I usually go to but Chinese people don't really like. The names of everybody who's waiting appear on the screen and when it is your turn you are called. They never manage to write my name correctly.

The hospital I usually go to but Chinese people don’t really like. The names of everybody who’s waiting appear on the screen and when it is your turn you are called. They never manage to write my name correctly.

I have also experienced Chinese hospitals from the visitor side. A couple of years ago C. had stomach surgery and stayed in the hospital for a week. He chose a Taiwanese hospital on the other part of town because it is very big and not many people go there. His room was for 2 people but he was alone the whole time. His experience was fine, except for one time that the vein in his arm started getting very hard and he started vomiting right after he was connected to an intravenous drip. I suspect they put something he was allergic to, but fortunately the nurse came quicky and nothing irreversible happened.

On the other hand, the hospital that C.’s grandma stayed for a couple of weeks was an old hospital in the center of the city. She shared a room with 3 other elderly ladies and visiting her was a very social activity.

Something that is different from the hospitals back home is that the first thing you have to do when you arrive to the hospital in China is… paying. Yep, you first pay for the right to see the doctor,and if s/he prescribes some tests, you first go back to the cashier to pay for them and then go take them. I am not sure how it works in the emergency room. If I am unconscious, will they search for my wallet and credit card before checking me in?

The first time you go to a Chinese hospital they will give you a booklet (the thing on the back) where the doctor will write your visits history. Also, everytime you pay for something you get a receipt, of course.

The first time you go to a Chinese hospital they will give you a booklet (the thing on the back) where the doctor will write your visits history. Also, everytime you pay for something you get a receipt, of course.

So, to sum up, there are many types of hospitals in China. Old, new, crowded, less crowded, cheap, expensive, using Western medicine, using Chinese traditional medicine… In general, my experience with hospitals has not been bad, definitely not as awful as people were telling me!

Have you ever been to the hospital in China? How was your experience?

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