A week in a Chinese hospital

You might have noticed that last week I didn’t publish any post, as usual. And it was because… I was in hospital!

I had never stayed in hospital in my life. Heck, I’ve barely been sick in my life. The only time I remember missing class or work because of an illness I was 19, got a bad flu and stayed in bed for a week. Apart from that, nothing. So when I was told that my latest blood tests indicated some liver problem which needed immediate hospitalisation, I freaked out a bit. A week in the hospital?? How is anyone supposed to survive that? What about work? (I am so hardworking, my first worry was about who would be doing my job!).

So on Friday 13th (the Spanish bad luck day!! I just noticed!!) I went to the Suzhou Municipal Hospital (also known as Maternity Hospital among locals) where the head nurse of the VIP maternity section had arranged a place for me in the high risk pregnancy ward. This ward only has 20 beds and it is always full. I arrived there at 10 am, as I was told, but the patient occupying my bed didn’t leave until 2 pm! At that point I was very angry because I hate wasting time and thought that woman was just bullshitting around, but later I found out the hospital’s organisational skills are not exactly good.

I was in a double room and my roommate was slightly older than me and pregnant with her second baby. She had bled heavily and was put on total bed rest, which meant she could not even go to the bathroom and a family member was always with her for when she wanted to pee or poo on a small bassinet in bed. As far as I know, total bed rest is not usually recommended anymore. I can’t even imagine how it must be being on bed without moving for weeks. It cannot be good at all… Luckily I didn’t have that kind of restriction and I could move around, walk the hospital corridors and even go to the convenience store next door! Honestly, I thought I would be allowed to take walks on the streets around but that was a no. I had even planned to go to the public library just across the street…

The corridor, the only place where I could walk up and down.

The hospital was clean, the rooms were more or less decent and I am satisfied with the care I received, but during my stay there I couldn’t help but think I was in prison instead of in the hospital. Why?? Well, because there are certain similarities between a Chinese hospital and a prison…

  • I was known by a number, not by my name. The nurses seemed unable to remember my name and also didn’t want to call me Xiao Ma as I was older than them (most of them looked like right out of college). So I was Number 8, my bed’s number. Or, when they thought I was out of hearing distance, laowai (foreigner). One day a cleaning lady entered my room muttering “I want to see the foreigner”. This is China! I was not bothered by this, but it annoys me when it is a young person doing it.
  • As I already mentioned, I was not free to move around and couldn’t go out except to the convenience store which was like 30 meters away.
  • I was tortured although I had nothing to confess! I had a fetal non-stress test every day and on the weekend there was a stupid male nurse who forced me to had the test lying flat on my back for one hour. You are not supposed to lie flat on your back when you have a 10 kg bump, it is very painful on your lower back and when I was finally allowed to move I wanted to die. The rest of the nurses (all female, btw) allowed me to lie on my side. Besides, the non-stress test usually takes only 20 minutes but for me it always lasted one hour even though the baby was moving the whole time (he seemed to hate it although in theory he cannot feel it).
  • They didn’t let me sleep. Well, also the combination of not being home, the hard hospital bed, the lights from the corridor, my roommate making normal person noises and me feeling very hot and sweaty all the time didn’t help me fall asleep. BUT apart from this, one of the daily tests was listening to the baby’s heart with a doppler machine at 12 am. Why it had to be at 12 am and not at 10 pm, I have no idea. But every day I was woken up at 12 am, barely an hour after finally falling sleep, by a coven of witches holding a doppler machine at full volume. I wanted to kill them. THEN, the official wake up time was 6 am when they came for even more tests. Conclusion: I didn’t sleep shit while I was in the hospital.

It was also the first time in my life that I had an IV drip and that was pretty bad too. I am not scared of needles but having one inserted on your hand for 3 full days sounds like a human rights violation for me. I was on the drip for around 6 hours every day so during that time I could not move much. I was also supposed to count baby kicks for 6 hours in total during the day, and I lost track of all the times my blood pressure was taken. Basically, I was doing one or other test every 1-2 hours. I couldn’t help but laugh when well wishers told me to “have a good week of rest” in the hospital!!

I had in total 5 litres of IV liquids for the whole week.

The nurses also told me some funny things that at first made me angry but later I had to laugh because I am a well humoured person. First, they told me my shoes (slip on sandals) were not appropriate and that I had to buy some special pregnancy shoes which cover the whole foot. My feet are all swollen and Chinese shops only carry up to size 39, so I should have told the nurses to find me some pregnancy shoes in size 41 and then we’d talk! I ignored them and wore my slip ons the whole week. Another strange rule they had was that you could not shower alone, you needed to have a relative in the bathroom with you. I laughed at this too. I have been showering alone for the whole pregnancy, I’m not going to shower with my mother in law now. And the icing on the cake was when a nurse saw me sitting in the yoga tailor pose and said I should not sit like that because my bag of waters could break. Has anyone ever heard anything like that?

Fun fact: for some reason, the hospital bed sheets had Xi Yang Yang (a children’s cartoon) on them.

Not everything was bad, to be honest (although I’d rather not stay in hospital ever again). The nurses were mostly nice to me and also the doctors, the assistants and the cleaning ladies. I had a very interesting conversation with the nurses about the Chinese postpartum customs and one nurse even told me my bump was very beautiful. And, more importantly, the treatment was effective and I was out in one week, even though this liver thing can come back at any time. I had a slightly over the limit result for cholestasis of pregnancy, but also many other weird liver indicators besides protein in pee pee, which made the doctors take the decision that I would better stay in the hospital. Now I have about one more month to go, cross your fingers that I don’t need to go back to the hospital!

I was in the building on the right.