Saturday, April 2, 2005

Chinese Hospitals

I have had a day off today being sick. Not that we have sick leave here, but I was just too sick to work.

On Monday I was standing in the kitchen making myself a cuppa, and my right knee suddenly started to hurt really badly like I had whacked my knee. I rubbed my leg, and found that below the knee was numb ... but the rest of it sure hurt! I rested a bit. The next day we had no lessons because the kids were doing exams, so that was ok. On the Wednesday I struggled through my morning lessons, but by the afternoon my leg was excruciating, so I went to ask our "minder" to take me to a doctor.

She took me to a "very famous doctor" who lives nearby. (She wanted to do this to find out how good he is so she can take her boyfriend's father there if he is good.) The college van was out, in Zhengzhou, so we went in one of the "bam-bam"s, or motor-bike taxi ... which was pretty hard on the old leg! We eventually found the good doctor's house after stopping to ask directions a few times from local villagers. I was assured he is retired, but very good.

I went into his house, a large all-open local Chinese village house, and all sorts of curious hanger-arounders wandered in with us. A lot of chatter went on around me, and about me. The doctor agreed to check me - taking my pulse for a long time on each wrist. He said my body is very weak - I was sitting there in agony on this wooden chair! Then he took my blood pressure with the oldest one of those things I have ever seen, but apparently it worked. He said my blood pressure was up a little - I get that way when I am in pain and distressed.

So then I was asked if I would be willing to try his medicine, he assured me I would be feeling better by morning. So, ok. He gave me an injection in the bum, sitting there on that hard chair with all the locals craning their necks around the door. I think it was penicillin. Then they closed the door so he could give me the "secret medicine". This was a sticky patch with some pooey-looking herbal poultice which they stuck on my lower back. Finally he gave me some medicine to take. There were four little 5cm squares of paper, each with 22pills, 7 different colours and sizes, carefully folded into a little parcel.

In the morning I hoped and prayed it would be all better, like he said, but by the time I got up and had a cuppa I was in agony again. So I looked up some stuff on the net about DVT (deep vein thrombosis) because that was what I scared it might be, and then ran it through "babelfish" and translated it into Chinese. I printed it out and gave it to Xiao Dong, which panicked her enough into taking me to the doctor in Zhengzhou.

They took me to the "number 1" hospital - everything here has numbers, schools, hospitals etc. I have been there before, and it’s always busy and bewildering, even for those who speak the language. I dragged myself upstairs to a long corridor with labeled doors along each side, and wooden seats to wait on, and hoards of unhappy (sick) people. Each tiny room along the hall held one or two of what would (in a Western hospital) be a whole department. We chose the (unfortunately) most popular one "peripheral vascular surgery" which was next to what was probably the least popular "anus and intestines surgery". All the doors were open, and patients and doctors and nurses wandered in and out.

Our minder tried to hurry things up for me by calling in some "guanxi" - relationship payback - from another doctor at the hospital whose son I taught last year. That at least got me into the queue, but I still had to wait an hour or more.

Finally it was my turn, and I was shunted into place on a little wooden stool by one of the doctors, a little old man was on the stool by the doctor on the other side of the desk. The room was full of people, all trying to get their little medical books onto the desk for a turn too, and all curious to see a foreigner in the hospital. After our minder gave a long explanation and showed the (trainee) doctor the sheets I had printed, he got out a flimsy little tape measure, and wanted to measure around my legs (to see if they're swollen at all I guess). So I stood there, trousers around my ankles, having my legs measured, feeling just a little silly but willing to do anything to ease this pain. I looked sideways at the little old man next to me who was having his pencil thin legs measured by the doctor at the other side of the table, and decided at least I wasn’t the only one being humiliated. And the crowd chattered on. The student wrote down the measurements, but didn't know what to do next , so he passed my book across to the professor, and I then had to take a turn on his little wooden stool.

Well, after lots of Chinese chatter we went to another hospital, on the other side of Zhengzhou in the back-blocks. We arrived at 12.03, and of course everything (especially hospitals) closes down between 12.00 and 2.30pm. So we had to sit around, grab a bite to eat at a street stall.

This other hospital didn't seem to have a number. It was very small, with almost no one there (yay!), ceramic tiles falling off the walls, torn fly screen doors on the inside, peeling paint ... all the usual Chinese hospital stuff ... and an x-ray machine! I paid 500 yuan, and we were given a bottle of dye to be injected into my leg and a turn at the machine. They had a couple of stabs (literally!) at getting the needle into a vein in my foot, and the "sit", "lie", "hold your breath" instructions were translated by our minder, who also stood by my head to hold my head when they asked me to lie down because the bed wasn't long enough. They had a "return to Oz" style machine - a wooden contraption, old and hand-made looking, driven by lacky bands, for pushing the dye syringe steadily. That wasn't too bad, I was tired and very sore by then! I ended up with some x-rays of some very tatty-looking veins in my leg.

Then we went back to the number 1 hospital and pushed through the crowd to get my little book onto the desk in front of the professor doctor again. Once again I was on the little stool, and our minder was chatting with him about his daughter going to university in Singapore, and the people around grabbed my little book off her to have a good read and pass it around, but finally he wrote on a piece of paper some medicine I could go and buy. That was a relief - the x-ray doctor had talked about a "small operation", and I am pretty scared of doing that in China!

Last night was agony. I think the dye had to work its way out of my system - they said something about it making my leg swell. They also said something about not taking any other medication at the same time, so I didn't take any painkillers. I had intended to get up and teach today, but I just couldn't face it. Tomorrow ... I don't know. I am hoping the medicine will make it better real soon!