Monday, October 19, 2015

Bro Goes to a Chinese Hospital: or, Fun with Needles

(To Preface: I finished my year in Mongolia.  I am now back in China, and plan to be for the next year.  I am currently located in Guiyang, Guizhou province.)               

 If at some point in your life you find yourself living in China, you will almost certainly end up at least once in a Chinese hospital.  This is because in order to get a residence permit you need to have a health check done before and after you enter the country.  This is a perfectly reasonable thing for a government to ask, and I wouldn’t mind it at all if it didn’t involve, you know, actually going to a Chinese hospital.

                Since opening up in the 80s, China has gotten many useful things from the West, but modern medicine is not one of them.  The concept of the hospital as a place where you can receive compassionate treatment in a comfortable environment is lost on the Chinese.  Traditional Chinese medicine is great for preventing illness, less so for treating it.  And since Western medicine is still a new thing here, the point is often missed entirely.  Patients are frequently misdiagnosed or given bizarre “remedies” that do nothing to help their ailment.  In one case, a coworker of mine went in with flu symptoms and was diagnosed with AIDS.  As might be imagined, the consequence of this diagnosis on his personal life was not negligible.  He had to tell his girlfriend and her family (!) and made preparations to spend his last days at home in America.  Two weeks later, he consulted an American doctor, and, whoops, it turns out he had the flu after all.  He was back at work in a week.  Another coworker took a bad fall and wound up with damage to his spinal cord that would leave him paralyzed for life if he didn’t go home and get surgery.  The doctors at the Chinese hospital put him on a saline drip and told him to hold a hot water bottle of green tea on his neck.  Because, you see, green tea is good for your health and it will seep through the skin, mending your nerves as it goes.
                That’s another thing.  Saline drips.  If you step into a Chinese hospital, no matter what the complaint, you will be put on a saline drip.  Broken arm?  Saline drip.  Toothache?  Saline drip.  Hangnail?  Hook ‘em up!
                You will also have blood drawn.  I have gone in with the stomach flu and been told to get in line for the lab.
                The above two points do not bode well for me, because I am not good around needles (get it?  Points?).  Of course, it’s not like anyone is actually “good around needles”.  I think even junkies would prefer a way to get their high that didn’t involve sticking themselves.  But mine is a special case because for most people, they can deal with it by laying down, looking away, and thinking about something else.  I can’t.  I need to be restrained, and even then I tend to yell.
                Knowing this, I was not looking forward to my health check after my arrival in China.  I communicated my apprehension, and the reasons for it, to my boss.  He said it was no problem, someone would go with me, etc.  I was not entirely convinced that he got the gravity of my needle problem, but there it was.  At any rate there was no getting around it.
                So, I went to the hospital.  Going to the hospital in China is much like the hospital scene in the movie Idiocracy.  You get shuffled around to different rooms, stand in various lines, and take your clothes off in a dirty room full of patients waiting their turn behind you, only for a doctor to prod you a few times and tell you that you talk like a fag and your shit’s all retarded: 

Ok, maybe he doesn’t say that, but he does say you are too fat (I’m 6 foot 2 and 150 pounds) and that you should drink some green tea and get a saline drip. 

Actually the hardest part (after the needles) is standing in a line full of sick Chinese people.  The Chinese are notorious, of course, for two things: first, line jumping, and second, not covering their mouths when they cough. 
                The room-shuffling and line-standing commenced, and all went about as smoothly as it could have until the last part, when it was time for the blood draw.  I stood in line, almost fainted when I saw it happening to the guy in front of me, and told the nurse I needed to lie down.  This did not compute.  What, you need to lie down?  Why do laowai lie down when they have blood taken?  See, these other laowai don’t need to lie down.  There’s no need to lie down.  Bu yong.  Sit on the stool. 
                Yong, I replied.  Need.  The nurse went and got her manager.  There was much hemming and hawing and soothing words on the part of our translator.  This laowai's conduct was most unorthodox.  Unharmonious.  At last they took me to a back room, and I laid down on a gurney with a coworker there for moral support.  To take my mind off things, she listened to me talk about front-vowel rounding in Chahar Mongolian.
                Things went to shit when a nurse walked in carrying a needle and tourniquet.  From the depths of my stomach, I screamed an unholy scream that brought to mind Westley being tortured in the pit of despair:

                The nurse jumped back, terrified.  What was this laowai doing?  She had not been trained for this.  Blood drawing is routine and normal.  This laowai is not behaving normally.  Laowai are dangerous enough already, and now this one’s screaming?  He’s from a country full of guns, for Confucius’ sake.  Surely guns are more dangerous than needles.  Does he scream whenever he sees the nine handguns that all Americans always carry?
                More soothing words from our translator.  The nurse cautiously approached me, and put the tourniquet on my arm.  Another scream, more unholy if possible than before, this time accompanied with thrashing around.  She jumped back again.  More soothing words.  She put an alcohol swab on my arm.  This unleashed the queen mother of all shrieks, one that made people a mile away look up and think “what the fuck was that?”
                The hospital director showed up and told my translator to get this deranged laowai out of his hospital.  The room where they had me opened to a courtyard, and apparently they could hear me on every floor, every wing of the hospital.  I was clearly a menace to society and they weren’t going to be responsible for me.  Our translator pulled out all the stops.  I don’t know what she said, but somehow she got him to agree to one more try, provided I was quiet this time.
                A council of war was called.  Coworker1 had tried distracting me, and failed.  Translator asked if I had considered, you know, not making a scene this time.  I assured her that I was unable to not make a scene, and indeed that I was doing quite well for myself, given that I hadn’t fainted yet.  It happened every time, and would continue to happen.  I needed to be restrained, as I had said before.  No good, apparently.  None of the nurses here were willing to restrain a thrashing laowai.  Maybe they could sedate me?  No, anesthetic was too expensive. Coworkers 2 and 3 stepped up to the plate.  They had a plan.
                C2 and C3 are a couple from America.  C2 is a bodybuilder, and C3 used to work as an EMT.  They decided to combine their talents.  I laid back down on the gurney.  C2 grabbed my arm, which at its thickest is about the diameter of his wrist, and held it steady.  C3 sat on my chest and held my other arm.  Of course, there was still the issue of screaming.
                “Give me your passport.” Said C3 as her weight came down on my solar plexus.  I rummaged in my pocket, and handed it to her.  Without hesitation she took the passport and stuffed it into my mouth.  “Bite down.”
                This was more like it.  I bit down, and in fact to this day my passport has vampire-like bite marks on it.  The nurse came back into the room and did her job.  I felt the tourniquet and swab, and hollered into my passport.  The needle followed.  I thrashed as much as I could, given the circumstances, which basically amounted to tossing my head around.  “Ok Bro, it’s over,” said C3.
                I don’t know why people always say that, because every time they do it’s not over.  They mean to say that the needle is in and they’re collecting the blood.  “Geh ih aagh!”  I yelled, which is passport-in-mouth for “get it out”.
                “Breathe, bro” said C3, which was easy for her to say but hard for me to do, considering she was, at the time, sitting on my lungs.  My vision tunneled.
                And then, the job was done.  The nurse took the needle out, got away from me as quick as she could, and I was released.  I sat up slowly so as not to faint, and the tunnel vision came back when I saw the drop of blood on my arm.  I asked for a bandage, and was given one—and a complimentary eye roll—by a nurse.  By the way, in China, nurses still wear those ridiculous hats that you see in Three Stooges skits and college Halloween parties.  The more you know!
                I’m not sure how to end this, but that's the story of Bro going to a Chinese hospital.  If you ever consider yourself insane enough to go to China, make sure you’re insane enough to handle their healthcare system.
                On a related note, C2 is now my workout buddy.

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