Friday, September 26, 2008

It should have been simple, but then a hospital got involved

By Ruth (sorry - this is really long)

I was looking forward to getting into a normal schedule, but even though it's the first full week of classes, the "normalcy" part hasn't quite kicked in. To begin with, I missed my first three classes the week and spent half of Monday and Tuesday at the hospital. Don't worry - I'm okay. In the end, I was able to get some antibiotics to clear up an infection and everything seems to be returning to normal. It just took five tests and way too much familiarity with the local hospital to get there…

Day One

I was feeling bad on Sunday, so we asked a student helper (June) to go with us to see a doctor. Unfortunately, there are no doctors in the hospital on Sunday, so we had to wait for Monday morning. Monday morning is a very busy time at the hospital, and this day was extra busy because of all the parents bringing in their children to get tested for melamine. Hundreds of parents and children were stretched in a long line outside the hospital door (I'd estimate at least 300). The doctor we needed to see was on the same hallway as were all these parents were trying to go. The hall was so crowded we couldn't get through and had to find another door. Two nurses stood on chairs above the crowd yelling information through loudspeakers, but they were having little success establishing any sort of order.

We pushed our way into the small doctor's office, a 12x12 ft room that held 19 people. All of them crowded around the doctor's desk as one of the patients shared their medical problems. I thought about all the stringent privacy acts in American medical care. That's not so much a concern here. Kevin, June and I pushed our way back out into the hallway to wait our turn. We could breathe a little easier out there. When we were called back into the room, only about 8 people remained. I sat down on a small wooden stool as June explained my symptoms to the doctor. It probably should have been a little embarrassing to have all those people learning personal information about me, but for some reason it wasn't. Several people were sitting waiting on the examining table, and the doctor made them leave so he could examine me. That was nice of him. He said I should do the ever popular "pee in a cup" test, so we headed downstairs.

First stop, the pay station. Second stop, the table where a nurse handed out tiny, flimsy plastic cups slightly larger than a tablespoon. Third, down the hall to the bathroom, a squatty-potty which had not been cleaned in quite a while. There was no little metal door to put the cup through, like in America. Instead, you carry your little cup back across the hospital to the nurses station. A little awkward, except that I wasn't the only one wandering down the hallway pee-cup in hand. We had to wait 40 minutes for the nurses to do the test. Rather than standing around by the nurses window where little kids were doing their pee tests right there on the floor, June suggested that we walk to a nearby park. It was a relief to get outside of the hospital into the fresher air. By the time we got to the park it was time to turn around and head back to the hospital. We went back to the doctor to show the results and he said, “Nothing looks wrong so we will have to do other tests.” Actually, he must have said some other things since he talked for several minutes, but that was the part of the communication that came through translation. The rest of the time he may have been talking about how odd the foreigners looked or what he planned to eat for dinner or sharing some vital piece of information about my health. Who knows. He wrote a prescription for some kind of tea that will “clear out your system,” so to speak. I took it home, drank two glasses of the bitter tea, and waited for the system clearing to begin.

Day Two

With my system adequately cleared and myself feeling worse than before, we headed off for the hospital once again. I had spent the last day worrying a bit because the doctor said he wanted to check my appendix. While I didn’t appear to be having appendicitis-like symptoms, I was afraid it would end up being something bad. The last thing I wanted was for some Chinese doctor to start cutting me open. Our last experience of that kind is not really one we’d like to repeat.

Let me describe for you our progression around the hospital (which again was crowded with a slightly smaller crowd -- around 200 -- of slightly better organized parents waiting to have their children tested). Up to the second floor doctor’s office, down to the first floor payment window, over to the nurses window, back to the nurses window, up to the second floor testing room, across to the other side of the hospital, back down to the payment window, across the street to buy TP (I’ll explain in a minute), back up to the testing room, down to the nurses window, back up to another testing room, down to the payment room, back up to the first testing room, back over to the second testing room, back to the doctor’s room, down to the pharmacy, over to the payment window, back to the pharmacy and finally – out the door. For some reason, Chinese hospitals always seem to require this back and forth zigzagging puzzle.

So when we went to the first testing room where they did some kind of ct-scan but different thing, they told us to go buy a roll of TP and then come back. This made me nervous and confused. What the heck was about to happen? This is the part where we walked across the street, and when we came back, we waited for a while in the dim hallway. They often don’t turn on hallway lights in public buildings to save on energy costs. A doctor walked by with his face masked pulled down to his chin so he could enjoy a cigarette. There was something incongruous about that picture.

They finally called me into the testing room, along with June, my trusty interpreter. They unrolled some of the toilet paper to put down on the examining table and then had me lay down. So I guess they just didn’t want the trouble of keeping the table sanitary? Might as well just have everyone bring their own covering. Right. I won’t describe the whole process to you. Let’s just say it was…invasive. Extremely awkward both in essence and due to the fact that my poor student was standing by. But at the same time, it was hilarious. Though I was not enjoying myself at all at the time, I knew already that it would make a great story. Too bad I can’t tell you all the gory details. It’s much funnier that way.

Anyway, moving on, we went back out and waited for a while, then went to have this other test done. This was an ultrasound to check my kidneys. Eight or ten people were shoved up against the exam room door trying to push their way to the front. We pushed our way right in with them and got the test done. We took all the various results back to the doctor and he said a bunch of stuff out of which we gathered, “It is appendicitis, but not serious.” What? What the heck does that mean. He didn’t want to cut me up though, which is good, he just gave us a prescription for some antibiotic. Pretty much what I had been seeking in the first place, the day before. We got the medicine and gladly left.

When I got back I talked to my doctor sister who laughed at the “mild appendicitis” diagnosis saying, “There is no such thing.” We concluded that none of my symptoms seem like appendicitis or colitis (which was the other option they gave) or anything imminently threatening. So all those tests and hours later, I was pretty much back at the same spot where I started – except with antibiotics. I took the antibiotics. And now I am almost completely better. That wasn’t too hard. At least, it shouldn’t have been.

1 comment:

The Jaegers said...

uh, wow. I wish I could hear the story in person with all the details. Well, I'm glad you're okay!