Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going to a doctor, going, going, going to a doctor

At the risk of becoming another Laowai wining that thing in China aren’t as good as things in America, I’d like to relay the story of my doctor visit today.

Here is a picture of the process I went through to get some medicine/see a doctor. I made this picture. 

I went with a Chinese friend, who could translate and lead me through the halls of the hospital my company said I needed to go to.

The hospital looked like it had been built in the mid 1990s, had the drab, sagging feel of the white tiled buildings around China that are built for function and not aesthetics.

First thing I notice: no emergency room. That’s right, if you are bleeding wildly, or your broke your leg—you need to go to the appropriate wing of the hospital.

Next thing: no one was bleeding wildly, and I didn’t see any broken legs. This is a marked difference from the American hospital emergency room.

A pretty girl behind a desk in the central lobby of the hospital said I needed to go to the third floor to get help with my bulging red eyes.

At the third floor we walked to the ophthalmology wing and went to front desk. But they told us we were at the wrong front desk, we needed to go to the third floors main desk.

So we went to the third floor’s main desk and paid some money to register. After registering at the main desk we went back to the ophthalmology and my name went up on a television with a number beside it.

Finally my name is called, and I’m lead into a drab office with off-color furniture. There is a middle-aged mustached woman in a white lab coat sitting behind a desk, she looks like a secretary. There is no examination bed, just a mirror, a metal stool, and one of those machines used to test eye sight.

I assume she is a secretary and this is a waiting room, because there are still other patients in it. But no, she is my doctor, and the other patient—a 30-something-woman dressed like a teenager—is yelling into her gold colored cell phone and seems to want to stay. Finally the cell phone lady leaves and I sit down.

“Do you feel foreign bodies in your eye?” she asks in excellent English


“Does it have sticky discharge?”


"Do you know what conjunctivitis is?"


She scribbles something on an official looking pad of paper and hands it to me.

“Buy these. Come back and see me after you buy them.”

To buy the medications—these are eye medications, not controlled substances or anything you’d ever stick in your eye for fun—we first need to go to the third floor desk and wait in line. We give the third floor desk money, take a special receipt they give us and head down to the first floor where the pharmacy is.

Of course, in line to get medicine we already paid for, everyone is acting quite Mainland Chinese and pushing and jumping the queue. Yes, they are in a hurry to get medicine they already paid for and they know there is enough for everyone. Really.

I hand over my slip of paper saying I paid money, three medications and another piece of paper are given to me. The last piece of paper I need to bring back to the doctor, it has instructions for the medicines on it.
So back up to the third floor. We walk past the ophthalmology desk—apparently this time I don’t need to add my name to a list. To my chagrin, the doctor I need to see has a line waiting to see her—not any real official line, but a disorderly crowd of people hovering near her door, watching her deal with one patient and waiting for their chance to jump into the room.

I am the third to arrive. The first and second people who were before me go in to see her. Then a fourth, a lady in high heels sneaks up, the moment the second person leaves, she dashes into the doctor’s office.

In America I would say something like “What the fuck?” and maybe “Excuse me?” and perhaps poke my head into the office and wait for an explanation to be offered… before sheepishly backing away.

While we are waiting outside of the doctor’s office my friend starts explaining each medicine to me, reading the instructions. Rub this gel on the eye once per day—easy. This eye drop six times per day—I can do that. Use this one only once—OK, not hard.

What exactly is the doctor going to tell me? And as I’m thinking that, the lady in high heels waltzes out and a gaggle of Chinese men and women descend on the doctor’s door. Someone in the crowd gets into the door first and once again—I am cut.

But screw it, I say. And leave the hospital with a certain air of “fuck the system” thinking to myself, if this hospital is this messed up, I’m going to prove it: it’s dysfunction forced me to break the rules.

In the taxi, on the way home, I turn to my friend and ask: “What do you think the doctor will think when I don’t come back? After she said to come back and talk to her?”

“Oh. Well. She probably forgot about it.” 

And so it goes.

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