When Life Gives You Lemons… Or Plague

Waiting for Blood Test ResultsAn interesting event had occurred during this overseas visit to China.  I use the word “interesting” in hindsight; at the time my attention was forcibly turned towards seething pains, incessant coughing, and debilitating fatigue.  During our visit to Shanxi (or before, for all I know) a little entity known as a virus decided to hitch a ride inside my body.  The resulting illness put me in bed for an entire week.

Now, one may wonder why this is important.  During this week, I was unable to go to class, venture outside, or conduct my research on Taichi.  However, I did escape my bed in order to visit the local University hospital.  With Professor Wilcox translating and helping me find my way, I had a surprisingly quick and interesting first experience at a Chinese hospital.

I returned a few days later as an extremely painful sore throat, the only remaining symptom, had refused to disappear.  During this visit, I made a decision on the course of my research project; as I had been unable to conduct adequate research into Taichi, I would change my project focus to Chinese hospitals.  During my visits, I had become somewhat mesmerized by how similar the hospital system was to those in the West.  At the same time, the hospital had enough differences in its operation that made it distinctly Chinese.  I am now curious to discover more about these distinctions, where they originated from, their roles, and how they affect the efficiency of the hospital as a whole.

Sample of Chinese MedicineThese “distinctions” include the various wings of the hospital dedicated to specific fields, the inclusion of both Chinese and Western medicines, the self-serve nature of the hospital care, as well as the low hospital charges.  During each trip I paid less than 100 yuan in total.  That’s about less than $16, where in the U.S. I would pay a minimum co-pay of $20 out of my own pocket for each item, with insurance covering whatever other charges exists.

At the same time, there was less “make the patient feel comfortable” attitude.  Not that I was uncomfortable (beyond the sickness), but I put a lot more effort in visiting the different wings for each step of the process; registering, describing symptoms, blood test, diagnosis, payment, and medicine retrieval.  The doctors and nurses were fairly stationary, and it was up to me to run around completing the various tasks that would, in the States, be done for you while you sat around in your own room.

Ultimately, it was not a bad experience, and rather interesting to be participating so much in the hospital.  I cannot say whether this is a better system or worse, but that is not my goal in the first place.  Rather, I wish to learn the aspects of the hospital system, and how they tie into Chinese culture as a whole.