The lung and the restless


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Asia » China » Shandong » Weishan
November 22nd 2010
Published: November 23rd 2010
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My head cold didn't go away.

I had been hacking up lung biscuits all night long and was unable to sleep. The IARs were worried about me, and pestered me repeatedly while I brushed off their concerns. "It's only a virus. It'll go away in a week".

Except it didn't.

One day after lunch, one of the Impossibly Adorable Roommates (IARs) dragged me to to the creatively-named "Hospital #1". We walked there, it wasn't far. Weishan is a fairly small town.

Once inside the hospital's lobby, a short woman in a white lab coat asked if we needed any guidance. The IAR told her why we were there, and lab-coat lady told us that we would need to see a Doctor first. She guided us to a small, shabby office just inside the hospital lobby entrance. Inside the office were two wooden desks, wooden chairs, a wooden "waiting" bench and a couple of file cabinets. Also, the very same petite woman in the white lab coat. Her name was Dr. Li, and she would see me right now. Time span: 30 seconds from wandering in off the street to being seen by a Doctor. No appointment, no phone call, nothing. (Are you listening, Senator?)

Doctor Li asked lots of questions to the IAR and the IAR answered them. None of which I understood, as I still don't speak Mandarin. In any matter, I was not included in the conversation. So I looked around the room, looked at the Doctor, looked at the IAR, and looked around the room some more. A question was finally asked of me: "Are you allergic to anything?" After confirming the absence of allergies, the Doctor grabbed her prescription pad, scribbled something illegible on it, tore it off and gave me the scrip. We were told to go to the Hospital Pharmacy and give them the piece of paper.

First, however, I needed pay the hospital some money.

Expats can buy health insurance for just this sort of thing, but I hadn't; I can't afford it. I was now faced with a hospital bill as a walk-in, and I would now have to pay the piper. I come from the land of the $50,000 aspirin and I had figured that this hospital visit would end up costing me plenty.

Behind a glass partition was a stone-faced, middle-aged man at a desk, a computer monitor, a lit cigarette and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. (Smoking a cigarette right inside a hospital! Welcome to China.) He entered some information on the computer, and after I handed over some cash. My wallet was suddenly a lot lighter. Once paid, he gave me a receipt stamped with the official red stamp. Nothing happens in China without the official red stamp.

I took the stamped receipt to the next window and a different short woman (this time, a non-smoker) in a white lab coat filled the prescription. The hospital pharmacy looked just like any modern hospital pharmacy anywhere. I had been prescribed a course of Amoxicillin; my "nothing but a little cold virus" was actually a lower respiratory tract infection. I was also handed a bottle of cough syrup (cherry flavored). The bill for the Doctor's visit (for an uninsured walk-in) plus a prescription for antibiotics and a bottle cherry-flavored cough syrup came to just under $12.00.

I could get used to this "universal health care" idea.








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23rd November 2010

Chicken Soup
Did you get chicken soup? Russian medicial practices same way except you also get soup!
23rd November 2010

wow! Glad you got checked out, and I loved to read about it!
23rd November 2010

The lung and the punless
Joe, that was an awful pun. How long did it take you to think it up? Feel better asap.
23rd November 2010

In my experience, the Chinese have a tendency to over-worry about these things but I guess their worries were justified this time! I was told it's pretty common to get a respiratory infection your first few months in China...this never happened to me beyond a minor cold or two...but I'm glad to hear you are alive and well and that the hospital was actually functional.
23rd November 2010

Greatful lung
Dr Li was treating you "emperically". This means she had no lab culture to go on, but just decided that a little Amoxicillin would give the bad infection something to think about. Hope it does. We in the American self parody that is the "health" "system" would have treated you like a McDonnalds customer without the service, keeping you waiting in the ER for a couple of hours (if there was anything more interesting to do) and then relieving you of about $300. And you might have gotten nothing but the cherry surup and aspirn -- we're trying to train the docs not to empereically prescribe antibiotics: most of the time URI's are viral and antibiotics train the bad bugs to be immune. Not that they don't get enough training when we overuse them in meat production and even soap. Kurt Vonnegut said that the elements wanted to get rid of man, so they gave us antibiotics realizing that we would overprotect ourselves to death. Your fate should be much better. Make sure you are taking vitamins and omega-3: cheap insurance.
26th November 2010

Hey Aqualung!
I'm digging your blog. I've found myself in a simmilar situation here in the states, looking at teaching in Asia. The two things holding me back, however, is a rather hefty car payment and my dog. (You must be a really strong person to have had to say goodbye to your best friend like that...you have my empathy) I'd like to see you write more on the social spects of being the only foreigner there. I'm an outgoing (33 year old) guy and a big fear about living and working overseas is being stuck in my apartment with no one to go out with and/or talk to. As a traveler, I know how time away from home can get lonely, but traveling for vacation and living in a new country for 6 months or a year is totally different. It sounds like you've become friends with your IARs. Have they introduced you to new people around town? What about other coworkers or parents of some of your students? Keep up the good work!
27th November 2010

Feel better!
9th December 2010

hope you are better
I am positive you are better now.I will be going to weishan tomorrow to teach for one month.I am already panicking as i know it is small town and am afraid i will not get what i want.Anyway I think its time to have my first small town experience-My friend always says that if you come to china and only go to Beijing,Shanghai and the like..congratulations for NOT seeing the real chin.Anyway hope all will go well for me.

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