China / Hot Issues

Illness doesn't keep holiday schedules

By John Lydon (China Daily) Updated: 2016-03-16 08:00

Each year I've spent in Beijing, I've been amazed that within days of Spring Festival the winter chill melts away into sunshine and warmth. Each year anew, a glorious spring bursts forth as if commanded by the lunar calendar.

Each year ... except for this one. This time, icy weather spilled over into spring, clinging to the city with dogged persistence, and as though in lock step with a fluke that drove away any interest I might have had in celebrating the holiday.

One of my sons caught what seemed to be a cold about 10 days before Spring Festival. No big deal.

Then it got worse. He became feverish and his health seemed to deteriorate, so we took him to a doctor, who admitted him to a hospital. After several days and various tests, the doctors were uncertain what was wrong, but their suspicions went toward serious, life-threatening diseases.

Illness doesn't keep holiday schedules

Such news is never easy to take, but add to that a foreigner's concerns. Here we were in what for us is a foreign country putting our boy's life in the hands of doctors and a healthcare system we knew very little about. Just how good are they?

As the days passed, and we got to know the doctors, nurses and aides, it became clear that they are knowledgeable, professional and extraordinarily dedicated.

Aside from providing excellent care, they also took account of their patients' and patients' families needs and tried to accommodate them. My son's primary care physician, for example, delayed his trip home for Spring Festival to make certain the boy's condition had first stabilized.

The healthcare system, too, showed strengths. For example, doctors with different specialisms would regularly meet in conferences to offer their insights, which was particularly helpful in my son's case.

Our initial fears about what sort of care our boy would receive were soon replaced by confidence in and gratitude toward his caregivers.

But several things worried us about healthcare in China, especially that the timing of an illness could have any effect on its treatment.

Several days before the start of Spring Festival, my son's doctors thought it likely he had a form of blood cancer, and they ordered tests on the weekend before Spring Festival to confirm or allay that suspicion. The samples were sent to the external laboratory that conducts such tests, and then ... nothing.

Technicians who process tests for this illness - which is lethal and requires immediate, aggressive treatment - get eight days off at Spring Festival.

If you want to buy a pack of cigarettes, a beer or maybe a candy bar, no problem. Stores are open. But if you need a crucially important test for blood cancer, you'll have to wait until after the holiday.

My boy was lucky. He didn't have blood cancer. But how many aren't lucky? And how many people's treatment is delayed each year because of such holiday lab closures?

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