Opinion / Blog

Something I didn't know about China

By teamkrejados ( Updated: 2015-08-14 16:31

Friends and family are responsible for hospitalized patients:

I've had some dealings with hospitals in China: when I bashed my head in and needed stitches, to have my thyroid levels checked and, most recently because of my broken leg, all done on an outpatient basis. I visited Gary in the hospital when his appendix ruptured, but gained no clue on the mysteries of inpatient dealings at that time.

I've often wondered why pajama-clad patients are permitted to roam around hospital grounds. In the case of the military hospital I always go to when needing medical care over here, patients wander as far as the shopping centers and restaurants across the street – also in their pajamas. From my limited experience with hospitals in the west - in Germany and the US, once you are in the hospital, you stay in the hospital until you are discharged: no roaming outside allowed. In America, I've not been allowed to walk out of the hospital upon discharge: an orderly pushed me out in a wheelchair (presumably, every hospital in America follows that policy: whether you can walk or not, your trip out of the hospital is made in a wheelchair).

Hospital food: the joke of the American health care profession. “The doctors are great but the food will kill you!” as one old saw goes. Now that health care in America is a for-profit business, hospitals compete for patients. Thus they offer private rooms and restaurant quality food. If your illness requires special foods, your diet is carefully monitored and outside food is frowned on. Likewise are over-the-counter medicines not allowed: you cannot take any medication the doctor does not approve of, and what is approved must be dispensed from the hospital pharmacy.

It was my most recent visit to the hospital in Wuhan to have my leg X-rayed that opened my eyes about hospital care in China. My curiosity was aroused when I saw non-medical personnel pushing hospital beds into the X-ray department so the supine patients could be imaged. This time accompanied by Penney, a nurse in said hospital, I asked her my burning questions regarding health care in China.

Health care professionals are too busy to push gurneys, I found out. If a patient needs an X-ray, there had better be someone who can get the patient to the imaging department. Meals are also dependent on friends and relatives: the hospital does not deliver food to patients' bedsides.

“What if the patient has diabetes, and is on a special diet?” I asked.

“Most likely, the family will follow doctor's orders and only bring food that the patient can eat.” Penney replied.

“You work in the 'contagious disease' unit where family and friends cannot visit. How do those patients get food?”

“Friends and family bring it and we inspect it before giving it to the patients.”

That did not make sense to me at all. People in quarantine receiving outside food? How could that be? And what if a patient has no one to bring any food?

NOTE: when I say 'friends and family bring food', I don't necessarily mean home cooked meals. I've seen take-out containers from street food vendors make their way into patients' rooms. Street food vendors, whose carts line the sidewalks and whose food supplies linger in the open air for hours, a perfect opportunity for gastric distress, especially for someone lying in the hospital, whose immune system might already be compromised.

Quite frankly, I live in fear of having to be hospitalized over here. Not just because I would have to share a room with ... who knows how many other people, and that the bathroom would be down the hall. Not just because the accommodations would not be as luxurious as the ones I enjoyed when I broke my leg in America. And not just because the few treatments I've been subject to here have been brutal, to say the least, but because a hospital stay over here would be so far out of my range of experiences, I'm fearful I wouldn't adapt. To say nothing of not being able to understand what the doctor and nurses are saying because of my limited Chinese.

I'm sure Sam, Penney and Gary, among other friends, would be prominent presences during my confinement, and surely they would bring food. They would probably push my bed all over the hospital if need be. Nevertheless, as open to new experiences as I usually am, this is one I'd rather not have. I don't think anyone could blame me.

What a joy it is to live in a place where, even though I've been here long enough to have memorized entire bus routes, slide as easily into speaking Chinese as I do any other language I know, and find myself caught up in the daily life of my community, there are still things that can move me, amuse me and floor me with shock and disbelief. Is it any wonder why I stay?   

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