In Case of Emergency (Chinese Hospital Care)

Last Sunday I had no choice but go to the nearest hospital to my place in Pudong. Basically, I couldn’t move my head in any direction and the pain seemed to be getting worse by the hour. I’d initially wanted to opt out (and intend to self-heal) for 2 reasons – I was scared of a Chinese hospital (lack of language confidence, I guess) and the absence of sufficient funds at hand or a medical insurance.

Yes, first, this is the most important part. Foreign teachers, even if your contract states you’re covered by your school, unless you’re given a card with national health number printed on it, your insurance is practically non-existent. Mind you, since there’s no European-style welfare system here, everyone, even with proper medical insurance in China, has to pay part of the check up fee and the medicine costs, which can range from as little as 10 RMB to thousands of yuan per visit. (Rest is covered by insurance Chinese employees pay monthly from their salary.)

So first, I go down to see the GP on campus who writes the name of the hospital in Chinese characters. (It’s important for the taxi driver to know immediately where the address is. Otherwise, out of plain machismo or sly cheating purposes, they’ll start wandering on winding streets and it’ll take you ages to eventually arrive anywhere decent). I was taken to Renji Hospital( 仁济医院), close to Century Avenue, which is a massive (crowded, would would’ve thunk) place where you can expect some serious time traveling back about a good half a century.

Second most important thing is to stay calm and trust them. I have to admit I was really grateful for having noticed their special attention they were paying to me (probs due to my blond hairdo). In short, this is what happens:

  1. Go and register at the reception desk. You are given a plastic (credit card looking) check-in card, with a reference number and a small leaflet to fill in with your basic data in English. Costs: 35 RMB
  2. With the card and filled in leaflet you have to go the emergency room on the same floor. There are English signs showing you the way, but because of the crowd of people in the halls (checkin in/out patients, swirling flock of visitors with big plastic bags and a huge tea thermos, sitting everywhere on patients’ beds along the corridors, the noise of wailing  relatives leaning over a coffin were all tremendously distractive, plus let us not forget that I was in shoe-gazing mode due to a trapped nerve in my neck), so a kind nurse came out of the reception desk and accompanied my to the doctors’ room.
  3. I’ve never been called in the army but their medical check must be something like this. Men in dark, thick trench coats everywhere, with the disruption of white penguins in glasses scribbling the prescriptions. There are about 4-6 Prof. Schwarzwaldklinik Brinkmans in each of the 5-6 rooms. It’s dingy, noisy and dynamic and there’s no sign of any queue. All is moving, like in a gloomy Van Gogh’s painting – exaggerated, scary, still we can all identify with it.
  4. I get a Doc Kim Clooney junior. He speaks English (low intermediate), seems attentive and perhaps slightly shocked when I take off my hat and sees my shaved head. Chat, prescription, chat, broad smile, nice teeth, good-bye. Ooh, come back Miss, I think you’ll need a neck brace, I’ll help you put it on.
  5. The hospital has a pharmacy inside, the muscle relaxant costs 14 RMB.
  6. Hellou, where do I get a neck brace.
  7. It’s available in the small store outside the hospital. You know what, I’ll show you.
  8. Nah, you’re a doctor, it’s not your job.
  9. Costs 150 RMB. You need a smaller size. Ok. This one. (there we are, with this cheeky young handsomeness and he’s putting a neck brace on me, just outside at the hospital porch, in the midst of the least romantic cloud of ambulance, taxi and rain and pain).
  10. The last good bye, here rolls my taxi closer and, damn, there’s no business card swap. Maybe I’ll be back one day and see him. Nah, maybe not.
  11. Total cost: 199 RMB.

Alternatively, I could’ve gone to a private hospital, which caters to foreigners and can be found in various parts of town, for example there’s one in:

150 Jimo Road/Dongchang Road

Metro Line 2, Dongchang Lu stop (Pudong side)

Tel: 587 999 99. (Proficiency level English speaking)

Starting registration/check-up fee (for patients without a membership card) is 1,000 RMB (roughly 100 EUR), which does not include the special tests (blood test, x-ray etc) nor the medicine. You need to call first to make and appointment.

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