I was unprepared for my first visit to a Chinese hospital. If I had it my way, I would never visit.
However, as a foreigner seeking employment and/or a residency permit in China you are required to receive a physical examination in China. All of the employers I interviewed with required a physical examination and sent me the Physical Examination Record for Foreigner Form. I was unaware of this until after I had left my job and no longer had insurance. I spent over $400 on a physical examination in the United States. After submitting this paperwork to my employer, I was told this would be sufficient.
So, when less than 3 hours after arriving in Shanghai, I was informed I would need to visit a hospital the next day, I was a bit confused. Turns out, the Chinese government has trust issues with American doctors. I wish I would’ve known this sooner. Sometimes the Chinese tell you what you want to hear, only to contradict it later. This is exactly what happened.
Just Another Number
There was nothing I could do at this point and there was no way I could prepare for this hospital visit. With my passport in hand and my companies visa agent at my side, I felt as prepared as I was going to get.
Upon checking in, I received a slip with a number like I was at Publix deli counter. Fortunately, this isn’t Publix or a typical American hospital so there was little to no wait time. Just enough time to fill out a patient form.
Are you allergic to anything?
Are you pregnant?
Do you have any known medical conditions?
The basics. As I sat there filling out my form, my translator stepped away to use the restroom. My number was called a minute later. Wait. Was this a joke? I had no idea what to do! I slowly got up praying I would be able to communicate with the woman behind the counter. Luckily, there were no words spoken, she just took a look at my passport and me. I know, I look nothing like the picture. It’s me, I promise. (My passport picture is JJ with blonde hair and chubby cheeks from college freshmen 15.) After a double, and triple take, she scribbled something on my form. Handing it back to me she pointed to the next room.
Okay, phew, I made it through that one. Onto the next. Here, I simply had to pay a set fee of 450RMB ($65USD) for the physical examination. From here on out, your paperwork and invoice are gold. You’ll need your invoice for reimbursement from your employer and your paperwork is used to identify you on the assembly line.
My First Chinese Scolding
At this point, my translator had disappeared, I was on my own, and being directed to a long hallway. Ah, checking into the spa. A woman handed me a cute new pair of shoes, er…medical booties and directed me to get on the machine. Oh, step on the scale? Got it. Each nurse knows enough English to instruct you what to do and where to go, and that’s about it.
Handing me a spa robe and a key she waved me into a locker room area. Pay attention to the number on the key, it coordinates with the number on the locker. I didn’t realize the 15 on my key and put my stuff in locker 7. Not until coming out of the fitting room to return my clothes to my locker did I realize my key didn’t match.
I showed her my key and pointed at my locker with an expression as to say oops I’m an idiot and also a foreigner. I knew I was receiving a scolding in Chinese when her finger came out. Saying something in Chinese, pointing between the locker and key and raising her hands at me as if to say what the fuck is wrong with you? I pretty much just stared back at her blankly, can I have my key or not? Shaking her head at me, she reluctantly opened locker 7. Instead of doing the logical thing of giving me key 7 where I had already placed my items, I had to move my stuff to locker 15 which coincided with the key previously given to me.
Welcome to the Spa
This is where the fun starts. The robes are one size fits all. Even with a tie on the inside and outside, I had to constantly hold my robe closed whilst being shuffled between rooms. I can guarantee you, I flashed someone between this and holding onto my passport and paperwork for dear life.
After my scolding, I was instructed into room 15. As I entered, there’s a woman sitting at a desk with a blood pressure monitor. Nothing too scary or irregular here. Handing her my passport and paperwork, she writes something down before taking my blood pressure. Once she’s done she directs me to room 11. This process continues room to room down the long hallway.
Perfect Vision of What the F is Going On?
Stepping into the room for my vision check, I noticed the chart before even sitting down. It wasn’t the typical eye chart. My responses: E, um I don’t know? W, M, errr I don’t know? I was so confused.
Surprisingly my vision came back perfect, so apparently, those answers were acceptable. Come to find out, you’re supposed to point up, down, left or right, depending on which way the E is open. Who knew?
High Turnaround, Low Sanitization
Next, I went in for an ultrasound, ya know just in case I’m pregnant? By the way, I’m not. The gel was so cold, I kept squirming and giggling. I have no idea if the doctor understood but he kept laughing at me. Handing me a towel, he was already calling next before telling me to go to room 12. The turnaround is high and sanitization is low. He definitely didn’t change the exam table paper between ‘patients’.
Room 12, respiration test. This one was definitely the least accurate. He placed the stethoscope on my back, told me to breathe and before I had even fully inhaled he moved the stethoscope telling me to breathe again. Mid-breath he said ok, room 7. Huh?
The only test that represented similarities to an American physical was the ECG. Ironic because come to find out later, my results were not similar. My test results came back abnormal. Cue freakout. How could my ECG results be normal 4 months prior in the United States and abnormal in China? This ensured me a second Chinese hospital visit that I was even less looking forward to.
Presents from the Chinese Hospital
And then came my least favorite part of any doctors’ appointment, blood work. Murphy’s law, I’m terrified of needles so they can never find my veins and poke poke poke around for 5 minutes. Luckily, another foreigner was in the room with me and kindly stayed behind to distract me.
I left with a bruise the size of a golf ball that has remained on my arm going on 2-weeks now, and a new understanding of foreign healthcare. The entire process took 20 minutes. It was organized and efficient once you understand what the hell is going on. Once the Chinese learn a little more about being sanitary, I will feel more comfortable admitting myself into a Chinese hospital in the future. Until then, I’ll stick to my vitamins and herbs to stay as healthy as possible here!
Share your hospital experiences from abroad below!