A Visit to the ER in China
The night before last, I experienced something that I hoped never to experience in my life. I visited a hospital in China. I've never had to visit a hospital before in my life even in the US, so to say I was unprepared for what I experienced is an understatement.
I am currently in China on business and I'll be honest and say that I drink very little liquids while I am here. I spend most of my days in factories and the bathroom facilities aren't the greatest, so I try to avoid them. Last night, as I was leaving the factory for the night, I noticed an extremely sharp pain in my left side. I thought it was most likely some kind of cramp and all I needed was to make it to a bathroom back at the hotel, but after almost two hours, the pain was not subsiding and it became absolutely excruciating to the point where it was making me physically ill. A bit of Googling and discussing with a coworker told me that I most likely had a kidney stone.
In general, I don't take medication ever aside from the occasional Ibuprofen. Even if I'm sick with a cold, I rarely take anything for it and just prefer to wait it out. In this case, I was hoping I could do the same, but after two hours of excruciating pain, I couldn't wait any longer. I got on the phone with International SOS, which is a service that my company thankfully provides to employees abroad who have medical emergencies. Unfortunately, the process was terribly slow, and, although I had a very nice doctor to talk to, after telling her my symptoms and where I was, it took the service over 30 minutes to decide what hospital would be best. Ideally, I wanted to go to a Westernized hospital with doctors who spoke English, but that was a completely false hope. I honestly had a vision of myself in a white bed in a room by myself with an IV waiting out this kidney stone thing. Boy was I wrong...
I got tired of waiting for International SOS to call back (and let's be honest, I quite literally felt like I was dying from the pain), so I called the front desk of my hotel, the Hyatt Regency Suzhou, and said I needed to go to a hospital. The front desk immediately sent up the hotel's assistant manager, Elle, and a guy from the concierge desk, "Shark". I barely had time to get somewhat dressed and grab my backpack (again, I was envisioning having a place to charge my phone/potentially needing my passport or insurance card, etc.) before they were at my door. They helped me downstairs while I was doubled over in pain and grabbed me a shopping bag in case I got sick again. Since I speak no Mandarin, Elle assigned Shark to come with me to the hospital and I couldn't have been more grateful. We jumped in a cab and headed to the nearest hospital, which is also the one that ISOS finally called back and told me to go to. While all this is happening, I should add that a massive thunderstorm has just begun and there's pouring rain and lightning and thunder all over the place. Perfect.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I was in complete disbelief. It really looked like some sort of field hospital. The building was shoddily constructed and there were people with various ailments strewn about everywhere. The place was dirty and there were needles being thrown randomly into garbage cans, etc. I was so completely unprepared for what was to come. First, we were directed to the cashier, who asked for no information other than my full name and age, and then asked for 10RMB to cover what I guess was my "registration". She handed some paperwork to Shark and then he led me around trying to figure out where to go next. After an unsuccessful trip all the way up two flights of stairs (while I was dying with every step), we turned around and came right back down. Finally, we found a random room with two desks with computers that had small stools next to them. This is where you meet with the "doctor". Of course, the doctor spoke absolutely ZERO english and I tried my best to explain where things hurt as he poked and prodded me with an extremely bored look on his face. Great bedside manner, that one.
After poking me, the doctor ordered some tests and sent me out of the room with a bill. I didn't realize it was a bill until we were back at the cashier and apparently she was asking for 450RMB in cash (about 75 USD), which I did not have. I tried to have her use multiple credit cards, but they would not take them and insisted on cash only. During all of this, I had trouble speaking and just generally struggled with any coherent thought due to the pain. After searching for an ATM with no luck, somehow, Shark worked out that we would pay the money later and we got to start the tests. At this point, I think Shark had called the hotel and they found one of my coworkers, Declan, and let him know that I needed cash and that maybe he should come keep me company at the hospital. Amazingly, Declan ran across the street in pouring rain, emptied the ATM of as many bills as possible, and jumped in a car that was ordered by the hotel.
At this point, I should note that throughout my entire experience at the hospital, there was no one around who really cared or who was remotely helpful at all. Despite the fact that I looked absolutely awful and was clearly in a significant amount of pain, no one noticed or cared or tried to help. I even would occasionally have to stop wherever I was and use the shopping bag I brought with me to get sick right there in the middle of the "waiting room". Not a single person even looked up. Poor, poor Shark had to stand by me with my backpack on his back trying to figure out how to get me where I needed to go AND listen to me being sick in a bag. He is a saint.
Meanwhile, the tests began. Between each test, I had nowhere to go but back to the plastic chairs spread throughout the large emergency room. First, I needed to get my blood drawn, so I was taken to a window like one you would see at a pharmacy that was out in the open to the rest of the emergency room and sat on a stool while a woman drew my blood. No idea if the needle was safe to use, but I couldn't be bothered to care at this point. Once the blood had been drawn, I was instructed to hold the cotton on my arm, but wasn't given anything (a band aid was too much to ask) to keep it in place. Given my general lack of dexterity at this point, and the fact that I was carrying two cell phones, a shopping bag full of sick, and a jacket around, this was a lot of work. Next, we went to a small room with a curtain and I realized that I needed to get an ultrasound. I've never had one before, but this guy performed the ultrasound with the exact same bored look as the doctor and unfortunately pushed incredibly hard with the wand, which led me to be sick again. Finally, the last test was translated for me on Shark's phone - urine test. He hands me the tiniest little flimsy plastic thing and points me to the bathroom across from the blood station. Here, my worst fear was realized - not a single Western toilet. Nothing but squat toilets. I tried reasoning with Shark and explaining that I need a normal toilet, but he didn't get it, so I had no choice. Finally, we were told to wait for the test results for "15 minutes".
By now we had been at the hospital for probably an hour and a half and I was still in excruciating pain. There was nothing I could do except curl up in a plastic chair and wait. I was dying for some water, so I pulled out some bills and asked Shark to get me a water from the vending machine. As luck would have it, the water was sold out. OF COURSE. Luckily, after a few minutes, Declan arrived. Bless him. He brought the money and got my bill squared away and then gave me his jacket to lie on like a pillow while we waited for the test results. Probably 45 minutes later, we finally found out that it was what I thought - kidney stones, and that they were going to give me an injection for the pain and then some medication. Declan and Shark collected the medication while I went in to another small room and was injected in the behind by another bored looking woman. The injection was very painful and took forever to complete and when she was done, she just handed me a q-tip to hold over the spot where I was bleeding and left the room with no explanation. After a few minutes, I realized she wasn't coming back and went out of the room. Shark and Declan told me were done and it was time to go back to the hotel.
Thankfully, the injection began working almost instantly. I have no idea what it was, but for the first time in 4.5 hours, I had relief from the constant pain in my side. The bad news at this point was that since it was still pouring rain, there were no taxis to get us back to the hotel. We were 39th in line according to Shark. We tried ordering an Uber, but apparently Uber hasn't made it to Suzhou yet (really, Uber?), and we even tried downloading the Chinese equivalent, but couldn't find it in the app store. Finally, after maybe 30 minutes, we got a taxi and headed back to the hotel.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we were met by Elle and some other hotel employees and they helped me inside. Elle herself escorted me up to my room and read the instructions on my medicine (it was all in Mandarin), wrote down the dosage, and prepared the first medicine for me. She also ordered more bottles of water to be sent up from the front desk so that I could keep hydrated.
After a few hours of sleep, I woke up feeling much better and thankfully have not had the pain return. I was able to take photos of all of the paperwork I received from the hospital (fully in Mandarin) and send them to ISOS so that they could have their doctor translate them and understand what was found. They told me that most likely the stone has passed and that I should be ok going forward.
Overall, the cost of care was significantly lower than what you would expect in the US. All said and done, being out the door for less than $100 including some medication was pretty astounding, but the level of care I received was not even worth that much. Throughout the time at the hospital, Shark kept mentioning that Chinese hospitals are "shit" and all they care about is money. It's extremely unfortunate that so many people have to experience medical care in this way and it was quite eye opening.
I could not have survived this whole experience without the hotel staff's absolutely amazing response and support. The fact that they sent someone with me to translate and help me was so incredibly helpful, and the support and help I received both from Shark and from Elle was tremendous. I really cannot thank Hyatt and these employees enough, because there would have been no way for me to get through the hospital ordeal without someone explaining the complete nonsense that is a Chinese hospital and helping me get from station to station. This is one of the reasons why I am more than happy to be loyal to Hyatt. Declan also was absolutely amazing and kept a watchful eye on me throughout the process. It was comforting to have a piece of home with me while I was in the hospital.
This was quite a long post, but I really wanted to give you a sense of the horror that is a Chinese hospital in non-major (i.e. not Shanghai) city. I hope that no one else ever has to experience this and that I never have to experience it again, but it was a heck of a story, so at least there's that!
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Just a girl with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.