Before 2020, my ignorant self would never have valued so highly the proximity of a hospital to my house. A park- yes; a supermarket- for sure; but a hospital, maybe in the rare instance of an emergency. The last 4-6 weeks I’ve saved countless hours in transportation time due to my proximity to the China-Japan Friendship Hospital.
The China-Japan Friendship hospital is described on the Beijinger as a ‘state-run hospital with a pleasant foreigner wing’. In this blog post I will provide my reflections on my experience there, a bit of background into why I was there in and the operation itself.
My week in a state-run Chinese hospital
Monday 4th May
I’d been told by my Doctor to come on the Monday for my blood test before the operation on Wednesday. I arrived in a t-shirt and shorts with my Kindle in the back pocket and phone without any credit on. I felt it was going to be a back in an hour trip. A few registration forms later, I had a plastic bug-free wristband and a nurse questioning why I hadn’t at least brought a change of underwear. She warmly told me that I would not be allowed outside the grounds of the hospital until Sunday. Doctors orders. I was handed my pyjamas and shown to my room.
Explaining this to my Italian girlfriend Germana was not so easy. After topping up my phone, I made the phone call to break the news and to send for supplies. Germana being a designer and an amazing cook, came not only with the essentials but with items to decorate the room and one of the greatest Fajitas ever.
I’d opted a while back that I would not be going VIP (quoted at RMB 50,000) but the standard (RMB 20,000). So my room was basic but it had a great view of the Japanese themed garden. I was apprehensive but at ease. The funny situation is that I felt healthy and my nose seemed clear for the first time in months, granted I’d taken a week of antibiotics to quell the inflammation. I spent the evening designing my room, sorting my laptop out and then went to meet Germana out by the front entrance for a takeaway. I’d yet to try the hospital food.
Ok so before continuing on with the rest of the week, here’s my past medical history and diagnosis to this point:
Mild asthmas caused me to cough up phlegm and experience shortness of breath partly due to the pollen and rather narrow airways.
Surgery to correct my nasal passage partly caused by a sport incident, done in the U.K. by a rhinologist- great name.
After experiencing difficulty in breathing through my nose, I met with the same UK Rhinologist (which incidentally is a doctor devoted to the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the nose and the paranasal sinuses). He consulted with me that I had polyps. This is basically abnormal growth projecting from a mucous membrane. Don’t worry I won’t show you a picture. He wanted to confirm this using a CT scan. Being it a private clinic, the cost of which was £500. So as I was heading back in a week and the wait time on the NHS being longer than that, I planned to get it done in China.
It was the end of the school term and we were about to go off on holiday. In this rest interlude I decided to finally get round to visiting the International Department of the CJF. Staff were English speaking, the waiting line was comfortable, the Doctors consulting room was spacious. I paidRMB 500 to see a Doctor Liu and similarly he recommended I get an endoscopy photograph (costing RMB 400) and a CT Scan (RMB 1200). Markedly cheaper than U.K. He identified the same polyps but would wait until seeing the CT scan before recommending surgery.
1-2 weeks later, I was able to pick up my copies of the CT scan. COVID had happened. The International Hospital was now closed so I went to the sister state hospital and was seen by a chummy English-speaking doctor. He consulted that I would need surgery but there will be no surgery-taking place until after COVID dies down.
I was now more adjusted to the Chinese hospital system so went to visit the state-run part. Met with Dr Liu who had first met me in the Intl section (RMB100) he consulted that I would need to have my lungs examined before going ahead with surgery. CT Scan then a Lung examination/breath test and following consultation. RMB 600. Satisfied he then put me on one week of antibiotics to calm the nasal inflammation. RMB 200. He scheduled me for the blood test and then the operation. One which I was now in the present moment beginning anxiously to wait for.
Tuesday 5th May
5:00am The realisation you’re in a hospital hits when you are woken by the bright light being turned on in your room and a nurse arrives to take 4 samples of your blood.
6:30am A troupe of nurses enter and give me the lowdown for the week (in Chinese). This happened every day. It was a handover procedure.
8:00am Heart examination. The full works attached to my chest and my beats were measured.
9:00am CT scan on my lungs. This was only done as my previous one was 3 days out of day.
10:30am My first sodium drip.
11am Pre-surgery notes translated and talked through, tomorrow will be a prescribed fast
12 pm Answer questions relating to my health and specifically COVID-19 conditions. This is almost six weeks after they’d banned foreigners from entering China. (Therefore its impossible we’d now be able to bring the spread from outside)
1pm Lunch. Walk out to the garden to have another bite to eat with Germana in the garden. A little spent from the morning but the food cheers me up.
2pm Dr Liu chats me through the procedure. I read a document that details the risks of the procedure. I then sign my life away, literally.
3pm Second sodium drip
4pm Smell test- Possibly the most interesting examination. I was given five different potent smells. I had to sniff ‘em and remark on their smell. I felt like a beautician consultant.
4:30 pm Beard is shaved. This is mandatory for the procedure.
6pm Write to loved ones.
7pm Shave my nostrils. Surprisingly satisfying.
8pm Pop out again for a Prawn Curry with Germana. The last bit of food before the fast that would start tonight. My heart felt heavy.
Wednesday 6th May- Operation Day
9:00am Germana arrives. Incidentally I was allowed only one guest who could only come on the Monday and Wednesday. Whereas Chinese guests on the ward were allowed an army of well wishers. That said I’m not complaining.
9:20am Nurse tells me I will have surgery today. Adrenaline rush.
9:30am Playing Codenames to distress. I later go into practicing karate kicks on my hospital bed pillow.
9:45am Temperature check 1. One where I stick a thermometer under my arm for 5 minutes.
11:45 Temperature check 2
14:30 My stomach rumbling. I ask when the surgery would be. I’m told that it’s not going to be today. My temperature is too high by 0.2 degree. Operation will be rescheduled until Friday.
14:32 <Choice words in Italian>
14:35 Temperature Check 3.
14:40 The reading is within the boundaries and the Doctor says that now that the surgery will take place. Ok, so what on earth happened there? Was it the prawn curry, the karate kicks that made my temperature rise. This back and forth did not exactly put my mind at ease.
14:50 Nerves a wreck. The man who pushes the bed arrived at my door. I pack myself in and am wished off on the ride. I am pushed into the elevator and descend to the 4th floor. “Check ignition and may god’s love be with you…..”
14:52 Oh no wait! Radio transmission to Major Tom. Abort mission. While I was literally lying down in a movable hospital bed on the 4th floor, I’m told that I will need another blood test and so I am pushed back to the room.
15:30 Blood test came back. I have the all clear. I get again into the movable hospital bed that incidentally had way too many blankets for May.
China curiosity: The number 4 in China is often not used in apartments because the homonym of the word in Chinese sounds very similar to ‘death’. So it was very strange to be wheeled into a theatre on the fourth floor. I can only imagine what it is like for more superstitious Chinese folk.
15:32 Un baccio con mia ragazza. Then through the swinging doors I go. 5…, 4…
15:33 Lying down I meet the General Anaesthetist. I sign another paper. Could this have been asked at a more convenient time? 3….., 2…
15:35 Stickers attached to me. A new needle in place. The General Anaesthetist covers my mouth with an oxygen mask. I’m still awake though. I have to remind them of this. In what is one of the unique human experiences my veins are injected and my eyes refuse to open. 1…..Lift off.
18:30 A slap to the cheek, wake up Wei Si Li. I was warned to breath through my mouth when waking up. I had to empty it first of the blood that had accumulated there before doing so. I spat it out on to my robust pyjamas.
18:40 I was rolled back on through to the waiting room, mio amore had been waiting there, relieved to see me. I welled up, the pain, the emotion of it all was actually a bit much I have to be honest. I was exhausted and when I was finally brought to my room I could hardly walk to my bed. The Doctor came in to tell us that the procedure had been a success.
Late: Germana stayed with me all night of what was a very long one. I was sent to sleep on Malcolm Gladwell’s dulcet tones.
Thursday 7th – Sunday 10th May
The following days passed. I caught up on classic movies from my harddrive- 2001: A Space Odyssey. Casablanca. Akira. –to name but a few
I had fat tubes inserted up my nose and on Friday I had the joy of having them pulled out. One of the weirdest sensations I’d experienced.
Germana would sneakily come and visit and we’d meet in the fire exit staircase of the hallway. Although I didn’t show it at the time, I did feel really loved. I also got calls from the family to cheer me up.
My pyjamas, which I had faithfully worn throughout, were becoming increasingly stained with blood. I kind of revelled in it though. It is kind of like at a festival when you decide to not take a shower for a few days. Stinking bliss.
My sleep gradually got better throughout the week. Germana had to actually bring painkillers from home as the hospital did not provide me them for some reason. I think it was asthma related.
I signed up to the food over the next few days. It was on point with the mushy tofu or soup dishes when I could hardly chew. It was overall not too bad.
I got to walk around the ward and watch as people recovered or came back in the shellshocked state I was in post operation. I was on a Ear Neck Throat ward so bandages were quite visual. One of the patients must have only been 2 or 3 years old, he was super brave!
On the final day I received my paperwork, packed my bags and covered the expenses. It came to altogether RMB 25,000.
It is now 21st May and the good news is that my breathing is better. Before I felt like I had a blockage in one or sometimes both nostrils, now I am experiencing some serious air exhalation from these nasal trumpets.
I’ve had two check ups since discharging myself. On both occasions I had an endoscopy but this time fully conscious. In this examination I would be lying down on a bed while the Doctor had the camera up my nose and picking off the crust and blood clots. It was excruciatingly painful. First time worse than the second.
I’ve compiled all my fapiao (receipts) and have sent it off to our HR. One reason I went through the state-run hospital is that our company health insurance can cover it.
- I think the healthcare in China takes a more holistic approach before operating on you. They take a look at the whole body and ensure its stable across the organs before embarking on any procedure.
- There is almost a 3-5x mark up on price when you compare the state-run hospital to the international hospital. I’d also argue that if you remove the comfort and the queues- there is not much a difference in the service you get.
- I was the only foreigner I saw in the hospital throughout the 4-5 month experience. Some nurses in the state-run hospital can speak some English. Some of the medical staff rather ignorantly will direct you to the international wing rather than serve you, but there is nothing stopping you from going through the system.
- I’m really glad I got this done in order to take control of my health. I also know how lucky I am to have it done. There must have been a huge amount of people with medical issues as serious or more serious than mine who have had to wait due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
- Lastly, this is kind of obvious, but hospitals are fast-moving work places. Doctors and nurses have hugely demanding jobs even at the best of times. One Doctor, on the ward, shared with me that he’d been working for 48 hours. Dr Liu was also a calm and professional doctor and if it wasn’t for his demeanour I don’t think I’d have felt so confident going into the operation. It shouldn’t have needed a pandemic for the world to give a fuller appreciation to doctors and nurses who really put themselves on the line for us on a daily basis.