The Horrors of Chinese HealthcaresteemCreated with Sketch.

in china •  last month

It seems many of my articles here on Steemit begin with explanations of my recent absence, and this will be another. Beginning in early January, my school semester ended so I took time to visit my kids down in the Philippines, where my attention was not on writing. At the end of January I returned to Beijing to run a six day Winter English-Theater camp (which, though certainly fun, kept me busy and exhausted) before flying off to Thailand for two weeks of volunteer work (teaching English: what else would an English teacher do on their vacation, right?). There, I suffered a minor injury which, upon returning to China, became damned near life-threatening, and I have been suffered the horror of being confined to what passes for a hospital in China ever since.
With that said, this article will deviate from my usual trend in that it is not an academic research article with cited sources, but an account of personal experience.
So without further ado, here's the timeline of my injury and “healthcare,” if you want to call it that, so far.

February 14: Near the end of a two-week stint as a charity volunteer at an NGO known as the Mirror Foundation in Chiang Rai, Thailand, I take a fall while running headlong across a patch of rough gravel and land squarely on my left knee.
It’s a pretty rough knee and shin scrape, but only a scrape, so the Mirror Foundation's nurse coats it with iodine and bandages it well with a gauze wrap, and hands me some pain-killers and anti-inflammatories. The next day I’m able to walk and deliver lessons, no problem.
February 15: Still no major problems. More iodine, a change of gauze, everything is fine. Even managed a final evening in town with the other volunteers with almost no pain or mobility problems.
February 16: The leg starts to feel a little stiff in the morning, but after changing the bandage again and moving the leg a bit, there's no serious pain. Besides, I have a plane to catch that night at 8 PM. You see, no one ever told me you are not supposed to fly with a leg injury, and by the time the plane lands in Shenzhen, China, after midnight, the leg is aching and I'm limping a little. My layover is 7 hours, so I grab a hotel to shower (excluding the leg) and use my last gauze to change the bandage.
February 17: I wake up with the leg throbbing in pain and noticeably swollen. I manage to board the plane at 8 AM (and nearly miss my plane because the stupid motherfucker at the counter can't get it through his cast-iron skull that the suffix II on the end of my name is not “Li,” and he insists I must present “ 'notha pass-a-paw-ta, one no have mee-stekka like deesa one have”), limping through the gate a few minutes after final boarding call. Thankfully, the clerk who printed my boarding pass (the one who replaced the “you pass-a-paw-ta have mee-stekka” guy) apparently has the foresight to notify the flight crew that the final passenger was injured, because they seem to have been on the lookout for someone with a wounded leg as I limp toward the gate desperately waving my ticket. Thank God for small favors.
Anyway, by the time I land in Shanghai, walk from Hongqiao Airport to Hongqiao Train Station, wait four hours for my train, sit on a cramped train with my leg bent for four hours, and get knocked down and trampled on six times by fucking ignorant Chinese peasants at Beijing South Railway Station, the leg hurts so badly that I'm screaming in pain with every step, and it's swollen so badly that when I get home it takes twenty minutes to pull off my jeans.
However, I have another problem. My former employer has informed me (while I was out of the country) "the school district you were working in had budget cuts and they canceled their entire foreign teacher program, so you now have no job. Also, since you are staying in an apartment provided by the company, your company-provided apartment is only good through the end of February and then you have to leave." I can't go to a hospital until I can find a place to store my belongings or I run the risk of everything I own being thrown away when the month ends. Oh, and they also informed me that my visa will no longer be valid after that point, since they do not have another position available.
Besides, I can't walk to the car and Beijing has no reliable ambulance service, so the act of physically getting to a hospital is not possible. At this point I put myself on bed rest and start taking amoxicillin (which you can get over the counter with no scrip in China) three times a day, and an anti-inflammatory for the swelling. Over the course of the next two weeks, the pain dies down a bit and a point is reached where I can actually walk with only the aid of a cane. Meanwhile, the desperate search for a job commences, while my flatmate orders a pair of crutches off of Taobao (which arrive in six days).
February 28: It took this long for my prospective new employer to agree to store my things in the company office and help me get to a hospital. The head of the agency asks if I can come into the office for an interview, but after being told “unfortunately I can't walk” and seeing a photo of my leg (which, at this point, is rather dire-looking), she informs me “you're going to a hospital. It's not a question.”
After calling all over Beijing looking for a hospital that actually has beds available (it was a bit jaw-dropping what a chore that was), an employee at the company who happens to be ex-PLA (and from a military family, giving him generational credentials) pulls some strings to get me into a military hospital (the 306th PLA Hospital), to be specific) where foreign patients cannot normally go, and which I've been assured is one of China's best. Let me just say if this butcher’s shop (which makes the 4077th MASH look like the Mayo Clinic) is one of China’s best, I don’t even want to see the worst, though it has been well-documented that they're a far, FAR cry from the West(Mypengyou Staff). As for this house of horrors, the underfunded charity hospital in a forgotten backwater of the Philippines where my son was born was so many light years ahead of this Chinese dump that the doctors here couldn't look forward and see that Philippine hospital if they had a knock-off of the Hubble Telescope.
Anyway, after informing me that if I'd waited three more days before entering a hospital they would have had to amputate the leg and if I'd waited still another three I'd probably be dead, they install me in a fifteen-square-meter ward with three other prisoners... er, I mean “patients,” with an average age that appears to be measured not in years but in dynasties, all of whom snore raucously all night and shout obnoxiously into their phones all day (and one has the absolutely intolerable habit of singing women's lines from Peking Opera in a sickeningly nasal falsetto that attempts to approximate authentic Peking Operatic style). Just to round out the complement of lunatics, one of them is an apparently fanatical Muslim who sings his mumbling prayers in Arabic constantly, regardless of the hour, regardless of who is trying to sleep, and the nurses are afraid to say anything to him because he goes berserk every time any of them speak (what's more psychotic than a Jihadi? A Chinese Jihadi). Thus begins a trend of getting roughly an hour and a half of sleep per night. When I ask the nurse if I can be moved to a single-occupancy room, she rolls her eyes and says through a translator “this is not a hotel.” Inquiries about internet access, laundry facilities, or a toilet that is not in full view of the other three patients, earn similarly derisive responses. Meanwhile, they start shooting me up with antibiotics (cephalosporin) through an IV in my hand 3 times a day and poking the leg daily with tweezers.
I also notice with gallows laughter that the idiots could not even spell my name properly on the admission paperwork.
March 3: X-Rays on my chest, an EKG, and an MRI (none of which makes any sense for a leg injury), and I suppose it goes without saying that they have not evolved to the level of open-air MRI's yet. To this date, no doctor has so much as glanced at the results of any of these tests, which I am convinced were added solely to ratchet up the bill.
March 4: The doctor comes in to change the wrapping and poke around at the blackened skin, as he does every day. When he does, it oozes pus from around the edges in huge amounts. His conclusion is that they need to drain it, so he takes a pair of shears and slashes the leg open from knee to ankle: no warning, and no anesthesia.
They then pour iodine into it out of a pan like a chef adding soy sauce to a soup, stuff gauze into it as if they were stuffing a pillow, and proceed to wrap it in more gauze; and as for that, I've seen L.E.T.1 JROTC cadets in First Aid classes who did a better job of wrapping than what this Chinese doctor did.
Now here is the fun part. Less than thirty minutes later, the prospective employer arrives and says "you have to take a two hour furlough from the hospital to come deliver a demonstration class and do a job interview, or we can't start your visa." So, ripped-open leg and all, I have no choice but to wheel myself to the school (where I have to walk several flights of stairs in that condition because they have no elevator or handicap ramps) to deliver a forty minute lesson (wherein I'm not permitted to sit because it's "unprofessional") and endure an interview panel. When I get back to the hospital (with my trousers leg covered in blood), the doctor says I've probably set my recovery back a week, if not more. However, given that my visa was already four days out of date (making me an illegal immigrant at the time), the "we won't process your visa unless you do it" threat left me with no choice. Needless to say, mobility has been "crutches or wheelchair only" since then.
March 5: Not precisely related to healthcare, but...
The new employment agency gives me what they call “wonderful news.” The interview and the demo class both went outstandingly well. So well in fact that the school would like to extend a contract offer... for the most insulting salary I have ever heard of in Beijing (slightly less than half what I made at an international school), for a class schedule that will have me working 25% more class hours than my heaviest schedule to-date. Unfortunately, I cannot spit in their face and tell them to burn in Hell, due to the aforementioned visa issue. As essentially a hostage, I have no alternative but to sign their damned contract. Fortunately, it has an escape clause provided I give 30 days notice of resignation, and unlike most teaching contracts in China, it does not require a breach of contract fee for early termination. Rest assured I will be taking advantage of that, and sooner than later.
March 7: Surgery to remove strips of necrotic skin and muscle tissue from the leg. The surgery is not as bad as I feared. They give me a local anesthesia but leave me conscious (with a screen between my face and the surgery so I can't see what's going on and have a fit), and the doctors spend some of the time in surgery attempting to practice their English by engaging in small-talk with me. One of them, for whatever reason, starts practicing Shakespeare quotes, and he gets around to “to be, or not to be?” At this point I stick my head around the screen and comment “that's not what I want to hear during surgery, doctor. The idea is 'to be.' “ The only doctor who is fluent in English puts down his scalpel, laughs, and explains the joke to the others in Mandarin, at which point they all chuckle a bit. While I have very little faith in the nursing staff here, this moment does at least give me a slight boost of confidence in the doctors, despite having little to do with medicinal skill.
After surgery they show me a pan containing the flesh they cut away from the leg (which rather resembles a dead squid for some reason), wheel me back to my ward, and hook me up to what the doctor describes as “like a washing machine.” Essentially, it's a three-tube IV that cycles saline solution into a watertight seal over the wound, paired with a vacuum that pulls contaminated blood out and collects it in a bucket that has to be changed whenever it fills up.
I'm allowed to unhook myself from the machine (or rather, get a nurse to do so) once per day to go to the bathroom, and I'm given a three minute time limit before I have to be plugged in again. This, of course, presumes that the nurse knows how to unhook the machine, and most of them to-date have not.
March 8: Around midnight, I wake up screaming in pain to find the saline IV empty, and the collector overflowing all over the bed because the nurses can't be bothered to make rounds and check it. I hit the nurse-call button multiple times and am completely ignored. Finally, on the fourth try, the nurse grudgingly comes in and gripes at me in Mandarin for bothering her. When I tell her (through a phone translator) what the problem is, she gets even angrier, saying "you can't expect us to check on you. You have to call us when it needs to be changed. Chinese are not servants of foreigners." You know, never mind that it's midnight and patients are asleep, right? Never mind that checking on patients IS Your FUCKING JOB, right? No, it's apparently my job to stay up 24/7, monitor the machine, and pray that a nurse actually answers when I call.
In any case, 15 minutes later she finally gets off of her phone and gets around to changing the collector, but the IV is still empty. Her response, in what is apparently an exercise of her limited English, is "sorry, we have no this medicine. We should borrow it. You wait a while." It's 2:30 before they finally hook up a saline IV, and during the intervening time the vacuum is basically sucking blood out of my leg with no saline solution to replace it.
When the day shift arrives and I file a complaint with the doctor, his response is "you should show more respect for the nurses' labor. Remember, you are only a foreigner."
As for the fluid (blood and saline solution, mostly) that spilled out of the collector and onto the bed, let me point out one additional detail on the subject of hospital sanitation. I have been in this hospital 18 days at time of writing and at no point has anyone ever changed the linens on this bed, including after that incident.
March 9: the doctor FINALLY deigns to give me a diagnosis: MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphyllococcus Aureus, pardon my spelling). He explains (in broken English) that it cannot be treated with meds so the machine is the only solution: just cycle the bacteria out over time. As for HOW I ended up with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, the doctor offers no insight other than the tried-and-true ethnocentric Chinese superiority complex and its accompanying disdain for their neighbors: “Thailand,” he tells me somberly, “is a very filthy, dirty country.”
March 12: The doctor informs me that the machine will come off next Monday or Tuesday, after which there will be skin-grafting surgery and 10 - 15 days of rehabilitation, and that the total bill will likely come to 80K RMB (a hair under $12,000 USD at the present exchange rate). This same day, my new employer tells me they contacted the insurance firm that insured me under my previous school (still in-contract at the time of the injury) and that their policy (standard for Chinese government schools) does not pay a dime for injuries that occur outside China. I bite my tongue and (politely I hope) ask the employer to call the agent and translate something for me. When I point out that it says "worldwide" in the coverage explanation, the agent's response (get this) is "China is the world. There is no good reason for any teacher, at least a respectable one, to ever leave it."
Have I mentioned that ethnocentric narcissism is the backbone of Chinese culture?
March 14: A representative from the new employment agency (the same one who pulled strings to get me into this “prestigious” hospital) tells me he has an idea about the insurance; claim that the injury happened in China. My knee-jerk reaction is “insurance fraud? Have you lost your damned mind?!” But before opening my mouth, I reflect upon the fact that it is, in fact, China, where lies are to a conversation what white rice is to a Cajun meal: the staple of everything. Unfortunately, it occurs to me that the doctors have all been told that it happened in Thailand, so his scheme would require them agreeing to keep their mouths shut. Not an impossible task, but not an easy one. When I point this out to him, he is visibly disappointed.
He thinks for a while and then says “but it got worse on the plane, right? And it wasn't bad before that? And you've got dated photos to prove that on Social Media?” When I confirm this, he concludes that it might be possible to file a claim on the basis that the injury was exacerbated by circumstances in China.
I've got to give the guy credit for dedication, tenacity, as well as creativity and resourcefulness surpassing most of his countrymen, but I still consider it a long shot.
March 16: A relative at home informs me that after hearing the chain of events (in an email that was later expanded to become this entry) they have called the embassy on my behalf, something I had refrained from doing up to this point, given that nothing in China is ever completely by the book. At present I have heard no reply from the embassy, but then again, they don't work weekends.

So yeah, that's where it stands at present. If there is a silver lining to this fustercluck, its the fact that with so much time lying in a hospital bed with nothing to do, I've accomplished plenty of reading, and one of the books I've read in my 18 day incarceration in this hellhole (Paul Midler's What's Wrong With China, which has provided both immense laughter and confirmation of many things I've come to suspect in my five years living in Beijing), will be cited plenty of times in upcoming articles.

Works Cited

Mypengyou Staff. "Real Stores / Chinese Doctors." Tencent International. Mypengyou. 29 Jan, 2019. Web, 14 Mar, 2019

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Wow! What an incredible story, and so well written, too!

This is my first time stumbling across your work, and I am glad I did. I think you should consider continuing to document this experience. You could quite possibly wrote a novel on this setback in life.

Following for more updates!

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Oh, this is not the first thing that has happened in China that I've been told I should write a novel about. When I finally leave this country I intend to collect all the notes I've written about the nightmare I've endured for these five years (it used to be worth it for the money but with their economy dying in flames even that can't be said anymore) and do just that. Though I doubt many readers will believe it.
Then again, they didn't believe Marco Polo when he wrote a book about his time n China either.

Thanks for sharing this. It was hard to get to the end with those images but I am glad I endured! I hope you'll have a speedy recovery after all this. You deserve it after Murphy's Law went crazy on you!


Sorry about the graphic images. I added those as verification of the story in case some wumao crawls onto Steemit and tries to claim I'm falsifying the story to defame China, as they tend to do any time anyone dares speak of China with anything less than glittering praise.