Sunday, January 27, 2013

Growing pains

I'm going to come right on out and say it.

I'm going through some growing pains here in China. I think the real term for it, according to the stages of culture shock is "adjustment", but my oh my has this past week given me a lesson in patience.

Me, myself, I'm doing fine. As an adult, I can handle wrenches thrown in the works. But as a mother trying to provide the best for her son, I am finding that the "best" here is subpar to my expectations. Especially in terms of health care availability and quality (and we have the best expat coverage for a western run clinic).

It all started last week when I had made an appointment for my son to have an immunization and bloodtest to check for lead. I received an email the night prior from our sweet Belgian GP (gen practitioner) apologizing "that due to a new government database in Shanghai", she "is not able to bring immunizations to the Wuxi satellite clinic at this time." This means that for immunizations, we must now take a four hour round trip drive to the main expat hospital Shanghai. It will now take all day to go see the Doctor as opposed to one hour here in Wuxi.

The part that floors me is that we don't live in some off the beaten path village. We live in one of the wealthier Chinese cities!

Okay, so immunizations aside, and trying to cope with the idea of trekking to Shanghai just for shots, Sal also had to have a blood draw. I took him to our local expat clinic and there were three Chinese nurses holding him down, tying tourniquets on both arms. They couldn't find a vein in his little arms, so I kept suggesting they draw from his foot. Well, my good sport of a little boy (he doesn't even cry during shots), freaked the fuck out and screamed his heart out after about ten minutes of them tightening tourniquets, tapping his arms and holding him down. Finally, I ripped his sock off, pointed at his foot and said, "Please. Try his foot." Sure enough, he had a nice ripe vein there ready for sticking. 30 seconds later, it was all done with. I felt helpless for my son. I couldn't help but compare the level of knowledge to that of a phlebotomist in the states. Maybe my panties are in a bunch because I saw my son truly terrified for the first time in his life...but I've had my share of blood draws as an adult, and have never seen such a circus act.

Anyways, fast forward to today.

Sal has had a virus and has a wheezy cough. He was checked last week by our GP here in Wuxi, who said she couldn't hear anything. Both NZ and I would like a second opinion now that its been a week and he sounds worse. So, I decided we would kill two birds with one stone and take a trip to Shanghai to see a pediatrician at the Shanghai clinic since our GP is on holiday. I called to make an appointment today, for tomorrow ( so my driver can be given notice), and was told that if my son was sick, I would need to call back at 5p to make an appointment to see a pediatrician tomorrow.?!?! I explained our situation, and that I live in Wuxi, a 2 hour drive-and the fact that I require the services of a driver of hitch I would need to arrange with more notice. The receptionist puts me on hold. She comes back on the line and says, " I am sorry, but your son can not see a pediatrician tomorrow because he would be a new patient and we don't have the time."

I understand. I worked for a Doctor myself.

I get it.

Me: "Okay, then how about Wednesday, Thursday or Friday?"

Receptionist: " you would need to call back at 5p each day before to see if the pediatrician has time the next day."

Me: "if he requires 40 minutes for a new patient, wouldn't he be more likely to have forty minutes on Friday available now, then if I were to call on Thursday at 5p?"

Receptionist: "Yes, ma'am, but I can not make your son a sick appointment for Friday. You would need to call the day before you want your son seen. It is our policy."

I get it that they have a policy, but what I don't get, is how I will be able to have my son's cough assessed by a pediatrician?

The receptionist continues that if I want my son seen, she can make an appointment for any day this week to see a GP. So, yes, he can be seen, but not by a pediatrician. Although we are happy with our GP here in Wuxi, we would really like to have Sal see a pediatrician for this cough. I miss our ped visits back home, where the staff was nice, the physicians gave us lists of what to expect, and were on call for our questions. We never had to wait a day to see them if Sal was sick, and for me, as a parent, having access to quality, thorough medical care is of the upmost importance.

I won't lie. I had a little breakdown after my phone call which ended with no appointment being made. It pains me to have to jump through so many hoops to try and just make a simple pediatrician appointment.

But, I do realize that in time, this sort of stuff will bug me less, and just become our normal. It is what it is. We do have other options. I can take Sal to the local women's and children's Chinese hospital with the assistance of Nick's Chinese assistant. She takes her baby there, and would assist us with translation. My issue with the local hospitals is the lack-of-sanitary-ness and traditional Chinese medicine vs. western medicine methodologies. Just last Saturday, on one of our walks, NZ and I passed by a puddle of blood in the local hospital parking lot. I couldn't even tell you the last time I saw a puddle of blood anywhere, let alone a hospital parking lot. It's probably still there today. But, if his cough gets worse, we may find ourselves checking in to the VIP floor of the children's hospital just to see a pediatrician.

To end this post, let me just tell my fellow American readers, we've got it good back home. Don't take it for granted.


  1. Not taking anything for granted.

    I was just even talking with E about the pollution there. He's quite world researched and was telling me even more how horrible the pollution is and about risks of lung cancer in China.

    I know he mama's heart and fight when it comes to our kids, so I feel for you as you try with all your might to keep Sal healthy.

  2. I feel your frustration, and can't imagine having to drive to Denver every time we need an appointment, although we have done so (100 miles each way) for specific things like Cameron's pediatric ophthalmologist is down there.

    But keep in mind even here, where we seemingly have the best of the best, we often get the run around. My girlfriend has a premie baby, home on oxygen. She was born with infection, pneumonia and other issues, but has been home for the last four months. They argued with insurance to give this newborn an RSV immunization as she was at increased risk, the shot is over $1,000, and the insurance wouldn't cover it. This week the baby got sick, she has RSV. She's in the hospital currently, in isolation because she requires too much oxygen to be sent home. We live at 8,000 feet, by the way. They won't take her to a lower elevation (Denver is 5,280) because the insurance company says it would be parent initiated and they would be liable for the entire $17,000 ambulance bill, payable up front (they don't have that kind of money). In the hospital the support staff is not supportive or responsive. They don't even respond when her alarms go off. Mom is there, feeding, holding, changing, nursing, administering breathing treatments and managing baby 24/7. Nurses literally don't do anything. The sticker came off the baby's face that holds the oxygen cannula to her face, and when they asked for another one the nurses gave them tape. For the baby's face. Tape. There is no shower in the room, so Mom asked if she could use a shower down the hall. The nurses said no, that they couldn't babysit her baby so she could take a shower (she wasn't asking them to, Dad was there). So she's in a hospital room, with her baby, not sleeping, not showering, hanging by a thread, there is no treatment for baby other than oxygen and a breathing treatment every four hours (that can be done at home too) they will not transfer her to a lower elevation and will not send them home. It's like they're camping... It's infuriating. And we are in good ol' Colorado.