Monday, January 28, 2013

Update: a visit to the hospital

So, it happened.

We sucked it up and went to a local hospital with the assistance of NZ's assistant.

She arranged for us to see a pediatrician, "very professional", who was "fluent" in English at the VIP section of Wuxi People's Hospital. VIP is a service aimed to bring more expats into the local hospitals. Basically, we paid more to be able to access a physician with a set appointment time, and a clean room instead of waiting in the lobby with the masses. Had we just gone with everyone else, our registration fee would have been 10rmb ($1.50 usd). Registration for VIP was 15 times that fee.

It was worth it.

So here's how it went down. It wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected.

Foreign? Yes.

The stuff nightmares are made of? Not at all.

We entered the hospital's VIP floor and were greeted by a receptionist. We were the only patients there. She had us fill out a booklet with Sal's name and date of birth, as well as our address (NZ's assistant helped by writing in characters for all but Sal's name). We were then given a plastic card, much like a credit card and told that it holds Sal's electronic medical record. I was told to keep it safe and bring it to every appointment so that they can access his records. I was also given the booklet and told to pay the registration fee. After we did that, we had to sit and wait. For the first few minutes it was just the four of us. But then a janitor came and sat near us in the waiting room. He starts to tell NZ's assistant that its time for us to go see the pediatrician.

We follow her to an exam room, which I have to admit, was much cleaner than I had expected. They even had disposable paper over the exam table. Can't say the same for the expat clinic we usually patronize.

Here's where I got a little bummed. I fully expected a fluent English speaking physician. Instead, we got a handful of elementary English words, and were forced to rely on NZ's assistant for translation. The problem here, although I appreciate the translation, is that I like to hear the words from the Doctor myself. Sal was then examined, and his breathing assessed. The pediatrician asked for his booklet and card so I handed it over and she scribbled away.

NZ and I kept asking, " What is wrong with him?"  And we got, "Your baby is sick."

"Ah, yeah-we know. What's wrong with him?"

"She say he need breathing treatment."

"But what's the diagnosis?!" I wish my writing could convey my blood boiling, because it definitely was !

"They give him medicine for cough."

"But what's the diagnosis?"

Finally, "Your baby have infection and need medicine to help breathe."

So yeah, as my husband had suspected, Sal had a little lung infection going on.

In a country like this, lung infections can kill people. I mean, they can kill people anywhere, but there are diseases here that we don't deal with in the states. With all the people getting up in his grill on a day to day basis, it gets scary as a mom to think that I so sweetly gestured for people to stop touching his face instead of slapping their hands away. I immediately felt guilty for him being sick. I try to be nice to the curious kids and people, and HATE that they touch him, but I also try to be nice about telling them to let go of his hands and to stop touching his face. From here on out, my mama bear instinct will be going and they may or may not get a quick slap to the hand as a "get your mitts off my kid".

Anyways, that janitor I was telling you about? He met us outside the exam room. He took the booklet and the card to the registration desk and again, we were asked for money. 124.30 rmb later, we were told to follow him to the main hospital. We walked down a dark corridor, through some doors, and then hopped in an elevator. On the main floor of the hospital, the janitor pointed to a board that had "Salvatore" written in neon lights. He walked up to the teller window that was under that board, and received our meds. We then followed him up an escalator to a room full of people. We got in line as he pushed his way to the desk. He turned around with an oxygen mask for our son and handed a nurse the bag of medicines he had picked up at the counter downstairs.

He then motioned for us to follow him to the room adjacent.

Whoa. Just whoa.

This was a communal breathing treatment room. There were stations set up for the treatments, with benches facing each machine. We were to select an open bench and sit there as they hooked Sals mask and medicine into the machine. Thankfully NZ's assistant found one in the rear corner away from the curious neighbors. We were quite the spectacle being the only white people in a Chinese hospital. We got hooked up and wrestled a bag of angry snakes (Sal was one unhappy boy) until the treatment was complete.

As we finished treating him, the nurse came back and gave us his mask. We were advised to take it home and sterilize it and bring it back Thursday for another treatment. Yes, that's right, WE are responsible for sterilizing equipment. I'm not sure that would be P.C. in the states.

We were also given a Baggie with Sals booklet and card, as well as two medications...instructions in mandarin. Again, we had to rely on the assistant to translate dosing instructions and tell us what the medications were. Thankfully, one of the medicines said Pfizer Zithromax in English, and it was at that point we realized the doctor had prescribed our son an antibiotic for the first time. There was no conversation about that when we were in consultation. Anyways, we went with it and I knew I could email one of my friends who is a pharmacist about the indications for such an antibiotic, which is exactly what I did when we got home. The other med was for "cough", essentially a cough syrup bronchodilator. Again, I had to do research once we got home to make sure we weren't going to kill our son with the translated dosing.

I realize I probably sound like a whining brat, and that we "signed up for this", which is absolutely true. We did. But what I didn't think about, are things like this- you know, things like my lack of mandarin potentially putting my son in harms way. We are left to trust other people here like we've never had to trust before. I question everything these days because often times the source of our information is provided via translation. This can be very scary at times, and make me feel helpless. In America, its common to question things in order to get an accurate definition/description. We had to push to get an official "diagnosis" because hearing "your baby is sick" was simply not good enough.

But this in China.

It's not terrible, its just different.

So glad our experience was not awful. Would I have preferred to see the expat pediatrician in the expat facility?


But did we learn something more about what's available to us in our very own backyard? Did we take a step towards acclimating to our new home?

We certainly did.

Here's to hoping the breathing treatments and antibiotics work!


  1. Just WOW.

    The lack of ability to fully understand would drive me insane. Especially, ESPECIALLY if it came to something health-related with B. Buying bananas? Meh. But my son... oh, mama bear claws would come out.

    German to English was at the very least, easy to translate with a dictionary!

    I'm so glad the experience wasn't as bad as you imagined, but it's definitely crazy reading about all this.

    While not at all PC in the States to sterilize your own equipment, I'd feel pretty happy to do it myself knowing that China doesn't have the same health standards, you know?

    You don't sound whiny. You're just writing about your experiences. Different for sure.

  2. Let me know how the Zithromax goes. Jack had a lung infection and was given this, and ended up with a full body rash for 3 weeks. Just a crazy allergic reaction, not everyone has them. I am so glad to read your stories and "share" the experience. What an amazing time for personal and family growth, this is why we are committed to traveling as a family all around the world. If I hadn't been to China, I could not really imagine the full scope of how different life is compared to the US. Keep it up, you are doing great! And I will be thinking good thoughts for baby Sal! Best, Vernie