My trip to the hospital - An explanation of the workings of a Chinese public hospital

by Me!

On Monday I had to go to the hospital due to a problem with one of my toes. My hospital of choice was Shenzhen's Nanshan Hospital.

It was a good reminder of the difference between a Chinese and Western hospital. Some are good and some less so. The good? It's very cheap to see a doctor and get your problem analyzed. The bad? The onus is on the patient pre-treatment to pay and pick up the needed supplies for the treatment. This usually means walking back-and-forth relatively long distances between different parts of the hospital and can be difficult for patients who are having movement problems or are in pain and have no family members or friends to help them. 

Below I have listed each step I had to go through during my visit to a hospital in Shenzhen. Enjoy. 

Step 1: Registration - Go to the registration desk, show your passport, tell the lady what problem you have, and pay 10 RMB. She will put your information into a computer, hand you a patient booklet, and tell you what floor to go to. This is the great thing about Chinese hospitals - it's very cheap to see a doctor and have your problem diagnosed. 

Step 2: Waiting to see a doctor - I arrived to the second floor out-patient surgery ward. I went up to the nurses' desk (seen in the photo directly below on the right) and received a number. I then waited 25 minutes until my number was called. 

Step 3: Seeing a doctor (1) - Once my number and name was called by the TV/computer I stepped into Room 1, which is reserved for patients with foot and hand problems. I was number 6055 and I had to wait patiently as the previous patient was still finishing up his discussion with the doctor. As soon as that person got up to leave, a woman swooped in, took his seat, and thrusted her patient book into the doctor's face. I then saw her ticket read 6056. Seeing as though she looked like she may have been pregnant, I decided to not put up a fuss. After 5 minutes of the doctor telling her she had no foot problem and didn't need to be at the hospital, he finally wrote some notes in her patient book and sent her on her way. I then sat down, we spoke, he examined, he wrote in my patient book, and told me to go to the in-patient building across the street and take the elevator to the 12th floor. 

Step 4: Going to the in-patient building - I left the out-patient building (shown below) and made my way outside. As I was walking towards the in-patient building, two men went rushing the opposite way. The one man's biscept seemed like a gushing red balloon - it was inflated to twice it's normal size, with the applied turnicate doing little to stop the stream of blood hitting the ground. His friend was applying pressure to the wound with all his strength. They bolted past me into the out-patient building. The resulting stream of blood on the ground just happened to have come from exactly where I was now heading (as you can see by the other photos below).

Step 5: Seeing another doctor - I made it to the in-patient spine, foot, and hand specialization ward and the nurses directed me to the doctors' office. I sat down and discussed treatment with this doctor as he read the notes written by the first doctor. He then filled out a form and instructed me to go back to the out-patient building, pay for the medicine/supplies, pick them up, and then to come back to his office. 

Step 6: Returning to the out-patient building - I went back downstairs, re-crossed the road, and made my way into the out-patient building. In the process I got to see the aftermath of the cleanup efforts for the man with the hurt arm. 

Step 7: Paying and picking up the medicine/supplies - I got in line and paid for the items the doctor had instructed. This cost also included the actual procedure. Total amount was 324 RMB. This included the procedure, anesthesia, and prescribed antibiotics. I then walked accross the lobby to the pharamacy window and was given not only the antibiotics but also the vial of anesthesia for use during the procedure. Other patients around me were picking up medicine, catheter packs, and IV bags. In a Chinese hospital the patient or family members themselves have to first pay for and then pick up the medical supplies that have a cost to them. In my case this included the anesthesia. The result is you see people walking around the hospital carrying all sorts of medical supplies, making their way back to the different medical departments so the doctors/nurses can apply these supplies.

Step 8: Returning to the in-patient ward and undergoing the procedure - I crossed the street (for the third time) with my supplies, went to the 12th floor, and returned to the doctors' office. I gave the supplies to the doctor and he escorted me to a surgury room. There I met his colleague that would be doing the procedure. There were also two medical students who would be observing. Not only did the doctor explain to them what he was doing but they also were taking photos of my foot during the procedure. Maybe my foot will end up on a poster of some medical school classroom. 

Step 9: After effects - I never completed my planned roundup of my India trip and this is a good reminder to do so. I underwent the same procedure in India (except on my other foot) and there was a clear difference in the strength of the anesthesia. In India, my toe continued to be numb until a full 5 or 6 hours afterwards. In China, my toe was completely numb during the procedure but the anesthesia completely disappeared within 5 minutes after. I have worked in the medical profession in China and we went to great lengths to make sure our patients were receiving proper anesthesia. This is because anesthesia in China tends to be very weak and sometimes isn't used at all. This is in opposition to the West where patients are knocked out or given very powerful local anesthesias. 

Step 10: Recovery - It's now about 44 hours after the procedure and the pain has mostly subsided. I'm about to wonder outside and try to make my way to Starbucks. I should be able to limp my way there.