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January 26, 2005

Visiting the Chinese doctor

Terry here to tell you about visiting the Chinese doctor.

Seems like the creeping crud I got at the end of last month just didn't want to creep away. I've been coughing all night and generally feeling yucky, so I finally decided to see the doctor. Doctors here all work out of hospitals, so that's where you go to see one. A friend of a friend works at a place called the Rich Hospital (an apt name, since it's where most of the foreigners and well-to-do Chinese go). She gave us the name of a Chinese doctor who allegedly speaks English. I called to make an appointment and discovered right away that Dr. Huang "speaks English" only slightly better than I "speak Chinese", so I brought Norty along with me to act as interpreter. The first hurdle I had was making the appointment itself. Apparently Chinese people don't make appointments. They just go to the hospital and wait for a doctor. Dr. Huang obviously thought making an appointment was a peculiar foreign custom, but she finally agreed to make one.
So, yesterday, off we went to the hospital. The whole thing was actually quite a pleasant experience. We took the bus out to the hospital, which is quite a ways south of Nantong. The hospital is only a few years old, so it looks very modern. We went to the reception desk and told the receptionist that I had an appointment with Dr. Huang. Again, we had some difficulty with the concept of "appointment", but the receptionist said she would call the doctor. She asked us to have a seat in the pharmacy area. While we were waiting, I looked around. The pharmacy is divided into two areas: the Western pharmacy and the Chinese Traditional Medicine pharmacy. The latter has those neat wooden cabinets with little drawers in which the herbs are kept.
After a while, the doctor appeared. Dr. Huang is a very nice, attractive young woman. She took us to her office where I described my symptoms and she asked questions. Chinese doctors don't seem to feel it necessary to do all the preliminary stuff that US doctors do, so she didn't weigh me or take my blood pressure or anything else. She did listen to my chest. I now know the Chinese name for "stethoscope". Believe me, I had an easier time with "ting tong" than Dr. Huang had with "stethoscope"!
After this, she took us to the ENT department. That was a weird experience! First, we walked into a big room where there was another doctor, a couple of patients, and some other people just sitting around. One of those people was smoking! I told you there isn't any such thing as a No Smoking area in China - not even in hospitals! When it was my turn to see the ENT doctor, he had me sit in what appeared to be a living room armchair set up on a small platform. He then rummaged around in a box on his desk until he found some forceps which he stuck in my nose. I didn't see anything that remotely resembled sterilizing equipment, so this was a little disconcerting. He poked around and peered in my nose and then told Dr. Huang that I should have an x-ray of my sinuses. So, we went back downstairs to pay for the x-ray. Medical care here is all on a "pay first, play later" basis - no billing, no collection problems. Then, off we went to the Radiology Department. You have to remember that Dr. Huang was escorting us everywhere - we weren't just being sent from one department to the other. Also, we never had to wait very long anywhere. I don't know whether this was special treatment for foreigners or they just weren't very busy. The x-ray room contained the usual x-ray equipment, along with a couple of old wooden doors and some discarded furniture leaning up against one wall. The x-ray didn't show anything much, so we went back to the ENT doctor who had a discussion with Dr. Huang about the appropriate treatment. They finally agreed on a course of medications (1 Western and 2 traditional Chinese). Dr. Huang took us back downstairs to pay for the prescriptions, and then took us to the pharmacy to get them filled. One prescription was for an antibiotic, the second was for some capsules containing some herb mixture and the third was for some cough syrup. So, I spent an hour with Dr. Huang, saw the ENT doctor twice, had an x-ray and got 3 prescriptions filled. Any guess as to what all of this cost? Less than $20!!!! And this is the expensive hospital!
I am pleased to report that I feel a lot better already. I am always a bit skeptical about traditional medicine, but I decided I should give the 2 Chinese prescriptions a fair try. The capsules smell like a combination of menthol and camphor, which is probably what they actually are. The cough syrup also contains menthol and camphor, along with licorice, ammonia (!) and a few other ingredients. Tastes dreadful, but whatever it is, it really worked. I slept like a brick for 8 hours with no coughing at all.
I would be a little freaked out if I had to have a serious condition treated, but I am a lot more comfortable with the idea of seeing a Chinese doctor now. By the way, another thing I found out is that people are much more likely to be admitted to the hospital here than they are in the US and they stay in the hospital for a lot longer. For instance, it is routine for women to stay in the hospital for 7 or 8 days after having a baby. Well, that's it for now. I have to get back to packing for our trip home. Love to all.

Posted by now at 11:17 AM