A Trip To A Chinese Hospital

When you're on holiday - somewhere half-way across the globe, for the fun of it, let's say your holiday destination is China - the last thing you want to do is get sick, be sick or think about getting sick/being sick. I mean you buy the obligatory painkillers and nausea medication and whatnot, you get your vaccines and carry around all sorts of other things just in case you do end up needing them but you fervently hope that you don't.

That's me. I don't tend to travel with an entire pharmacy in my suitcase but I generally have all the important bits and pieces with me. At least I think I do.

When I flew to China in February, I packed everything I thought I might need and left the rest up to chance. Well, not exactly. I was confident enough that whatever else might happen, my fiancé would be able to handle the problem. I trust him to look after me when I need him to and he does, no questions asked.

Never once did I however expect that I may end up in a Chinese hospital. We have two doctor's in our family and by our family I mean my fish's family. I hadn't planned to visit either of them at their workplace but as it happened one of them actually ended up bringing me into the hospital...but let's start this tale at the beginning...

I don't look all that sick, do I?

First things first though. In this post I'm not going to tell you the ins and outs of navigating a Chinese hospital. I'm not even going to tell you how to register or pay or how to see a doctor. I'm also not going to tell you how much seeing a doctor in a small town somewhere in Hubei province costs.


It's not that I don't want to share that information. I would if I had that information but alas I don't. I'm totally clueless. If you have ever been to a Chinese hospital you probably know more than me.

What I will however share with you is the fact that having a doctor (or two) in the family is awesome and that Chinese guanxi are a marvelous thing to have. If you have Chinese guanxi, treasure them with all our heart and then some. One day you may need them more than anything and that one day may come sooner than you think, usually when you least expected it. I'm also going to share some facts about Chinese medicine with you, well, not professional facts, just my own opinion really.

So, like I said, I got sick in China. Not a big deal really but catching a cold while on holiday wasn't something I'd planned for.

Sorry if I just ruined your wild dreams. I was not rushed into the hospital by ambulance and I did not have to be resuscitated. No mad stuff.

Normally I don't go to see a doctor when I have a cold, unless I am so miserable that I cannot stand the thought of going to work and really need some time in bed to sleep off whatever bug I may have caught. That's pretty much how I felt from one day to the next while my fiancé and I were in Tianmen (about an hour's drive from Wuhan, Hubei) with all the family, preparing for Chinese New Year.

The evening before I felt a little tired so when we returned to our hotel room after a fun day out shopping and playing football I spent the evening on the bed, cuddled up to my handsome fish. Nothing out of the ordinary. He was watching television  I was trying to pay attention but was fighting sleep. I was also cold, really cold. No hug and no blanket could warm me up. Eventually my fiancé cranked the air conditioning up to about 30 degrees and I stopped shivering and clattering my teeth.

To be honest, I didn't feel like I was getting sick. I was just tired and had a sore head. After a long day out that's hardly anything out of the ordinary. I was therefore quite surprised when I woke up the next morning to find that I had no energy whatsoever. My nose was running, my head was pounding, my muscles were doing their best to resist any movement whatsoever and my voice was on strike. My throat felt like it was covered by razor-blades... I don't really have to tell you how miserable one feels when one is full of a cold. We've all had one before and it's no fun.

I have no idea how I managed to out of bed and have a shower, let alone get dressed. I certainly didn't feel like I had the energy for either. The 100 metres from the hotel to my mother-in-law's house took forever and I felt as lightheaded as could be. It didn't help that there was a fine dusting of ice on the ground and my fiancé had to take baby-steps because I didn't have the energy to walk by myself. I also have no idea how I walked up two flights of stairs. All I know is that once we got into my parents-in-law's living room, I slumped down on the couch and pretty much dozed off.

My fiancé kindly informed his parents that I was sick and I two minutes later his mum served me a hot bowl of chicken soup. I tried to eat it but the razorblades in my throat didn't let me so my fiancé's dad went to the pharmacy to buy some cold medicine.

In the meantime my fiancé's mum found some medicine to soothe my throat and prepared some hot water with brown rock sugar and ginger (the best medicine when you have a cold!). I sipped it slowly, shivering the whole time, until my fiancé's dad returned with the medicine. I dutifully swallowed the pill I was handed and dozed off, too tired and too sore to care about anything else.

I think you get the picture, yes? I was miserable, I was in pain, I was tired and cranky and not at all happy.

My fish stuck around, making sure I was comfortable and about half an hour later my mother-in-law's brother's wife (that's a mouthful I know, I just call her 舅妈 jiuma) arrived to check on me. She's one of the two doctor's we have in the family and one of my two favourite aunts. I mean I love them all, but she's one of my favourites. She looks about 25, is really petite and cute. She's really sweet and caring, a darling. A bit like my big sister.

舅妈 checked that I was okay and then gently insisted we go to the hospital for an IV with some fluid and medication to pep me up. The thought of a needle didn't excite me a lot so I refused and went to sleep, or at least tried to. It's kind of difficult to sleep when you need to blow your nose every two minutes. My mother-in-law chirped in and insisted that we go and told me that 舅妈 would take good care of me. I still refused. When you have asthma and you've had to endure having oxygen-rich blood drawn from a small artery in your wrist (more than once!) you'd be opposed to yet another needle too. I've also had to endure hell some of the times I got my blood drawn in Ireland so I'm really not that fond of needles.

The fish feebly tried to convince me to go but didn't push the matter when I refused. He only started sulking when I almost fainted on my way to the dinning room to join everyone else for lunch. Not that I was very hungry...

"I really think you should go to the hospital with 舅妈." He insisted. I glared and mumbled something about hating needles. The rest was drowned by me blowing my nose. I went back to the living room and my mother-in-law and my 舅妈 pestered me some more about going to the hospital while my fish continued to sulk. He could have just told me that I'm an idiot, that would have worked too. Or insisted that we go to the hospital, I wouldn't have put up a fight. I wouldn't even have complained had he dragged me to the car.

I managed to resist my caring fiancé, mother-in-law and my 舅妈 a while longer. I was convinced that the Chinese medicine my father-in-law had bought was sufficient enough. Let me tell you, that medicine is awesome indeed. We don't have that kind of cold medicine in this part of the world and I don't get why. This stuff really works and I'm never ever going back to eating shitty painkillers and hoping it will make me feel better. That stuff brought my fever down a little, cleared my head, unblocked my nose somewhat and eased my sore throat.

I don't really have to tell you, but the worst part about having a cold is that you literally have zero energy. Even lifting a tea cup seems to cumbersome. I got sick of that feeling pretty soon and after napping a little bit, I went off to find my fiancé who'd left the room to have a smoke. He was about to put the cigarette out when I found him and snuggling up to him, I mumbled something about having changed my mind. "I want to go to the hospital after all." I said and within minutes everyone was ready to go. I clung to my fish like a whiny child asking time and time again whether everyone would be allowed to stay with me or whether I'd be alone.

"Why do you think we're all coming with you? Certainly not to leave you alone!" The fish replied and I felt a bit silly. I mean I didn't know anything about Chinese hospitals and the places relatives were allowed to go to or not allowed to go to. I didn't have the energy to explain that though and just napped while my fish navigated afternoon traffic on the way to the hospital. We got there in no time and I freaked a bit when we walked in and I saw the amount of people there. I thought we'd have to wait for hours but instead I was comfortably seated in my 舅妈's office ten minutes later. My mother-in-law made sure I had enough tissues, my fish made sure I had enough hot water to drink and my cousin was sitting beside me telling me not to worry while my 舅妈 sorted all the admin stuff.

Some half an hour later she whisked me off to get my IV and I panicked. There were tons of people there and I really didn't have the energy to endure everyone staring at that sick foreigner getting medical treatment in small town China. 舅妈 found a nurse, responsible for setting up the IVs, and the fish kindly shielded me from prying eyes. Two minutes later the needle was in and I can honestly say I didn't feel a thing. That nurse was bloody efficient but I guess if you spend your entire working day setting up IVs you are perfect at what you're doing.

Instead of having to sit down where everyone else was sitting, my fish (who had taken charge of the IV bag) frog-marched me back to 舅妈's office and everyone made sure I was comfortably seated with the radiator on and a hand warmer on the IV cord to make sure the fluid didn't feel too cold. My fish offered his shoulder when I wanted to nap a bit and 舅妈 made sure I wasn't getting dizzy or tired. It took over an hour for the IV (I've no idea what was in it though and I don't care. Whatever was in it worked a treat!) to run through and that was the longest I'd spend upright that day. Everyone entertained me to the best of their abilities and when somebody else barged in, demanding to see a doctor my fish shooed them out. My 舅妈 wasn't actually working on that day, she'd agreed to come into the hospital especially for me, to take care of me.

Like I said earlier, if you have guanxi in China, your life is much easier and a little less painful. I'm glad my 舅妈 is a doctor and she agreed to come to my rescue when I felt beyond crap. I'm also glad I had my family with me to keep me company and that everyone was so genuinely concerned about my well-being that they bend over backwards to make me feel better (though I did tell my fish that he needs to be a bit more forceful when he wants me to do something I might not want to do but that's actually really good for me). When you have a family like that, there's nothing else you need or want, except maybe a slice of Tianmen Pizza.

Tianmen Pizza, the best street food in Hubei!

When you're full of cold, have no appetite and have pretty much eaten nothing all day some Tianmen Pizza is the best thing ever. Especially when you're allowed to eat it in your boyfriend's car because you're very hungry and very sick and your boyfriend doesn't have the heart to say no to you.

I'm a very lucky girl indeed. I have a fantastic family-in-law and a fantastic fish who all made being sick a piece of cake. Everyone took care of me in the best possible way and made sure I was getting better. I didn't have to worry about medicine, food or drink, not even a blanket. When you're on your own being sick sucks but when you've family around you who are willing to take care of you and make sure you're okay, well let's just say that's also a kind of medicine. It's actually the best medicine by far.

So thanks to my fish and my family it only took a couple of days until I was back to my old, smiley, happy self.

Healthy and happy!