It’s one of a traveler’s worst nightmares; become ill in a foreign country and be forced to pay a visit to the local hospital. Last week I came down with both strep throat and pink eye, and I can say visiting a Chinese hospital was a very new experience. On Monday a teacher accompanied me to see a doctor for my strep throat. I could have very well been walking into a train station when I entered the hospital lobby. The walls were lined with numbered teller windows below neon signs. The first step in seeing a doctor was to register with the hospital. This entailed telling the woman at the window what hurt and paying 4 RMB to receive a ticket, very similar to a train ticket. From there, we were directed to the second floor, where it was our job to find an open examining room. There was no waiting room or sense of order. We literally had to walk up and down the halls to find a room where a doctor was present who could examine my throat. When we finally found a room, partially filled with people, the doctor took one look at me, saw my white skin, and stated that I was in the wrong wing of the hospital and needed to go the international wing. A little frustrated, we headed to the international wing. When we arrived there they examined my ticket and said I had to go back where I came from or pay 100 RMB and register with them. A little more frustrated we decided to head back downstairs instead of paying the extra money. When we reached our original destination, however, the room was overflowing with people. Not wanting to wait a few hours, I opted to pay the extra money and see a doctor in the nearly empty international wing. There I sat in my own examination room and waited for the doctor to see me. This was much more similar to the American hospitals I’m used to. It took about five minutes to be examined and given medicine. It was interesting to learn that only foreigners are allowed to visit the international wing and you definitely pay for more convenient service. Earlier that day my eyes had been itchy and red, but I assumed they were due to a late night of studying. By that evening though, it was evident that I had pink eye. The next day I headed back to the hospital to get my eyes examined.
My second visit was longer and more frustrating than the first. We arrived at the hospital around 12:30 pm and headed to the registration counter. Only one, out of about ten, was open. This was similar to the day before, but today the teller said we needed to wait until two to see a doctor. The reason for waiting so long got a little lost in translation, but the wait was either due to computer issues or no doctors with open examination rooms. It was evident, after walking through halls with all rooms deserted, that the second was true. We headed to the second floor and registered there to see a doctor. They assured us a regular doctor could treat me for my eyes, but when we finally made it to examination time my teacher explained my eyes were bothering me and the doctor refused to see me. He said he wasn’t an eye doctor and I needed to register to see an ophthalmologist. Fifteen minutes later, I was registered and was told I needed to wait another hour. One thing worked in my favor that day, I entered a deserted looking ophthalmology wing and saw a doctor about ten minutes after registering. Before he would examine my eyes though, I had to go down a floor and buy a booklet so he could start a record of my health. Utterly confused and extremely frustrated, I returned with a booklet, was examined, and prescribed two different types of eye drops and a cream. I left the prescription window, very similar to the registration window, with two handfuls of boxes. Exhausted, I finally headed home, praying this would be my last visit to the hospital.
Besides being sick, the rest of the week went smoothly. I had an oral finally and a very long written final. But on Thursday, feeling much better and having finished my exams, a few friends and I headed to Harbin, China for a long weekend.