Go to the doctor in China

doctor in china

Introducing the creatures that populate my feet

It must be the humidity.

Or maybe the fact that I never bring flip-flops with me when I travel. It’s not my fault, my zoom takes all the space available on my bag!

The point is that I got a fungus that is slowly (well, not that slowly) eating my feet. When after two weeks of itch I told it to Feng, she laughs at me:

“Haha come on, it’s summer. Everybody in China has the same problem, stop complaining!”

What a sweet girl I got.

I don’t stop to complain (that wouldn’t be me). However, I tell myself that if Chinese people can cope with it, so can I. Thus I convince myself it must be a simple “foot’s athlete” and I forget about it.

But I was wrong, and last Wednesday I woke up at three a.m. with my left foot is on fire.

I switch on the light, look at the plant of my foot and think someone has put out a cigarette on it. Then I remember the fungus.

And last Saturday I finally stop to procrastinating and I go to the hospital.

Yes, the hospital.

In China, the family physician doesn’t exist. You always have to go to the hospital.

There are two kinds of hospitals.

The good ones are located downtown, are bloody expensive and you have to wait for hours before having the privilege to see a doctor (to be fair in Italy is the same).

The bad hospitals are expensive as well but at least you don’t have to wait. Nobody wants to go there.

The idea was to reach downtown and see a real doctor. But it is Saturday, we wake up too late and as a partial excuse, I tell myself that even the guys that work on the small hospital across the road will know how to deal with a simple fungus.

After all, according to Feng every Chinese has it…

chinese doctorMy creams.

Bargain with the doctor

We climb the stairs till the dermatology where an octogenarian “skin expert” welcomes us with a warm smile.

He may have confused Feng with his granddaughter because cannot refrain to investigate the nature of our relationship.

After asking the details of our private life he finally decides to take a look at my feet.

After an accurate analysis that lasts 5.34 seconds, he concludes that I have a fungus and I need to use two creams and take a footbath for ten days.

Duo shao qian?” How much is the medicine? Feng asks.

I’m surprised, in Italy we usually don’t do these questions to the doctor.

400 kuai,” answers him.

“Oh shit,” I think “about fifty euro for a simple fungus?”

Oh tai gui le, keyi pianyi yi dian?

I cannot believe this is really happening. Feng is a bargain for the medicines! WTF?

Grandpa is very sorry but we have to pay the full price. After he explains to us how to prepare the footbath and when to use the creams, we are ready to go.

A nurse will escort us to the pharmacy in case we are planning to escape without buying the precious medicines.

traditional chinese medicineMy medicines worth 413 kuai.

How Chinese hospitals make money

“Should we pay a fee to the doctor?” I ask Feng.

“No, he will earn a commission on the medicines we are going to buy.”

I realize that the healthy Chinese system is quite different from the public (broken) one we have back in Europe. Here every hospital is an independent entity with its own drugstore. They usually don’t make you pay for the visit but charge you a lot of money when it’s time to buy the medicines.

The nurse collects my money and comes back with a colorful bag full of small plastic packets that contain a brown liquid, which is my medicine. She also gives us some minuscule packets full of a white powder that I initially suspect to be cocaine (this would justify the price).

hospital in chinaThe drugstore at the hospital.

However, the powder ends up being a special salt I have to mix with the brown liquid, half a liter of hot water, and 25 centiliters of vinegar in order to prepare the magic potion in which I will have to dip my feet for a half-hour per day.


Feng takes one of the small packets full of brown liquid out of the bag and translates for me:

“Drink after dinner.”


“Don’t worry” explains the nurse “I prepared the medicine by myself and put it on small packets that were initially thought for another medicine. You don’t have to drink it, it’s for your feet.”

Now that I know she’s the one that prepared the ingredients for my feet footbath I’m much more worried than before but anyway…

traditional medicineThe magic potion.

Preparing the magic potion

We walk to the small shop near my house and buy five bottles of vinegar for a total of 2,5 liters. The owner cannot resist:

“Why do you need all this vinegar?” she asks.

“We will drink it, we are too poor to buy wine,” I answer with a smile. I’m quite sure she believed me.

We arrive at home and I put all the shit we bought on the table. I’m impressed. I had a fungus another time in the past, but the doctor only gave a cream to me. Amateur.

Now I got two creams, twenty small packets (two per day) full of a suspicious brown liquid, ten even smaller packets full of a white substance, and 2.5 liters of vinegar.

I get a basin and I fill it with half a liter of hot water, 25 centiliters of vinegar, some white powder, and two packets of the mysterious medicine that makes turn the water in blood as Moses’ cane.

I feel like Magica de Spell.

The basin releases a disgusting smell but I put my feet into it anyway.

For the first five minutes, nothing happens. Then the substance attacks my feet that turn red and start to burn like hell.

I heroically resist thirty minutes and then run to the bathroom where I keep my feet under the cold water for about twenty minutes in an attempt to extinguish the fire.

Then I use one of the two creams the nurse gave to me (I choose randomly because I don’t know the difference between them) and I’m done for today.

Does it works?

After two days of footbath, my feet stop itching so I would say the brown stuff is doing its job.

Photo Credits: Photos by Sapore di Cina

12 thoughts on “Go to the doctor in China”

  1. Pierre-Alain Nicod

    Hi Furio,
    How unlucky you have been to gon to little hospital on Saturday. In big one on Monday, they would not look at your foort but for sure you would have got a blood exam and a CT scan before to be told to stay at hospital for two first weeks of without any risk (but necessary to stay at hospital because who knows) intravenous treatment that had to begin at once if you wanted avoid foot amputation.
    For Siko: In Switzerland this should cost 100 to 150 yuans if you go directly to pharmacy and 220 yuans if you go to see a GP or a dermatologist (120 for consultation and 100 for cream). Even expensive, only one third to one half of chinese price…
    Conclusion: less expensive and up to date: make prevention: wash your feet with chinese vinegar once a week?

    1. Salut Pierre-Alain,

      yes, I can see you point. As I wrote on the article Chinese hospital often tend to over deliver because this is the way they make money hehe

      I’m happy so far I never had a serious problem in China.

      The vinegar was quite cheap and effective though ; )

      1. Pierre-Alain Nicod

        You are very kind to say “often tend to”, I would say “nearly always” and this is a moderate statement…
        What was the trade mark of the vinegar?

        1. haha maybe,

          I went several times with my Chinese gf and they didn’t cheat that much on her.

          I guess for laowai there is a special treatment but I have no direct experience.

          I dunno the trade mark of the vinegar but you can see half bottle on the photo above : )

          1. Pierre-Alain Nicod

            Feichang ganxie,
            Mingtian, wode laopo yao chu chechang mai yi ping cu… Dui, laowayde yaoshui bu she zhonguogende yao: nage tai gui le.
            Do you agree when I think that probably with all the pesticids the farmer put on his plants, the percent of antimycotic drug remaining in vinegar is higher that the one in medical products?

          2. Pierre-Alain Nicod

            But, don’t you think that only air pollution can make Durian smell so nice for chinese nose and that only pesticids in water can make duck heads taste so good for chinese mouth? If a double blind scientific sudy was made, I’m sure that my supposition would be confirmed. But as I’m afraid that such an interesting study will never be made, I allow myself to ask a renowed specialist his opinon about so strange biologic (for sure to big to be only cultural) specifities…

  2. Hi Furio
    Your blog posts are very entertaining – thanks, keep them coming. However, for anyone that actually needs to go to a doctor in China I should point out that the fee to SEE a doctor is usually about 6 rmb, less than one dollar US, not expensive – maybe you have incredibly cheap healthcare in Italy? I have been about 20 times or so, in four different provinces, five counting HK, not because I’m very sick, just like hospitals (kidding) – I have taken other people several times too. I have heard of expensive medicines but I am not convinced that even yours were expensive compared to Europe. Actually your 20 foot washes for about 400 would be like the cost of the stuff they add at foot massage! A couple of weeks ago I had a tetanus shot (and before that an allergy test) – combined cost about US$2. Glad you didn’t need surgery – that could be expensive on a Chinese wage, but still much cheaper than Italy I think.

    1. Hey, Thank you for the comment!

      I’m lucky as this was the only time I needed a doctor in almost three years of China!

      I believe you about the 6 RMB fee as I’ve been to the hospital for my girls a couple of time and she always paid something at the beginning. However I didn’t pay any fee, just the medicine.

      In Europe we are a both “spoiled” in the sense that go to the doctor is free and the state pay a percentage of the most important medicines (the one that will save your life and so on). It’s the famous European “welfare.”

      When I lived in France both doctor and hospital were bloody cheap. In Italy they are still cheap but often you wanna go with a private doctor (expensive) because to see the public one you have to wait even months. So yes, it’s a mix…

      In China I guess that small things are simple (unless you have a fungus on your feet haha) but, as you said, for surgery and so on it may be very expensive.


  3. ‘He may have confused Feng with his granddaughter because cannot refrain to investigate the nature of our relationship.’

    Yes, they seem to constantly confuse any girl a foreigner is with with their granddaughter/daughter don’t they.

    It’s a rare thing to happen, but I love it when a Chinese girl replies ‘None of your business!’, probably not wise to do it to a doctor though, and the doctors know it too.

    I guarantee if it was the girls foot problem and she wasn’t seen with you it would have been half the price with some other medicine that was probably just as good. Special foreign tax for living in China!

    At least your feet are getting better though.

    1. Yeah the feet recovered after, say, three days.

      I was surprised but I think the very effective stuff was the Chinese Bai Zu (vinegar) which killed everything he found haha

      1. He thought the wind was his granddaughter. ??? Is that the only thing Chinese people go to hospital for . I find ferment pirn bark really work amazing but you have to do more then soak

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