My nightmare experience in a Chinese hospital

hospital china

Going to the doctor in China is a unique experience. If you don’t have a proper health insurance, it’s also pretty expensive. Today I want to share with you the story of my last visit to a Chinese public hospital.

The most stupid accident in the world

Thursday, 9 p.m. My house is a mess and tomorrow I’ll have guests. I can’t delay it anymore: I need to clean up right now.

Housework isn’t my thing; but once in a while I get mad an can’t stop cleaning until everything looks perfect. Today isn’t an exception and I start to run from one place to another.

After more than two hours of work my body is full of stamina, I run towards the closet in my bedroom and smash my barefoot into a column…


“I broke my nail again,” I think when the pain start to decrease. I look at my foot and everything looks fine.

“Hey, wait a moment… what the fuck is happening to my pinky toe? Why is it pointing to another direction?”

I try to move my toes and…. Um, the pain isn’t that strong.

“Good, isn’t broken,” I think.

I put some ice on my right foot for around twenty minutes, but my stupid toe doesn’t look any better. It’s too late to get a decent doctor in the hospital, so I get a piece of cloth and I tight it to my foot in order to keep my little toe in its right position.

I go to sleep with only one thought in my mind: “How I can be so stupid!”

The hospital first attempt

I wake up, remove the improvised bandage and… no miracle. My toe is still pointing to East Beijing. Time to go to the hospital. I choose Haidian Hospital, the nearest “decent” hospital.

It’s not the first time that I go to a Chinese public hospital: I’m ready to fight with the other patients, discuss with the doctor and bargain for the medicines I should buy (or, better, don’t buy). But first of all I have to get a number at the receptions.

I head to the counter for registering (挂号,guahao), I give my hospital card to the nurse and explain my problem. She glance at me. I’m sure she’s thinking: “Why you don’t just die? I’m busy”. Instead, she tells me to go to “external medicine” department (外科, waike). I pay the five Yuan fee and she throws a number at me. I catch it as I can I read the name on it and…

“Shit, I took the wrong hospital card, this is my mother’s!”

But my foot aches and I want to see the doctor. I don’t care if, from now on, my name is Linda.

The waike is at the fourth floor, so I look at the elevator. There are a bunch of lazy patients that fight for a position in the next ride, they’ll not even blink and when the door will open they’ll jump into the elevator to get a spot. No mercy, no prisoners. I don’t want to risk that somebody steps onto my foot causing more damage: the stairs is my only option.

I arrive to the external medicine’s counter, where I wait until they assign a doctor to me. After a while I manage to get in (of course after fighting with the other patients) and the doctor says:

“You should go to the trauma department.”

“Shit!” I have to go to the first floor again and change my number.

hospitals in chinaTrauma department of one of the best hospitals in Beijing

I go downstairs, get the number and climb again until the fourth floor. I go to the counter, and the girl there tells me:

“You’d better go to the emergency department.”

This can’t be possible! The toe is killing me and I have to go again to the first floor. I want to die.

I pay other five Yuan to get the number for the emergency department (急诊, jizhen) and I get inside. The doctor swipes the card, looks at me, looks at the computer, and tells me:

“You don’t look like a sixty years-old woman, you should get a new card.”

Ok, no problem, I go to the counter again and get a brand new card (my third one).

Finally, after more than one hour and several tips, I’m finally going to talk with a doctor!

The visit

The doctor swipes the card, asks me what the problem is and, without even looking at my foot, gives a paper for the radiology department to me.

“It’s been a while since I took my last x-ray,” I think.

I get my x-ray and go back to the doctor.

Diagnosis: Fracture displacement.

“You should go to the trauma department, but don’t worry: I’ll call a fellow doctor so that you can go to see him right now.”

I take his kind offer. When I arrive there, the doctor, without even looking at me, says:

“You need surgery.”

“Fuck! And how much for the surgery?”

“Only the surgery is 5,000 Yuan, then you have to add five days at the hospital and the medicines.”

It means that I’ll have to pay at least 10,000 Yuan (around 1,600 USD). But the money isn’t my biggest concern; I do have an insurance. But can I trust this guy to mess up with my foot?

“Thank you,” I tell the doctor while I leave. It’s clear that the first doctor has an agreement with this one: he refers patient and get a cut on the fee. So I want a second opinion.

Chinese “public” hospitals earn money with medicines, treatments and diagnosis, so they’ll always try to push you to take more medicines, run more tests or get treatments that you don’t need.

I go back to the trauma department. While waiting a Beijiner women asks me what’s going on. I tell to her about my fantastic experience and immediately she recommends me another hospital (that’s supposed to be more honest).

“But if that other hospital is much better, why are you here?” I think.

After waiting one hour I visit the doctor and there’s no surprise, he checks out the x-ray and tells me I need surgery. Ok, it’s time to know how my health insurance works.

health insurance chinaMy foot while I’m writing this post. Yes, I use my cat as a pillow!

My medical insurance

The University where I work is supposed to provide me with a health insurance, but I never used it before so I have no clue on how it works. I call one of my colleagues and I explains the situation. After half an hour trying to understand how it works, I got an approximate idea:

My insurance only covers me in the hospital inside the university, which is a shitty hospital where you’d be lucky if you manage to find a doctor. At the university hospital they usually can’t treat you: they issue a permission to go to another hospital and cover the 80% of the treatment fee.

At this point I start to regret that I didn’t renew my international insurance because I’ll leave soon. But it’s too late and I have to go through the Chinese medical system.

I go to the university hospital and after an hour going back and forth and discussing with the “doctors” I get my permission to go to another hospital.

The third opinion

Around 5 p.m. I manage to arrive to the “Third Peking University Hospital” (北京大学第三医院, Beijing Daxue Disan Yiyuan), the hospital recommended by the lovely Beijinger. This hospital is probably a well-funded hospital belonging to Beida (Peking university), where they carry out some research and training for medical students.

Now it’s too late to get a number and my only option is to go to emergency and hope for a miracle.

doctor in china

And the miracle happens!

After listening to what happened, the first reaction of the doctor is to look at my foot and touch the toe. Then he checks the x-ray and tells to me:

”We’ll have to immobilize the foot for six weeks”

“I don’t need surgery?” I ask.

“No, I only need to correct the bone displacement and that’s it.”

I decided to trust him. After a painful correction of my bone displacement, he sends me to get my foot immobilized. I breath deeply: “I don’t need surgery, I’m going to survive this time too!”

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Piece of Shit Hospital by Jonathan Kos-Read

3 thoughts on “My nightmare experience in a Chinese hospital”

  1. My father did the exact same thing to his pinky toe. His toe was pointing out to the side. Somehow he knew to put his toe back in position. He then put tape around his pinky toe and the toe next to it. He wore loose fitting shoes. }:~)

  2. A nightmare indeed!

    So often, poor experiences are the result of mis-aligned incentives. And boy, if there is one place where you don’t want to be “upsold”, it’s the hospital.

    All is well that ends well, I suppose.

    Wishing you well in your recovery Sborto,

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