Inside a Chinese hospital

I had the great fortune of visiting a public Chinese hospital yesterday — Beijing Tongren Hospital (北京同仁医院).

Bright and early on a Monday morning, around 7, I asked the taxi driver to take me to the hospital. He drops me off on the opposite corner of a busy intersection, with the hospital rising high above its surrounding buildings. It was tucked behind a few hutongs from where I was dropped off. So close, yet so far away.

I finally find the entrance to the hospital on the opposite side, after wandering down the hutongs for a while. But what do I see when I finally made it out onto a main street? TWO Tongren Hospitals, one on each side of the street. Nothing seemed to differentiate them on the outside, so I just go to the one that was on my side.

As I get closer, there was a very steady stream of people going into the hospital, along with a bunch of people just chilling out in front of the hospital along the driveway. It reminded me a little of the train station, only without the big plaza. Inside, the foyer was a little confusing. There was a lone, tiny Information Desk, with a nurse standing resolutely behind it as hoardes of people shouted questions at her one at a time. This being China, there was no line, and the next person was whoever shouted his question first. Behind her, on the far side along the back wall, was a roped section with about 50 people standing in line outside one roped-off VIP Ophthalmology Room. Next to it was another line/pack of people congregating next to the roped-off section to the VIP Ophthalmology Room. Occasionally, some people were let in. I asked the nurse where I was supposed to go.

She told me to go pai dui (stand in line) and waved her hand vaguely behind her. I decided to stand in the actual line. After 10 minutes, the guards that had been manning the roped off section opened up the doors to the VIP room and people start flooding in. At the same time, a couple of nurses put out a table and began checking people’s books and numbers and … doing something.

Soon it was my turn! I told the nurse that I didn’t know what to do, but I needed to see a doctor. She gave me a book that resembles the little blue exam books we used at university and told me to fill out my name and birthday info, then gave me a number and receipt before sending me off into the VIP room to pay.

I had to hand off my blue book (it is actually a medical history book that everyone who goes to a public hospital has and needs to bring for each hospital visit) at some sort of reception desk and pay, then collect my book again and go stand in line for a vision test, where I waited for about half an hour. First, I pai dui‘d outside the room. Then I made it into the room, where I waited some more while other people had their vision tested. Then I took the test as other patients watched.

I was told to wait outside Consultation Room 2, just on the other side of the cashier/reception desk area, and that my blue book will be transferred there. How those blue books make it round and still end up in the right hands at the end is beyond me. It is hectic and chaotic, despite all the waiting, at the hospital. So I waited for my turn in Consultation Room 2, at least another hour. Suddenly, the first nurse comes to me and says, It’s your turn.

It’s quiet and rather spacious inside Consultation Room 2. A female doctor sits at the table. What’s up, she asks me. I take off my sunglasses and point. How long? Three days now. Then she asked me a question I didn’t understand, and instead of trying to find another way to find information, she tells me to go to the eye machine thing. She looks at my eyes, tells me to look up and down and pulls at my eyelids. Then we go back to the table. She scribbles something that no one has been able to read in my blue book, asks if I had any medicine (no), writes me a prescription and tells me it will be a month before I’m well again and to come back in two weeks.

The end. I was in and out of Consultation Room 2 in five minutes. Not being able to speak Chinese, I have no idea what I was diagnosed with. But I do know a little more about Chinese hospitals. The experience was very similar to the medical check I had to get for my Expert Certificate when I first came — very streamlined and cold.

The nurse did seem a little caring, though, by keeping an eye on me to make sure I was where I needed to be to see a doctor.

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