Written by Heidi Welsch

When you think of “going to the hospital,” you might think of people who are in an emergency or giving birth to something. If you are in a hospital, something is majorly wrong and your mom needs to know. That stigma doesn’t apply to China, where anything from a runny nose to brain surgery is treated in the same building.
Prior to arriving here, I have avoided hospitals as avidly as I avoid the water stains on the street. My obsessive-compulsive hand washing rituals predispose me to nightmares of inhaling Ebola-ridden hospital air. Recently, facing that fear became necessary after several days of discomfort and sleepless nights. My co-workers and a student helped facilitate a smooth introduction to a process as foreign to me as eating Oreos with chopsticks. Thanks to my friends, not only was I able to make it through my sickness, but the hospital itself.
After nearly two days spent navigating交大一附院, I emerged with a remedy and, to my surprise, not even a cough. The staff at交大一附院 went out of their way to give me their undivided attention and care. I cannot recommend this hospital highly enough. However, I have some suggestions to think about if you are fortunate enough to be able to plan your next doctor’s visit. If you are as ignorant as I was about the enigma of hospitals, maybe my experience can bring some idea of what to expect:
1. Prepare. Do not eat or drink anything before you go.
2. Crowds. Go as early as possible! All people must be treated in one place, so the sea of faces cannot be avoided regardless of the hospital. Sometimes, they only perform tests in the morning so you must arrive at the opening time of the hospital and no later.
3. Paying. Get in line to “ban ka” (get a card). There are plastic cards specific to each hospital that you must obtain and charge before seeing a doctor. I would recommend opening a card and putting at least 100Y on, to begin with, and definitely don’t forget to bring your passport.
4. Departments. You can try to see a general practitioner but it is better to be specific. Do you have Celiac’s? An allergic reaction? Something worse? I don’t know either, but if you speak to the front desk and tell them what is wrong, they will do their best to direct you to the right floor and department.
5. Wait. Read the signs in English, go to your department and stand in line to get a ticket. They may ask you if you would like to see a general doctor in that field, or a specialist. Usually, there is a lunch break around noon so try to arrive before then, well fed…or wait in a stationary line for the hour or so while the staff has a well-deserved break and you eye your competition for possible bum rushes.
6. Talk. Visit your doctor and share all of your health information with some fellow Chinese patients. It’s ok, they most likely won’t understand, but your doctor probably will! Share all the details you can with your doctor, and keep in mind that there may be others present and there will be no expectation of privacy. Your practitioner has a very high chance of understanding English but getting to see them is the difficult part.
7. Tests. Exit that department and put the necessary amount of money on your card to have tests run. For me, this amount was 10 times cheaper than expected. For instance, a full CT scan was 1200RMB. To take blood was 20RMB and an ultrasound was only 100RMB. The process for testing is convenient because your information is on your card so you can simply scan in and the nurses know what to do with your samples.
8. Blood tests. If you have to give blood for a test the line will undoubtedly look a week long, but it’s typically more in the half-hour range. The nurses, in my experience, were handy with finding veins and the slight pinch became a second-thought. Instead of Spongebob bandaids they will give you a much more stylish Q-tip to hold in place to stop the blood. Results are typically 3-6 hours later. Scan your barcode at the machine and they print just like the self-service photo machines at Wal-Mart.
9. Urinalaysis. A bucket of ping-pong-ball sized cups and tiny test tubes will be available outside the bathroom for you to pick up. Leave your sample with the nurse at the window. Results are typically within half an hour. Once again, scan your receipt for results.
10. Other tests. Trying to follow instructions about taking off clothes or lying down becomes more awkward than normal when it is in Chinese. If you can see through the haze of your sickness just evaluate the situation quickly and strip as indicated by a curtain (or a table to lie down on). Pick up your results as specified by your lab technicians.
11. Get help. The tests will help the doctor tell you what is wrong and medication will be prescribed.
12. Get better. Charge your card again at the charging station with the appropriate amount. Follow the signs for the in-hospital pharmacy. Print yourself a ticket, go to the correct window, and pick up your medicine within half an hour of stepping out of the doctor’s office.
When you are sick enough to see a doctor, the last thing you want is inconvenience, hassle, or black plague. If you understand the basic premise of Chinese hospitals, that’s less likely to happen. Getting healthcare here is kind of like finishing a long run with the feeling of achievement and subsequent exhaustion. The good news is you will have all the medicine to fight the exhaustion and make a full recovery.