If You're Sick, Go to the Hospital

My dad often joked with my brothers and I as kids by saying “If you’re sick, go to the hospital” whenever we farted.  If only it were that easy here.  In China, we learned that it can be a lot easier to tell someone who is sick to go to the hospital than to actually make the trip. 

As most of you know, in October I hurt my left knee.  It has been getting better, but in the last month it hit a plateau.  It didn’t seem to be getting back to normal.  Given my past injuries, Tian and I decided to get it checked out formally just to be safe.  But making the decision to see a doctor was the easy part.  The hard part came next.

Before going to the hospital, we studied up on parts of the knee (and their translations) and prepared lots of questions.

Before going to the hospital, we studied up on parts of the knee (and their translations) and prepared lots of questions.

While finding the right hospital to visit took some time, the biggest challenge came down to timing.  Because we wanted to go to one of the best hospitals in Beijing to make sure we saw someone who specialized in knees, this also meant 1) that we were limited to specific times it was open; and 2) that the experience would probably take a long time because Chinese hospitals do not take appointments.  Given the constraints of our work schedules, we had a difficult time arranging our schedules to go.

Chinese hospitals do not accept appointments.  When we lined up at 4:30 a.m. to register, about 50 people were ahead of us.  It was a cold morning.

Chinese hospitals do not accept appointments. When we lined up at 4:30 a.m. to register, about 50 people were ahead of us. It was a cold morning.

The big day came last week on Monday.  Tian and I got up at 4:00 in the morning and took a taxi to the hospital.  When we got in line at 4:30, about 50 people were already lined up outside.  We waited outside together (learning Chinese songs to pass the time).  At one point, I went to a restaurant and begged some hot water for coffee to warm us up.

At 6:00, they opened the front doors and people rushed inside to line up at the registration desk.  There were about 8 lines that formed inside and snaked through the hallways.  We were number six in our line.  We waited until 7:00 until they opened the registration desks.  At about 7:10 we got our number then we went upstairs to wait at the knee specialist’s door. 

At 6:00 we got in the inside registration line and waited until 7:00.  I took this picture from the lobby above after we got our ticket at 7:15.

At 6:00 we got in the inside registration line and waited until 7:00. I took this picture from the lobby above after we got our ticket at 7:10.

The doctor started seeing patients at about 8:15, and we were tenth in line.  Outside the office, we met a lot of people who had pretty bad injuries and it helped put things into perspective for me.  They all said that this guy was one of the best in Beijing, which made me relax a bit too. 

It took until 10:30 for us to be called, but the appointment itself went quickly and well.  The doctor examined my knee and did all the tests I would expect to determine if there was a bigger injury.  He told me (with the help of Tian) that it was healing and that there was no major problem (e.g. ACL/PCL tear) there.  We probed for more information, and he suggested that I start a series of exercises to strengthen the knee, the same basic ones I did the last time.  He said we did not need to do an MRI. 

So we left the hospital at 11 a.m. relieved that things were not more serious and that I should heal with time and strengthening exercises.  The 7 hours waiting and $1.50 fee all seemed worth it.  I really hope I don’t have to interact with the hospital system again though.  Especially with a knee problem, it can be difficult to stand.

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2 comments

  1. i like your last line- very punny!

  2. Anne Petersen · ·

    I thought this was an eye-opening experience for anyone who claims American health care is broken. Yes, it was a total hassle for you to wake up at 4:00 a.m. and stand in line three hours to see a doctor. But it cost $1.50 to see a knee expert. So there is the trade-off! Having torn my ACL skiing last year, the visit to the ER at the bottom of the ski resort was over $1000, and the visits to the orthopedist here in town was several thousand dollars including the MRI which was done at the doc’s office, too. However, I didn’t wait in line in the cold! You’re getting old, buddy! Anne

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