Monday, April 12, 2010

Turning 43 in Beijing – The Doctor’s Visit

Posted by He Said

Saturday was a day with so many experiences and conversations with my family, wife, children and strangers that I could fill a novel. We are not talking War and Peace here, but damn near as long as Stephen Kings Dark Tower series. So to try and do it justice I may have to break this into several stories over time. This of course will not be easy. Family life, work life and counterfeit wine runs might get in the way. So here we go, off to the races.

I turned 43 on Saturday. On April 10, 2010, I turned 43 years of age while living in Beijing. It was a most wonderful day. I woke up to my beautiful little princess walking up to me while I was still half asleep, asking if she could cuddle. It’s hard to turn down an early morning cuddle from either of my children. That is, as long as it is close to time to get up. Earlier than that and they get shuffled back to bed and told that it is still the middle of the night and to GET BACK TO SLEEP. But this morning it was approaching 7am and we had to be up early. Not for celebratory reasons, but to take that adorable little cuddler for a follow up visit to a Beijing ear, nose & throat doctor. Emily had new tubes put in her ears less than a week before we were due to move to Beijing and had been fighting an infection for weeks prior to leaving. This was an infection that she continued to battle all the way here. We had to keep her liquid Augmentin packed in ice for the trip. This meant stressing about carrying more than 3 ounces of liquid onto the plane as well as having bags of ice leak into our carry on. We made it through. We finished her meds. She continued to complain about her ear on and off, so we made a follow up appointment that at its earliest could only take place on my birthday.

So the morning of my 43rd birthday we were packing the kids up for a trip to the nearest English speaking clinic, an hour trip using subway and taxi. Have we mentioned how big this city is? There is a hospital just around the corner from the apartment, less than a 10 minute walk. But there is one problem, a very small issue that we just can't get past. They don't speak English and we don't speak Chinese, and to top it off, at my recently acquired age of 43, I just can't pick up Chinese fast enough. Hell, I have a phone that speaks words to me over and over again and I STILL cannot remember "You are welcome" in Chinese. It’s gotten so bad I have started forgetting what I had for breakfast, while still sitting at the table. This small detail means that we need to trek across the city to the nearest clinic so we can communicate effectively with the doctors without pantomime. Yes, Susanne rocks at ordering dinner without speaking a word, but I think explaining the medical history and asking for an ear tube checkup might prove slightly more challenging.

We had to get up early to get going, but our day didn't begin with our trek across town. Our day began with Susanne learning of her mother’s breast cancer surgery results, and I received a skype call from my oldest son, Jacob. He shared my birthday card via skype video and my day started (and ended) with Star Wars Theme music. The birthday card played Star Wars and we also watched Star Wars Episode I at the end of the day. We picked it up from our favorite DVD store.


The day was starting well. I was wearing my new and apparently genuine Tommy Bahama (at likely Not Joking Price) shirt that Susanne picked up at the Silk Market, my first birthday gift of the day. I was already getting email notifications from my Facebook wall. Thank you to all who thought to post a day earlier at home so that I received them on my actual birthday. Now I know who my real friends are. The rest of you don't worry, I probably have already and will likely continue to forget all your birthdays completely anyway. Let’s call it even.

We had a sadly interesting subway ride and arrived at the precise location I knew we would (I told you I am becoming a subway pro), and then I was immediately lost because I expected to be on the right side of a busy road (facing north). We were, but we were ALSO on the left side of a busy road. The subway station was in a large plaza like area between two very busy roads. But fear not, for I had planned ahead. I had three pieces of paper. One with the address of the Beijing Family Hospital in English and Chinese, another with the name of the subway station in both languages for the return cab trip back AND I also printed the instructions for the bus route, although other than the bus number needed, I failed to translate the bus stops to English so we had no idea where we were supposed to get off the bus. So, a cab ride it was. This was a very easy task once we got past the gentlemen who aggressively began speaking to us in Chinese. I don’t feel so stupid now because we are not the only ones who assume that the simpler words in our language MUST be understood worldwide, because he as many other do continued to say the same word, over and over again, and S…L…O…W…L…Y……A..S…..I…F……T…H…I…S……H…E…L…P…S. It does not help A…T……A…L…L. We jumped into a waiting cab and headed out.

I have realized how cost effective cab rides in Beijing can be. This drive was 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and was only 18 yuan (less than 3 dollars). Not only cost effective but being in a cab you can quickly spot the “SEX APPLIANCE SHOPS” along the way. This cannot be done from the subway. Oh stop, you know you were wondering where they were, and for only $4.95 I will provide you with a complete map of all their locations in Beijing. After adding a new sex appliance shop to my list (I am hoping to pitch it and get it sold as Frommer’s Guide To Sex Appliance Shops – Beijing Edition), we arrived at the Beijing Family Hospital.

One of the things about Beijing that both Susanne and I have noticed is that it’s like living in the 50’s, except without poodle skirts, Little Richard or June Cleaver. BUT they do live in many ways like Americans did in the 50’s (and it’s not the good stuff either). Nylon stockings have seams, smoking is socially acceptable, and men don’t cook or clean (ok, some of the things from the 50’s were GREAT and NEED to come back) and dental assistants dress in outfits that give me a chuckle every single time I see them. They look kind of like this (except more Chinese). The hospital was no different to me. Don’t get me wrong, they have computers and coffee shops with espresso in the lobby, and it’s not like the medical dark ages, but so many things just LOOK or FEEL old fashioned. For example (sorry, no pic) the scale that Emily was asked to stand on for her weight was not like the sliding weight units most of us are used to. It was a round Michael Graves looking design with a spinning needle pointer. When the nurse tried to take Emily’s temperature she pulled out (GASP) a thermometer. Ok, it was a digital thermometer, but it still had to go under her tongue and this was nearly a traumatic experience. We use the forehead type at home and at the doctor’s office, so Emily nearly peed her pants because she saw that thermometer and thought she was going to get a shot. Boy, I remember when we used to ask for shots for just for fun. Kids these days.

You think I am making this all up about feeling like the fifties? Oh, I DO have pictures for you, and I asked first so I wouldn’t get yelled at like Susanne does. Did you know it’s actually MORE embarrassing to be yelled at in a foreign language?!

We were ultimately called to see the E.N.T. doctor who was a woman, so I guess we didn’t actually time travel back to the fifties. A very nice doctor who spoke pretty good English and asked a good deal of questions, setting our mind at ease that she actually cared about what led up to our visiting her. Then she pulled out the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell night vision goggles headset. They looked EXACTLY like this, except not black, and there were no green lights, and they likely weren’t night vision, but other than that they were EXACTLY the same ones. And no, the nurse wasn’t hanging upside down.  She may have had a knife, but I didn’t pat her down, so I can’t say for sure.


This was a monocular/binocular behemoth of a headset with a flashlight duct taped to the side. It was likely she had permanent bolts mounted to her skull hidden under her hair to hook this to this thing so it couldn’t slide off. Ok, I didn’t SEE any bolts or duct tape, but she had dimmed the lights so that does not mean they weren’t there.


Emily was blinded by this thing and threw her hands up to protect her eyes. The doctor performed a very thorough exam and then proved to me that we were in the modern age. She pulled out an endoscope which was hooked up to a TV monitor and we were able to watch her examine Emily’s ears and tubes. It was really cool, and it was a relief to hear that all was well and there was no infection. She informed us that she would provide us with antibiotic ear drips JUST IN CASE (which does not happen at home) and some saline spray for her nose and that we could pick them up at the in house pharmacy (conveniently attached to the cashier counter).

You will likely be as shocked as I was to learn that my insurance card does not work here and that we would need to pay cash, or Visa, because it’s everywhere you want to be, OR we could pay with American Express and get at 20% discount. Damn, and I left my American Express Centurion card at home. It turned out we didn’t need it because the entire visit including prescriptions ran us 860 yuan or about $129 which INCLUDED our prescriptions. Because many foreigners use this hospital and cash payment is required they politely provide not one, but two ATM machines for your convenient use right in the waiting room of the pharmacy.


Even though I had stolen cash from the singing blind beggar’s bag on the subway (don’t worry, she didn’t see a thing) and as such had plenty of cash to pay for our appointment, Susanne insisted on using the Visa. Sweet, now we can pay cash for a Starbucks coffees. We left feeling much better about our situation and glad that Emily’s ear was not infected. It was a great way to start the day.

They guy in the wheelchair with an ankle the size of Schwarzenegger's neck was not so lucky, and yes, I am referring to Terminator Schwarzenegger, not Governor Schwarzenegger.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE that video! Ordering dinner is like a game-- next time do pictionary!