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Medical Care In Southwest China

Emergency Medical Care In Southwest China? No Problem

Paul and I flew into Chongqing, China, and found short lines at immigration, an easy walk to the light-rail line, and a young woman on the train who spoke English. Perfect. The young woman helped us find our stop, where we’d been told we’d find reasonably priced hotels of good quality. Perfect again.

We’d specifically chosen to stay in an outlying neighborhood, Nanan district, right on the light-rail line. The location gave us a more relaxed, up-close-and-personal experience in this mega-sized Chinese city. Unfortunately, on our first afternoon out, I had an up-close-and-personal encounter with a sidewalk. I stumbled and fell on my face.

There I was, on the ground, a bit stunned, with blood gushing out of my mouth and nose. A crowd gathered. Someone handed me a Kleenex, then another and another. I heard a voice say to Paul, in English, that I must go to the hospital.

Hospital? We don’t speak Chinese. We knew very little about medical care in China. The U.S. Consulate warns that “Western-style medical facilities with international staffs are not widely available in southwest China.”

But the young woman who suggested the hospital more or less insisted.
She turned out to be a lovely, gracious, practical sort. She took charge with a let’s-go-just-do-it attitude.

She and Paul helped me up. I found I could walk without pain…whew.
She put us in a taxi and rode with us to a neighborhood clinic-hospital with Western-style medical services. She even paid for the cab, refusing Paul’s attempts to reimburse her.

She provided bilingual help at the hospital. We signed up at the front desk, paid a small fee, and the three of us filed into an examination room. Paul and I travel without travel/medical insurance. We prefer to pay cash for what we need in the moment we need medical help. In China, it turns out, hospitals don’t accept U.S. insurance. All comers pay cash for treatment.

A young doctor looked me over and then chatted with the young woman, by now our guiding angel. I needed a scan of my nose. We went back to the lobby and paid cash for the scan. After paying, a technician ushered us into the scanning room…no waiting.

During the scan, our angel asked where we were staying. Paul gave her the hotel’s business card. (We always grab a card when checking into a hotel.) Apparently hotels in China assume responsibility beyond sheets and towels, TV and internet, and beds and air-con. Soon an English-speaking young woman on the hotel’s staff showed up. Now she took charge, again with a let’s-go-just-do-it attitude. Great. And greatly appreciated.

After the scan, Doc, for Paul’s and my sake, used his hands to vividly tell us my nose was broken. The doctor thought I might need surgery and insisted that I go to a major hospital to see an expert.

At first I balked. I needed time to think. The young woman from our hotel suggested we walk over to our hotel, two blocks away, and eat something. Once at the hotel we thanked the first angel who had helped us, and sent her home. I finally decided to adopt the Chinese just-do-it attitude and go to the university hospital. Paul got our passports, credit cards, and all the cash we had on hand. The young woman from our hotel arranged some food. And we were off.

At the university hospital the hotel staff worked the system. First we paid, again, a minor fee to get started. Then I saw a nose expert. She gave me a thorough exam and said I’d heal without any need for an operation. Again, whew! Next I went to the lab for a shot of antibiotics, and, finally, we headed back to the hotel.

Total charges for treatment, in the two different hospitals, amounted to pocket change–a dollar here, 50 cents there. The hospitals charged for materials–medicine, for example, and the scan and shots and so on. These charges amounted to about US$25 in total, very little. Doctors, treatment, and emergency room cost nothing at all.

All taken care of. I love the Chinese let’s-go-just-do-it attitude. And I’m doing fine.

Vicki Terhorst

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