My friends and I shared such a great time that Saturday night. I had just met this couple two weeks ago and they had been living in Ningbo for only three!
We met at this beautiful Middle Eastern restaurant in Lao Waitan, ordered lamb, cheese bread, a few drinks. Later on our Colombian dance instructor arrived with his Chinese girlfriend. We were all so excited! We danced bachata, salsa, merengue, vallenato, champeta… Oh my gosh! I was in Paradise.
The Morning After
Around 6 a.m I woke up with horrible spasmodic stomach pain and diarrhea. I went back to bed hoping it was temporary, but “it ain’t!” Since I last got sick my questions about emergency procedures hadn’t been answered, I texted the officer in charge of health insurance and our coordinator in separate messages:
“I woke up with a lot of pain and diarrhea. What should I do in case of emergency?”
The officer responded plainly:
“No. 2 Hospital.”
“What’s the address?”
No response whatsoever, and no news from the coordinator either. I was bending over with every spasm when I remembered I still had Hospital 2 as my contact on WeChat. They sent me one of the assistance’s (a.k.a. bilingual person or VIP) card. I told her my symptoms and she asked me for my insurance card. Back to the school’s health insurance officer.
“You don’t have insurance card. You pay fully first and the school will cover your first 1,000 […] Contact your coordinator.”
“She hasn’t responded.”
Sounds familiar? It’s because it is!
The doctor’s assistance also said I should pay 500 yuan for consultation with cash, but I was in so much pain I couldn’t think how to make it to the school gate, wait for a taxi, get out of the taxi, withdraw the money… So I asked if I could pay through WeChat, which is what most people use for almost any transaction.
“If you can’t accept this, you can see the doctor by yourself.”
Wow, people! Is it the culture or is it the translation?
“Yes, I can pay with cash!”
Then she sends me two lines of happy face emojis…
The Ride to the Hospital
I messaged one of the teachers from the international school and his response was so different.
“Yes! Meet me by my car in ten minutes!”
He stopped at the ATM where I withdrew some money, though I almost fainted. We continued to the hospital, which was full so there was no parking. Despite himself, he dropped me at the hospital entrance. This is not like the United States where they put you in a wheelchair as soon as they see you. I had to painfully walk through the parking lot and find a seat by the information center where I called my VIP person.
“You see? It’s 9:10! Your appointment is at 9:30! I’m not there! You wait! Understand?”
Whatever, they just like to yell…
LingLing met me, introduced herself, and started walking. She was almost out of sight when I yelled, “Wait for me!” Then whispered, “I’m too sick to follow.” We went upstairs where she opened an office with a desk and a couch where I lied down almost immediately.
“You need fill out this form!” She said putting the form on the doctor’s desk and going back to her cell phone. I stood up and noticed the form was in Chinese, so she translated it for me.
“You have to pay 501 yuan, 1 yuan for hospital book.”
She offered me water, but then said to wait because the water was room temperature and that’s not good.
“You should drink hot water because you’re sick. Hot water is good for your body. Doctor will come in twenty minutes.” I lied down again while she watched videos on her cell phone… loudly.
The blood work
Suddenly LingLing stood up and told me to follow her.
“We need your blood.”
She walked fast, then stopped to wait for me, which she continued doing until we arrived to the lab. We stood behind a chair with a man who was getting his blood work done. When he left I gave a step to take his place when another man came running and sat as if I wasn’t even there. He rolled up his sleeve speaking very quickly, while I sat at another chair not believing my eyes. We went back to the office after the nurse filled up two little tubes with my blood.
The doctor came and asked if I’d had a fever, to what I answered, “I don’t think so.” So she didn’t take my temperature.
She touched my stomach pushing gently, “Ouch!” I said a couple of times.
“Okay. You need to go get an injection.” She said in Chinese while my VIP was interpreting simultaneously.
“Injection for what?” The VIP’s voice interpreting could be heard as background noise.
“For pain. Go!”
We went to the third floor where LingLing told me to wait at an opened IV area. I was there minding my own business when a teenage girl came excited, sat next to me, and took a selfie with me in the background. Most people had cell phones and some of them were playing loud music or watching videos.
My VIP took me to another room where a shirtless man was getting injected in one arm, then she told me to pull down my pants to get my injection.
“What? But that man is still here!”
She exchanged a few words in Chinese with the man who finished putting on his shirt quickly, but I was still looking at the open door which (noticing how uncomfortable I felt) LingLing closed.
We went back to the office where I lied down again. I was having a pleasant dream when my stomach woke me up.
“I need to go to the bathroom!”
LingLing walked me to the office door and pointed to the end of the aisle.
“Go there. You see the sign? Then turn right.”
Oh boy, why isn’t the bathroom next to the doctor’s office? I was walking as fast as I could tightening hips and thighs all the 30 meters to the bathroom, opened the door and… there was no toilet paper!
When I turned around LingLing was standing by the door and for a second I thought she would have brought me some tissue.
“What happened?” She asked.
“There’s no toilet paper!” I said hoping maybe she’d get it for me.
“Oh, go to office. Doctor has.” Maybe my body language didn’t tell her I was about to stain my pants!
It took me a while to find the box of tissues because it wasn’t on the doctor’s desk. When I was leaving the office, LingLing was standing by the door! Why was she following me?
I returned to the restroom (all the toilets were squatters), I went down, relieved myself, and when I was pulling my pants back up the squatter flushed down automatically splashing my jeans with my own diarrhea. “Ugh…” I thought while I was walking to the sink to wash my hands, but there was no soap, so I only rinsed them, and when I reached for the paper towels… the box was empty. Luckily, I was carrying a little bottle of hand sanitizer which I almost emptied in my hands to the surprised look of strangers (wait a minute, I am the stranger.)
Back at the office I fell asleep until the doctor woke me up.
“Your blood is okay. You have an intestinal inflammation caused by food that wasn’t properly cooked,” she said in perfect English!
“Take this, eat noodles or rice with little oil, and drink hot water with salt”
When she was about to leave I felt another couple of abdominal spasms, so I asked her why the pain wasn’t gone after the injection.
“Maybe you need a day to rest. I will write a note.” She left with the VIP.
LingLing came back with a bunch of fãpiào or receipts, the doctor’s note, and three small boxes.
“Take this okay? Here is the medicine, okay? Bye bye!”
“Wait! This is Chinese! How am I supposed to take it?”
“This one, one pill three times a day before a meal…” She started impatiently, and before I could ask her if she could write it down for me on a piece of paper she gave me a pen.
“Write on the box!”
I didn’t want to be obnoxious, but I needed her to help me find a taxi. We went downstairs, she wrote in Chinese what to tell the taxi driver.
“Taxis are outside, okay? I go home. Bye bye.”
C- for customer service.
I walked outside still in pain and saw no taxis. When I saw one, the couple that was walking behind me ran to grab it. Fortunately, there was another one coming right behind it. I showed the note to the taxi, he brought me home where I texted my friends that I was sick. They said they had been sick too, though not as bad as I was. I contacted the restaurant but they denied everything.
Two days later I was still sick and I texted my doctor. Their answer:
“I am orthopedics, not intern, you can call VIP.”
Well, life in China is certainly very interesting.