It’s been like this for four or five days…

Part 2 in Our “How to Navigate China with next to Zero Mandarin” Series

Remember when we said we'd share with you the good the bad and sometimes the ugly? Well, this is a little of it all.

So, on our way to Chengdu, China (deep in the West of China) we stopped to buy our train tickets for an overnight train there and had to stay overnight in Guangzhou. But that's good, right? Because it means that we get to hear a little more Cantonese, so Tracie can understand things a bit longer, while I'm still in the dark, and we can taste the original true blue Cantonese style cooking, unadorned, right?

Right, but it comes with a catch we didn't quite expect. Morning we leave to catch the train I roll out of bed and ask Tracie how she feels and if the mosquitoes bothered her as much as they bothered me. She says, “…what mosquitoes, I didn't hear anything last night?” I show her the bite on my leg, she shrugs, I shrug, I spray some anti-itch spray on it and away we go on to our great big bad train adventure. But here we don't tell you about the train or about the Cantonese cooking that we all love so well.

Meanwhile, we've been in Chengdu for about 4 days, we've really enjoyed our days here. Its relaxed pace and tasty food and intriguing street life have kept us busy day and night, walking up and down streets, trying to figure out how to order food, trying to get back to our hostel,etc. Amidst all of this, my right leg has progressively gotten worse in degrees of itchiness. So much so that I took pictures one day and sent them off to my doctor sister in Seattle while she was vacationing and asked her for advice.

Well, can't sit still Wayne goes to doing a little research online about bite patterns and reactions to certain insect bites and for the life of me, the symptoms, to my surprise and chagrin, they don't match with mosquitoes they match with BEDBUGS!

Now, I know what you are all thinking at this point, oh m god they are dragging around bedbugs, well we aren't so don't ban us from home or scurry away with disgust, it was only one bite. There is no lagging evidence that we ever encountered them but the symptoms were enough and my leg had swollen up a bit, so we put our traveler's insurance phone number to use and called them up on Skype to get a location of somewhere I could go and get treated or at least examined. We had no idea what to expect.

The next day, we flashed the Chinese words for Sichuan University Hospital of Western China to another crazy-ass cabbie and landed up the street from the hospital. The cab driver, having ejected us at the corner, waved his arm in a general direction we ended up walking and we ventured into the giant Outpatient wing of the sprawling university hospital campus. Now what?

No, seriously, now what? Where the hell do we go? Chinese signs everywhere with a smattering of English hear and there, it's like Jackson Pollock painted the signs, nearly all meaningless when stared at directly but sometimes we felt an inkling of understanding or supposition that we knew what they meant in English.

We head towards the doors with the most people going in and out and towards the sparse English signs here and there that try and re-assure us that “oh..someone will be here who can help you…you just stop your worrying…” No, worry. Worry the whole way. You can't help it.

We go ask one lady, with Tracie plying her excuse me I'm American and we need to see an English speaking doctor. Blank stare followed by rapid Chinese directed to Tracie, her again in broken Mandarin “I don't speak Chinese? May we speak to someone who speaks English?” Attendant laughs a little crazy laugh behind her stupid face mask (these things are everywhere by the way-last I remember they just keep out dust, not germs) and continues in Mandarin, then she tries writing in Chinese characters her probably thinking to herself “Oh, then surely she can read Chinese?”

Nope. Tracie can't, at least not that much. I show her my leg, and she goes looking for a piece of paper. She has two boxes, picture xerox copy paper box-tops turned up-end one at the end of the counter we stand at and one at another. These boxes are filled with post-its with pre-printed Chinese characters on them. I'm guessing this is their way of triaging patients, they hand them a post-it with the right department or what not and off they are shuttled.

We figure out that she's probably directing us to somewhere and she points upstairs. We figure out that she is saying second floor in Mandarin, so we go up there and head to a desk that again has English “Information Center” emblazoned underneath the Chinese part of the sign. Tracie walks with me and we try and figure out what is next, where do we go. We show the nurse/attendant the slip we were handed and then she looks directly at Tracie and rattles off in Mandarin. Finally, she grabs this card out of a guys hand who is standing at the counter forcefully pushing his way past us and gets it across, through repitition of the same Mandarin words and the way she holds the card that “oh shit, we need one of those…she's asking us if we have one of those…”. We motion that we don't and she sends us back to the first floor, where we guess we can get one somehow.

We go up to every machine that looks like it could dispense a card of that type. All in Chinese, none anything more than an ATM of some kind, that may or may not be tied to this card thingy she showed us. Tracie suggests I go up to the other information counter by myself, I can see in her eyes she's exasperated with everyone speaking directly to her when I'm the patient and not being able to help herself much due to her and my own limited Mandarin.

So, I head over to the information desk on the second floor that we were at earlier, where I show the woman the phrase that says I need a doctor. I didn't even want to try and screw it up, we had already been there about 30 minutes by this point and wouldn't you know it, she speaks a bit of English to me. She actually knows enough to sort of get across ideas to me. She says, “Do you have card?” I say no. She gets across that I can get one downstairs, but I give her the deer in headlights look and say “Where?”

Finally, it dawns on someone, that hey, maybe this person is completely screwed and it is going to be just as easy to show them as to try and tell them. She says “Follow me”. So finally, I get to follow someone to where I need to go. There she is with her mask on, we ride all the way back downstairs, she takes me over to this counter, down the hall from where we ever went up to this point. It's a nondescript counter, could have been one of those counters where you sign up for a credit card if I didn't know any better. She asks me for 2 Kuai (2 RMB). With that I get the plastic card that the previous lady waved at my face. “Ah ha!”

Next, she walks me over to a window a few steps away, where we shove through the line and she explains to the attendant what I need, she takes that little post it from earlier that the woman had scrawled some Chinese on and hands it to the guy. I pay 30 RMB and get a ticket.  Then we walk back to the waiting area on the second floor and she says wait here.

We find a seat and we wait. We wait. We wait. About an hour and a half later I look at the ticket and decipher that hey it looks like an appointment time for 3:30-4pm. Right then it was about 50 minutes away. We're hungry. We debate leaving and realize its not a good idea it now being so close to when I should go in. Then we figure out what the rest of the ticket means. It has my patient number #27 and the examining room that I'll be going into #1, specifically for skin problems (yes, that glance that the attendant did earlier was that important). We watch names and numbers go by wondering if we missed mine or what the deal is when suddenly the only Romanized name comes across the screen and makes the automated announcer die a hard death pronouncing my name.

I leap up, drag Tracie with me, we walk into the cubicle, where there are three doctors, two younger and one older.  The older doctor says “Hello, what's the problem?” Which surprises me and makes me asks her to repeat. Once, we get the ball rolling a lift of the pant leg again and a little pantomiming and translating from Mandarin to English and back again, it seems the younger ones know more than the older on certain terms, she tells me it was probably an insect bite and then proceeds to prescribe me a bunch of stuff. I have no idea what, but I can tell that is what she is doing. She hands me the paper and sends me off and away again, I stop and ask them where and she says 1st floor.

We head downstairs only realizing once we get down there that “..hey that was pretty vague directions there being only signs in Chinese!…”  Learning from our earlier mistakes, I head over to a woman in pink with a face mask. She's helping someone else, but I'm not stupid anymore, I've realized these younger “nurses” speak a little English…maybe. I wait for her to finish and show her my prescription thingy. She speak to me in Mandarin. Stubbornly I speak to her in English, I avoid trying to speak Chinese at all, and it works, she tells me she'll take me over there and away we go.

I'm whisked over to the same window that I paid for my “ticket/visit/examination” earlier and I pay 74.60 RMB. Then we walk over to the windows directly across the room, numbered from 1-25+, and I have a specific window to go to based on my receipt received from the previous window. But all this information is in Chinese characters so it's nice to have a little nurse in pink to lead me over there.

She points me to the window and walks away. Her job is done. I hand the woman the receipt and she babbles to me in Mandarin and I stare blankly and she babbles some more and hands it back. I stand there dumbfounded for a bit, but stubborn I remain. I wait. I'm thinking, “ I'll bet she was telling me, ' 'you dummy it isn't ready yet, wait until I call you!' “ So I wait. Eventually, once she has the basket in hand she recruits someone else, who speaks English to ask me “Are you allergic to any medications?” “Anything?” Me-”No. Nothing.” Then she hands me 5 boxes and one bottle and a receipt back. I walk away.

Here is what I got for $106.60 RMB: One examination/consultation with a Doctor(s), One plastic card with my information attached to it and I assume my medical information now (they asked me my name and how old I was and that is it), a bunch of receipts (see photos), 120ml bottle of calamine lotion, 40/250mg Amoxicillan capsules, 12 Clarityne  tablets (note the spelling difference a.k.a. Loratidine), and a tube of topical steroidal cream. All for $17.19 US. Despite the language challenges they still got me in and out and everything I needed all in under 3 hours.

Warning. One of the photos below is graphic in gory detail.

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3 thoughts on “It’s been like this for four or five days…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow. I’m glad that you’re ok and even though I already heard this story from Tracie, it just seems like a frustrating experience. Much more so when I had to bring Christian to the doctor in HK! But I have to agree with Tzeh; it’s frustrating when everyone assumes you speak the language and you can’t. At least in Europe everyone pegs you as an American immediately.

  2. Julie Lee says:

    First, I am glad you took care of your problem; second, I have to tip my hat to you and Tracie that both of you kept going even when you were so frustrated by the situation. Next time when you on any public transit or hotel in China check for bed bug before you used them. It is a common problem over there.The green plastic card you received was the emergency medical card. I don’t think they purposely not speak English to you or to Tracie; I think because they can’t speak English so they think speaking Chinese to you somehow you might get it. My mother did that to my friends all the time; she just think if she talks to them they will somehow understand her. I always amazed how my mother can get through with people speaking English to her. You certainly is having an adventure of your life!! Keep going and have fun! Tracie probably get the same treatment when she goes to Korea and Japan. They probably assume she is one of them since she kind of look like them.Tracie you shouldn’t be surprised that in Thailand they thought you were Thai. Remembered when you were a kid; you were cast as Alaskan. Remembered one time the woman thought you were half Chinese and half Philip-no because you gotten so dark.

  3. Anonymous says:

    ha ha ha!So cool; I have been to that ER.We toured it when I was in Chengdu last year teaching. I remember walking through, nodding, looking, wondering…saw the numbered windows, the nondescript counters, the institutional gray and blue, and the many hallways and ‘specialized’ exam areas. Thanks for getting all bedbugged up so I could experience through you what it is in fact like to be a patient there. Good work!Love, Jen

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