I have just experienced a small corner of the Chinese hospital system, and I have some comments to make.
Today, as part of the process for being allowed to live here for a few years, I’ve undergone a very routine every-expat-has-to health check. My husband experienced the same some weeks before me; it’s really no big deal. I’ve been warned to expect a fatty liver, I can’t think why, why on earth would my liver be fatty?
I showed up at the allotted time. I had my photo taken, filled out some forms and waited my turn. Then I was directed to what has to be the most efficiently run and fast-moving little corridor in medical history, I shall call it: The Corridor of the Bewildered Undressed.
First room: Weight and height (I peeked, ooh look I’m a kilo down in two weeks! And… I got seven centremetres taller? They’re measuring me in my heels!). Never mind, I’m handed a very small robe and instructed to strip to my underwear, I must leave on my lower underwear and my shoes, but BRA OFF! Gulp, okay. I emerge wearing a very small, thin robe and my high-heeled orange sandals. I am now at one with everyone else in The Corridor of the Bewildered Undressed. We clutch our robes closed and offer each other bewildered half-smiles.
What happens next is a bit of a blur, it’s all very overwhelming, it happens too fast for me to think too hard about how it all feels. I am ordered from room to room without explanation or preamble. I do what I’m told quickly and quietly, just like everyone else. I have my blood pressure taken and my bare body examined for surgery scars (I have my gall-bladder surgery scars jabbed by an efficient finger which demands an explanation, I tell the finger ‘gall bladder gone!’ the bearer of the finger nods and makes a note), I have wires stuck on for what may be the worlds fastest EKG, I have a chest x-ray, I have a blood test, my vision is tested on a standard sight chart and what I think must be a colour-blindness test and I have an abdominal ultrasound (during which ‘gall bladder gone!’ is also duly noted). At the conclusion of each test I am instructed to close my robe and I shuffle through The Corridor of the Bewildered Undressed to the next room and the next test. I think the whole experience took around 40 minutes.
Then happily re-dressed, I was back in the car, being driven home through the rainy streets of Shanghai. When I finally had time to reflect on my startling experience, I still couldn’t really articulate how it all felt. Yes it was bewildering, but if I’m honest it wasn’t that it felt bad – just so vastly different to any previous medical experience I’ve had. It was definitely a challenge to my previous ideas about what privacy and informed consent mean within a hospital environment. In New Zealand these two ideals are upheld as some of the highest virtues of the medical profession, where every person is introduced and roles explained, where each procedure would be accompanied by a reassuring explanation (and of course question time), where I would be encouraged to bring a support person and my rights would be displayed in every room – and where insanely long waiting lists are leading to horrible health outcomes for too many people. Its food for thought really, how much of our so-called rights would we be willing to sacrifice for a fast and efficient hospital experience? What I experienced today would have taken months on a waiting list in New Zealand, and days or weeks to actually achieve – I would have felt much more supported, respected and informed –but it would have cost a whole lot more.
I may be going against the grain here, but in all honesty there is something to be said for an express lane to health care. I’m willing to bet there are many people suffering on waiting lists who would be happy to jump the queue and enter The Corridor of The Bewildered, given the choice.
PS. These results just in: I have a fatty liver!!!!!!