Hemorrhoid rings for sale outside Huaxi Hospital, Chengdu 090427 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn
You know you are near a Chinese hospital when you notice the sidewalks full of people walking outside in the open-air in their pyjamas with movable IV-drips or catheter bags in tow. Chinese hospital patient-garb is striped jammies for men and pink floral for women. Women are not so often seen outside but men are because they’re trying to catch a smoke before the nurses shoo them back in again.
I went to our local Huaxi Hospital (Huaxi: West China) yesterday to have a check-up and waded through the usual mix of hundreds of people, cars, taxis and rickshaws before entering the hospital grounds. (How an ambulance can get through this mess is beyond me.) All around the main gates are numerous small businesses that cater to staff, patients and their families. Thus the apothecaries selling medicine and vitamins, the small shops vending scores of donut shaped hemorrhoid rings (labeled “anti-decubitas cushions”, tiffen carriers, spoons, bed pans, and wash basins; florists with their huge floral arrangements; candy, drink and cigarettes kiosks and small restaurants serving food to the hundreds and hundreds of relatives that seem to accompany every patient to the hospital, be it just a regular check-up or a near-death recovery. The hospital itself is massive with numerous floors, departments (with odd English monikers like the “Nuclear Dept”, which I assume is radiology) and even a special Gold Card VIP building for well-to-do Chinese and foreigners who want to fast-track their health-care and avoid the plebes (me included).
I have an acquaintance who works at this hospital and she explained that Chinese hospitals appear extremely crowded but that for every patient there are at least 5-6 relatives in tow. You notice them all jammed up in the elevators, transporting bedding, equipment, extra food, basins and vitamins back and forth, tagging along to examinations, keeping granny company, interpreting a doctor’s advice, listening in for an elderly deaf ear, pushing wheelchairs, giving emotional support or just doing their filial duty.
She feels that Chinese hospitals and hospital care, although appearing chaotic and inefficient on the surface, is much cosier and more personal than Western hospitals. There’s always someone to keep you company, run after a prescription for you or wait in line when you yourself, the sick person, clearly isn’t quite up to it. She related how patients who shared the same diagnosis grouped together and willingly gave each other advice, went off to examinations together and comforted each other, sharing the misery and trying to make it a little less.
Herself a smoker she enjoyed visiting the area where the surgeons hung out to smoke, their ashtrays overflowing with piled up butts. She related how doctors’ in general are very abrupt, curt and matter-of-fact, totally lacking bedside manner and how they could easily tell a patient in front of an entire room of other patients that their diagnosis was cancer. Sometimes the sheer immensity of human beings in China deadens one's sensitivities.