Asia 2010 China Health Travel Stories

My Night in a Chinese ER!

Hospitals are supposed to be impeccably clean and highly organized, right? Unfortunately, this was not what I found when, much to my surprise, I ended up at one last night!

You see, I have asthma. I’ve always had asthma and it’s never a problem for me unless I’m sick with a respiratory infection, much like I am now. Back home in the U.S., I could just go to a 24 hour clinic and they’d put me on a nebulizer, a machine that turns medicine into a vapor you inhale straight into your lungs. If you’re having an asthma attack, it’s the best way to stabilize your breathing.

I should note that a nebulizer is not a particularly rare piece of equipment. I even have one at home for use in case of emergency that would stave off a visit to a doctor.

But, of course, I’m not home in the U.S., or even in a first world country with modern medical equipment. So at 9:30pm last night, after hours of continuous asthma attacks, I walked downstairs and asked the manager of my hostel, who spoke a decent amount of English, if there was a place in town I could go to get a breathing treatment. She phoned the very same American doctor who I’d spoken with earlier in the week, who indicated my best bet would be at the Shangri-La People’s Hospital, though he was unsure what, if any, sort of nebulizers they’d have there.

And so I was off with the hostel manager in tow. She was a godsend, as, expected, not a soul spoke English at the hospital. As we walked through the door, she warned me rather ominously that the place may not be up to my cleanliness standards… (it wasn’t terrible, but it was far from a squeaky clean sterile-like environment.)

The “Emergency Room” was a whole lot of chaos, as the seemingly world-wide tradition of not forming a queue definitely applied. Prospective patients shoved their way to the front to get the attention of the solitary nurse whose judgment would decide their fate. When it was my turn to be seen, the hostel manager provided the nurse with written instructions from the doctor as to what I needed, though they seemed to go on deaf…errr…eyes.

Instead she gave orders that I first be “checked out,” in what turned into a mini scavenger hunt. First stop was a chest x-ray, followed by a blood test (that had results about 1 minute after my blood was drawn).  Then it was back to get the x-ray results (everything was fine) and pay for said x-ray (which only cost 32 RMB or US$4.40 and rather amazingly, the hostel manager absolutely insisted on paying for! Big shout out to Mai and the whole staff at N’s Kitchen and Lodge who made my extended stay as comfortable as possible). What made the whole experience even more scavenger hunt-like was the fact that at each station we had to hunt down the proper technicians!

Once we had all of the pieces, it was back to the nurse in the “ER,” who eventually analyzed my results and then asked me what exactly I needed. Through the translations of the hotel manager, I indicated that I was having issues breathing and they offered, of all the craziest things, oxygen (which, I suppose, if you don’t know anything about asthma, makes sense), which I turned down. From there, all they could offer me were some medications to take with me…nothing to immediately help stabilize my breathing.

So what did I gain by going to the hospital? Absolutely nothing. I am now in possession of three more medications, only two of which I could identify…a cough syrup (“Compound Glycyrrhiza”), an inhaler (“Salbutamol Aerosol”), and some mysterious pills that even the internet could not identify (“Sodium Houttuyfonate Tablets”), all of which cost me less than 25 RMB or US$3.67!). There was no charge for seeing the ER nurse or for the blood test and I even got to keep the chest x-ray and blood test results as a souvenir!

But what else do I have of my hour or so at a Chinese hospital? Well, I’m always a firm believer that some of the most miserable travel experiences tend to make the best stories. Somehow, I feel like this one will be up there with the best of ‘em!

Oh, and P.S. If anyone can identify those pills, I’d love to know! All I got from Google were a bunch of reports of studies and websites in Chinese…

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By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

2 replies on “My Night in a Chinese ER!”

Sodium Houttuyfonate is a traditional Chinese medicine. It is used to treat patients with mild flu/bronchitis and in children with pneumonia and other respiratory inflammation

Ah cool, thanks! That actually sounds like it would have helped me with what I was experiencing. I didn’t end up taking it as I wasn’t comfortable taking something when I had no idea what it was…

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