Remember when I told you not to eat durian and not to get offended when Asian people smile during tense situations? Here's another one for your Asian Survival Handbook: Don't go to a Chinese hospital. I don't care if you're having a heart attack, try your damndest to get the ambulance to take you to a Western hospital. Trust me on this one.
I won't share why I was in the hospital, but there are so many comical (and educational) moments from my recent adventure that I just had to share with you. I'll start from the beginning...
We live on an island with no cars and no hospital. I'd always thought, "What will we do in an emergency? Where will we go?" Then I pushed that thought right out of my mind because we're young and healthy, so who cares?
Which brings me to the scene in our apartment around 11pm on a Tuesday night - V and I freaking out about what to do and who to call during our medical crisis. None of the doctors here have after-hours services or numbers; mine has an answering machine which directs you to an ER nurse's station at a Western hospital. After hearing the issue, this nurse told us to call 999 - not 911 - and have an ambulance take us to an A&E (Accidents & Emergencies) not an ER, immediately.
Words don't do justice to V's "conversation" with the Chinese 999 dispatcher. I think the call took longer than the actual ambulance arriving. When they arrived, the very sweet Chinese EMTs informed me that we were going to Princess Margaret Hospital. "Sounds pretty Western," I thought. Um, no and it was a 45 minute drive! Not sure what they would've done had I needed critical care. Seasoned expats here say they'll wait for the ferry (could take up to 30 mins) to take it to Hong Kong Island (another 30 mins) and drive to a Western hospital (another 30 mins). What once seemed ridiculous now makes perfect sense.
We arrive at the hospital and I'm placed in a cubby hole (you can't call something without walls a room, can you?) with a man who I'd estimate to be around 105 years old, wheezing loudly and sounding like he's about to die (literally).
Oh but wait --before that, as I'm being wheeled in, this old Chinese nurse comes up with an ear thermometer and shoves it in my ear so hard that I jerk my head away and yelp, "ouch, that hurts!" Completely unfazed, she shoves it in even harder yelling "TEMPERATURE!" I then have the visceral reaction of slapping her hand away from my head. She grabs my arm and tries holding me down, like I'm some pscyh patient. (V is checking me into the ER so I'm by myself dealing with this crazy lady.) I yell again, sitting up this time, ready to come to blows with this lady if I have to (I must have a good 40 lbs on her) when a young nurse and doctor step in and (I'm guessing) tell her to stop in Cantonese. She then proceeds to (again, guessing) curse me out in Cantonese. The only word I can make out is "temperature" but there are lots of mafiosa-like hand gestures that universally mean "fuck off".
Another key learning - little Chinese ladies are surprisingly strong.
Yes, I did think about getting up and walking out at that point. (I can hear you asking the computer this right now.) But, I figured I'm here, I'll have a few tests done and be on my merry way.
Except that instead I sat in my cubby hole listening to a man wheeze for over an hour. The doctors took one simple test and then admitted me upstairs to the hospital. "Aah, here's where things get better," I think. Now I leave the ghastly "general population" and get my own room, dedicated care, etc.
Wrong again! I'm given hospital issue PJs (the only redeeming part of this nightmare as they are cute and comfy flannel PJs -- could've been Land's End!) and led to a room with 10 beds in it. First I'm asked what kind of food I eat - and when I respond "Western" they inform me that option is gone so I'll be given a Chinese breakfast. (Just when you think hospital food can't get any worse...) V is sent home and I spend the night in a hospital room (actually, more like Army barracks) with 10 other women. There are no walls or curtains between us, so I could literally reach out and hold hands with the women on either side of me. I didn't.
As you can imagine, it wasn't a good night's sleep. The lights were on, women were snoring, machine alarms were going off intermittently and nurses were coming in and waking us up. At 6:30am - after not having been seen by a doctor once this entire time - I go to the nurses station and ask what the deal is. I'm informed that I won't be seen by a doctor until well after 9am and start doing the math. My regular doctor - who speaks perfect English, understands Western care and knows my history, will be in her office by 9am, so I check myself out, despite the protests of the nurse. I want to get out of there before my Chinese breakfast arrives.
Looking back I realize that what should've been a medical experience was really just a night in a cheap hostel. The only upside (besides the PJs, which I contemplated stealing but then thought about all the people who'd worn then before me and got really grossed out) was that the entire night cost me $200HKD or around $28USD.
Later that morning my regular doctor laughed when I told her I'd stayed overnight at Princess Margaret (and she's local!)