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singapore sunset
amw
I still remember the first time i went to the doctor in Berlin. It was an optimistic attempt to get back on the meds i'd been taking for 10+ years before faltering in my last stretch in Toronto. Aside from the annoyance at being denied the prescription and referred on to some specialist to sort it out, the experience did make me feel like i had reached a deeper connection with my new hometown.

Part of it is the buzz of being able to confidently explain your decrepitude in the local language, but i think a bigger part is spending a few hours with your neighbors in that universal limbo that is a doctor's waiting room.

Here in China i have been a little worried about visiting the doctor. Partially because i wasn't sure my Chinese was up to snuff, but also because of how critical both expats and snobby locals are about the Chinese healthcare system.

I should point out that China - despite being a country run by the Communist Party, and by a government that claims to be socialist - does not have universal healthcare. It does subsidize a basic level of care, but advanced treatments are an out-of-pocket expense that most poor cannot afford. Depressingly, there are also lots of private medical clinics that cater exclusively to the rich and insured.

I am rich and insured. This is one of the things i fought the hardest when i started working here: i wanted to decline private health cover. As an expat in China, having health insurance is fucking the country twice over - once because by definition private health insurance undermines the public system, then on top of that foreigners who have private health insurance are exempt from paying social security tax. As if that wasn't enough, our company's group plan isn't even provided by a Chinese-owned company, so it's the ultimate fuck you to our local community.

So when i realized this morning i should probably see a doctor, i felt dirty setting up my account.

Let's rewind a few weeks. I got blindingly drunk. I fell off a bike. You would think i would've injured myself while drunk, but actually what happened is that in my hangover i somehow moved my arm in a weird way and i heard a snap and my back started to hurt. I was in such a state i didn't put two and two together till a couple of days later when i realized breathing was very painful because of the stabbing shoulder pain that resonated all the way around to my boob.

I told myself it would go away. I searched around online and decided i had strained my infraspinatus, or twinged a nerve back there or something. I started doing some stretches and bought Tiger Balm, because even though it's snake oil, it's snake oil that reminds me of dad, and i am a firm believer in the power of good memories/good vibes making you feel less shitty about a very real injury.

It didn't get better.

Monday i had a weird, woolly headache. I almost felt like i was going to faint by the end of the day. I figured it might be the heat.

Yesterday, when i got home, i took my shoes off, thinking that the pins and needles i'd had all day were due to a tight sock or something.

Yeah, no.

I woke up this morning with the whole right side of my body numb. As i type this now i still have pins and needles in my foot and fingers. If you have been a heavy drinker or addicted to other drugs you might be familiar with the sensation, as i was, but it's really fucking alarming when it happens and you didn't consume anything that could have caused it.

Perhaps i am being a little paranoid since my mom just got that surprise cancer diagnosis, but i figured i should go to the doctor.

So, after filling in my details, i checked out my health insurance's list of recommended doctors. Every. Single. One. Was in Hong Kong. Like, fuck off. There are twice as many people in Shenzhen as there are in Hong Kong, and you mean to tell me there's not a single doctor here worth visiting? To be fair, the coverage we were provided with was the Hong Kong plan, not the mainland plan. I guess it's mostly catering to the expats who only come into the office once a week and spend the rest of their time in Hong Kong because mainland China is so dirty and dangerous and inscrutable, or something.

Next i checked out the list of recommended doctors when traveling "abroad" in China. Every. Single. One. Was not in Luohu District. Most were out in Shekou (Nanshan District), plus a few in Futian CBD, but come the fuck on. You mean to tell me i need to travel to the next goddamn borough over just to see a doctor? There's a hospital one fucking block from my house!

I should have known better than to check the expat websites too. They universally advised going to Hong Kong for healthcare, because Chinese doctors aren't to be trusted, and the hospitals are filthy and bla bla bla.

In the end i said the hell with every flop fucking laowai in this Shen/Kong area and resolved to forge my own path.

That was the moment i discovered the hospital a block from my house is a psychiatric hospital. Well. Good to know.

Fortunately there is another large hospital on the south end of 翠竹, the little green bamboo hill. I stopped into Starbucks for a morning coffee and grumbled at the 27元 price tag, then crossed the road into the hospital i cycle past every day.

It was insane. There were people everywhere. I knew from one of my Chinese lessons last year that the first thing you need to do is 挂号 (grab a number), but it's not like grabbing a number in the west - you need to pay first. But first first you have to know which specialist to grab the number for. I guess if you are a regular that's no problem, but i don't fucking know. I went to the "pre-triage" and mumbled something about my back and i can't feel my legs. She wrote down on a piece of paper 脊椎外科, which means spine/back external medicine. I paid 33元 for my number, grumbled again at the price of Starbucks coffee, then went up 3 floors to wait.

All the floors were equally busy. Filled with people chattering, playing mobile games, grabbing numbers, getting their blood pressure done, going to another pre-triage, yelling at the nurses because they missed their slot... It was far cry from the earnest silence of German waiting rooms. No magazines. No TV. Just the hustle and bustle of hundreds of other sick, injured and impatient people.

Eventually my number was up. I left the door open because it seemed like that was the right thing to do. During the 10-15 minute consultation the doc ducked out once to check on someone else and at least 5 people ran through my room to get to another room and/or just nosy about to see what was up with the ailing barbarian. This is fucking China. It's not really rude, it's just that in a place with lots of people living on top of each other all the time, the idea of privacy is different. Why would you bother to close the door unless you're going to get naked?

I didn't need to get naked. The doc listened to my story and poked me and prodded me and moved my arm one way and the other and said i shouldn't worry. I said, dude, i can't feel my foot. I am worried. He said, if you can walk and move your arm around, well, clearly you're not dead. (I am paraphrasing.) He prescribed me some NSAID pads and asked if i wanted painkillers too. I said no, because i don't like to take drugs unless i am really, really fucking dying. And this pain is just a dull thrum. Could be worse. Could be dead.

Out the door and back to reception/accounting (there's one on every floor, plus self-service terminals to grab a number and pay using WeChat). Tossed them another 100-something kuai for the NSAIDs. Down to the pharmacy. In, out, done.

It was the most efficient doctor's visit of my life. No bullshit trying to send me off for a billion fucking blood tests and X-rays and CAT scans and EKGs like Australia, Canada or Germany. No trying to toss every drug under the sun at me like in America. Just some poking and prodding and questions and alright then. Here's some NSAIDs, please stop hunching over your computer, put down your phone, drink less alcohol and get more serious about stretching.

I mean, that's what a fucking doctor is supposed to do. I can't tell you how many times i've been redirected to 17 fucking specialists and spent assloads of money only to be told it's nothing. I mean, obviously when it's something, it's something. But when it's nothing, it's nothing. All i need is to hear someone who's been through med school to tell me it's nothing when it's nothing and then i can get on with my life.

Hell, even if it turns into something later, at least right now it's nothing.

When i got into the office the IT director said he has the same thing. Sore back. Numb foot. Gettin' old. Fuck yeah. Now my manager is in the loop he's telling me every hour to get off my ass and stretch.

That's fucking healthcare. Ye can stick yer poncy private Wan Chai clinic.

Now just wait for this day to come back and bite me in the ass in 6 months. Heh.