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Wed Feb 15, 2012, 06:40 AM


Expat In China (series) Written by my father

This is what he wrote about his near-death experience.

It was bound to happen – I was introduced to the intricacies of the Chinese medical system. Before anyone asks “did you survive?” let me say that I prefer it, for all its insanity and stupidity, to the American system. The Chinese system is very different from the American. In the American system, if you have health insurance, you can see the doctor. If not, you either pay cash up front or are escorted out onto the sidewalk and wait there until you collapse and get brought back in by the ambulance corps. Now you face a much more expensive treatment plan with greatly inflated prices you will be expected to pay, so the medical industry will simply drive you into bankruptcy. Obamacare notwithstanding, there are tens of millions of people for whom this is a simple fact of life.

In the Chinese system you get right into the hospital, get a diagnosis and then take that diagnosis to the cashier. You pay “up front” for your care – including any drugs, transfusions, medical supplies, etc that you need. When the cashier gives you the receipt you present the receipt to the doctor and you get treated. The hospitals do not take “assignment” of your insurance benefits – that is between you and the Insurance company – you pay in full right up front.

Here's my little Exodus.

Thursday around noon I felt severe heart pounding, cold sweats, weakness, shortness of breath and the inability to stand. My son called the ambulance. My blood pressure and heartrate were both through the roof. I was transported to Shijiazhuang Hospital #2. It took them 5 hours to stabilize me but because my symptoms indicated several different life-threatening medical issues they wanted to send me to a different (better) hospital for them to further diagnose.


“Would you like to go to Beijing International Hospital by ambulance or by train?” To some people that sounds like a simple question, but it really isn't. The hospital staff just spent 5 hours getting me stable enough to transport, I indicate any of three life threatening conditions and they are asking the patient if he wants to leave the hospital and proceed to the Shijiazhuang train station without any medical backup and proceed by public transportation to Beijingxi Station without medical backup, arriving around 3 in the morning and then somehow get to a hospital (which, it turns out is on the OTHER side of Beijing) also without any medical backup, and just walk in and announce “here I am, I am the person Shijiazhuang #2 told you is dying”.

WESTERN MEDICINE SYSTEM TAKES OVER AGAIN (along with the higher brain functions)

“Or would you rather go direct to the hospital by ambulance with a paramedic and nurse with you?”

You don't have to flip a coin to figure out which answer I gave. I just asked “and what do I do once I get to Beijingxi? Get the ambulance.”

The three and a half hour ambulance ride to Beijing was the most uncomfortable ride I ever had. I was on an IV all the way and therefore flat on my back. The gurney had the thinnest mattress ever created and a metal bar was banging against my coccyx (the tailbone of the spine) every inch of the way. I felt, with excruciating pain, every turn, every lane change, every bump in the road for 400 kilometers. It hurt for the next 4 days.

We arrived at Bejing International Hospital, a very modern hospital that I am told all the foreigners go to. They run their battery of tests and the doctor tells me at 4AM Friday


“You are not in any danger at present, so you are not an Emergency case. You need to go to a renologist at our clinic. He will be back in on Tuesday.”

I ask “what do I do until Tuesday?”

He just looks at me with that dumb look as if to say “stay alive somehow”.

I respond “I can do that at home” and we leave and head back to Shijiazhuang by train without medical backup (and I without any shoes, because in all the confusion at #2 my son had taken them home with him, so I am running all around Beijing barefoot). Try doing THAT in an American city.

At 9AM Friday we arrived back home and fell asleep. When I awoke I hit the internet and did a search for “Shijiazhuang” and “hospital” and found Shijiazhuang Kidney Hospital. It looked promising. I went to their web site, it was in English and they had a “live chat with the doctor” option. I took it.


Talking with he intake person (Sophie) at Shijiazhuang Kidney Hospital, I tell her that Beijing International suggested I talk with a kidney specialist. She asked if I had blood and EKG results. I said “yes” and scanned them and sent them. Within 3 minutes she gets back “how quickly can you get here?” My response “30-45 minutes”.

I was admitted to Shijiazhuang Kidney Hospital's International ward. There were three other patients there – two Americans and a Greek. All have advanced stages of kidney disease, one is already on dialysis. Over the span of 4 days they test me and observe me. I lose 1kg of weight a DAY while I am there. On the 4th day all the test results are in and three doctors, two nurses, an Administrator and a translator come into my room to talk. I get the diagnosis. Not Heart Attack, Not Diabetes, Not Kidney Disease – it is a malfunctioning bladder that is not draining, has backed urine up to the kidneys, damaged them and is flooding my bloodstream with poisonous Urea. Maybe that's why my skin color is now Orange (normal plus yellow). The course of action is obvious – insert a catheter into my bladder and start draining me.


I ask if they can insert the catheter. They respond “no, our treatment uses stem cells plus ancient Chinese herbs and lotions along with hot rocks and massages”. I reply “I am quickly poisoning myself. I need to get this poison flushed out of my body immediately to (a) avoid any further damage to my kidneys and (b) buy me the time to allow for my system to repair itself.” They respond “our treatments will do that.” I reply “Can you insert the catheter? Once that is in we have lots of time to try all the Dances, Chicken Bones, Oregano, Incense and Incantations you want.” They respond “no.” I ask for a referral to a hospital where they can put the catheter in me.


They said “#4 or #2”

#2 is where I started this odyssey 5 days ago.

A taxi ride later we arrive at #2 at 2PM. We go to the Urology Department and meet Dr Chuckles. I call him that because he has the worst patient bedside manner a doctor can have. We (Ginny, Aram and I) enter his intake office – Dr Chuckles is the gatekeeper – and the language barrier goes up immediately. Dr Chuckles speaks no English and our Chinese is not up to the level of Chinese medicine. To make it even more frustrating, we waited an hour to see him while people there before us were seen. In true Chinese manner, people behind us consider us invisible and constantly try to take the doctor away from us so they can have their medical issue looked at. “Take a number” is an unknown concept in China.

Rather than call a hospital administrator to find an interpreter he simply argues with us in Chinese – for an hour. He tries to get us to leave and come back with an interpreter. Finally he calls a hospital administrator and GUESS WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH – the Administrator. We get the order for the battery of tests he wants done, pay for them and get them done. At 5:30 we are back with Dr Chuckles with the test results.


Dr Chuckles sees us. We come into his office. Do you think he would call the Administrator back to translate? Don't be foolish – he repeats the hour of arguing with us to go get a translator again. At 6PM he decides it's his dinner time and the patient in front of him will just have to come back some other time. By this time I am so weak and so medically compromised I have no more fight left in me. Dr Chuckles now points at his watch.... Aram raises the roof. Dr Chuckles calls security. Security calls the Administrator (yes, the same one from earlier this afternoon). Dr Chuckles goes home at 7PM. The Administrator finds another English speaking doctor (trained in the UK) who analyzes the test results. The diagnosis is the same as Kidney Hospital and she agrees to the importance of an immediate insertion of a catheter.


It is 8PM before we finish with the intake. We go downstairs, pay for the catheter and the operation and it is done in ten minutes. My bladder starts draining immediately. It has been draining ever since. As I write this I have had 19 liters of urine removed from my body in 4 days. The first liter took 30 minutes. The 1 liter bag was half full before I left the operating room. It was full before I could cross the street.

For all its insanity, let me say that I have had the same frustration with American medicine. The language barrier doesn't exist but the arrogance of American doctors more than compensates for it. All in all, except for Dr Chuckles, I am happy with the Chinese medical system, it is much more patient friendly than the American system.

Now it's time to tell you what Chinese medical care costs.

Three Emergency Room fees, five hours in Intensive Care, two ambulance rides (one local and one 400 kilometers), four days inpatient in a private specialty hospital and the surgery to insert the catheter costs (before insurance reimbursement) $1,200 USD. The actual surgery cost $6.50 USD for parts and labor (meaning everything)

SUGGESTION TO AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANIES – Stop paying for care at US hospitals – send all your policyholders on Medical Tourism to other countries where the care costs a fraction of what it does in the USA. Even with paying for the visas and the plane tickets, look at all the money you will save and all the additional profits you will realize.

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Reply Expat In China (series) Written by my father (Original post)
Suji to Seoul Feb 2012 OP
Suich Feb 2012 #1

Response to Suji to Seoul (Original post)

Wed Feb 15, 2012, 04:00 PM

1. What a nightmare! Glad everything worked out ok, Suji!

I've read stories about Americans going to India for major surgeries. Even with the cost of airfare, living expenses, and everything else, it's still a lot cheaper and the care is excellent.

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