My Experience in a Chinese Hospital


Photo by Nuno Alberto on Unsplash

Despite diligently washing my hands and boiling my water as best I can, only three months after moving to Shanghai I fell ill and needed a doctor.

Unlike in my home country of Australia, if you need to see a doctor here, you’ll need to go to a hospital. (Rather than a General Practitioner’s office).

At first I was confused and wondered why there weren’t little doctors clinics dotting the city like they do back home. But then I remembered the difference in population size and I came to my senses.


Hospitals in Shanghai are absolutely monstrous and see thousands of patients a day.
A little clinic would be buried alive under the masses of sick and elderly.

The hospital I went to was a particularly monumental one on South Shanxxi road in downtown Shanghai. The surrounding area is so swanky that I assumed that even though it’s a public hospital, it would be extra nice for the sickly rich.

While the outside is properly manicured to match the surrounding boutiques and shopping malls, the inside is as gross and pale as public money has come to expect.

Seeing a Doctor

I approached the reception desk and (through the power of translation apps)was able to communicate my symptoms to the receptionist. She promptly whisked a brand new hospital billing card out of a stack and swiped it through the system.

Coupled with a small hospital records book, she slid the card across the counter and charged me 14rmb ($3) for the pleasure. It was then my job to find the right floor and section of the hospital and wait my turn to see a doctor.

I, of course, had no idea where I was going.

I simply walked aimlessly with my trademark dumb and confused expression stamped across my face until a nurse came, saw the receipt sticking out of my new hospital book and directed me to the right place.

I was taken to a giant room on the fifth floor where dozens of cubicle’s lined the edges, each one with an accompanying line of people waiting for their turn.

I was sat 8th in line on a thick plastic chair and gripped my hospital paperwork in nervous hands.
The doctor was churning through people pretty fast and before long it was my turn to head inside the cramped cubical, and sit opposite the doctor and talk about my problems.

Talking with the Doctor

The doctor faced his computer and asked using his best English about the symptoms I’d been exhibiting.
While he had some trouble understanding me, I found that miming my agony helped him understand what the trouble was.

He then mimed that I should get up onto the bed so that he could feel around and figure out what the problems were.

Eventually he figured out what was wrong and uploaded the medicine that I needed onto the computer.

I was then sent on my way, back downstairs to the pharmacy area.
Another receptionist took my card and swiped it, pushing my information up onto the screen. She charged me 145 RMB ($~30) for my medicine and sent me to line up at the collection bay.

Buying Prescribed Medication

The area for collecting medicine was like a high school cafeteria. Sick people lined up, receipts in hand waiting to get to the lunch lady and receive their portion of medicine.

Medicine ladies sat in front of fierce conveyer belts that spit out prescriptions left and right into little baskets.

We waited in line and when our number came up (as printed on the receipt)we marched up to the counter and watched as our medicine whizzed into the basket and was promptly pushed into our hands in exchange for the receipt.

This exchange comes with basic but understandable instructions –

“2 medicine each, 3 times each 1 day”

I nod with understanding and moved aside so that the next person could approach, receipt in hand.

The Next Day..

The next morning I woke up in the worst pain I’d ever experienced in my entire life, I felt like I was in labour.
I couldn’t even walk, so my close friend came over and carried me into a cab and held me up as I threw up all over the upholstery.

One seriously large cab bill later, I was back in the hospital and seeing another doctor.
This doctor prescribed a drip treatment for me and ordered me to go to the pharmacy before going to the drip ward.

In sick defiance I ignored his insane advice and went straight to the drip ward where, sick and collapsing I was sent away.

It turned out that there was a method to the doctors madness; the drip ward doesn’t actually keep any of the drip medicine in-house…

I had to drag myself to the pharmacy, pay the receptionist, wait in the cafeteria-style line for my number, approach with receipt in hand and be given 9 drip bags to carry back up to the sixth floor for my treatment.

Once I’d arrived back at the ward the nurses hooked three of the bags up to a drip stand and fed them intravenously into my hand.

Talk about Confusing

I’d only needed three of the bags that day, so I was expected to take the rest of the haul home, clutched between my arms and my chest.
It was my job to bring them back to the same ward over the next two days so that the remaining 6 bags could be fed into my bloodstream.

Why we, the general public, are in charge of buying and storing our hospital administered medication is very foreign to me.

I sat in the ward among my fellow patients flabbergasted that this was indeed the system. I looked across at my fellow man with an expression that read “Can you believe this?” But was met with combined looks of “what do you want?” And “I’m dying.

So instead of bonding with more of my fellow man, I just sat in the chair and patiently Googled the names of the medicine that were scrawled across the bags. I then cross-checked them with my symptoms in an attempt to learn what I had and how they were treating it.

I have a feeling that I may need to repeat this exercise again in the future, however next time I’ll be ready with a cute tote bag for carrying my drip medicine in.

I’m thinking of having it say something clever across the front like “sick bastard” or something to that effect. Suggestions encouraged.

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I’m a well travelled writer who loves nothing more than a well polished video game, an expertly crafted sandwich, and a hot mug of Milo.


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