*Disclaimer: The Events of this story happened in the mid-2010's. If anything's changed in China since that time, I'm unaware of any changes. This story is to tell of an experience in another country, not to criticize.
I knew I needed help. Every ten minutes, I half-walked, half-ran to the bathroom, slamming my body on the toilet, and shoving my face in a trash can. My face burned; my lips hurt like hell. I tried hard not to think about dying. From five a.m. until late that night, I stayed violently sick. Even water wouldn’t stay in my system.
Is this food poisoning? I thought to myself. Just some medicine, then I’ll get out of their hair, I thought to myself as I knocked on the neighbor’s door.
The old couple brought me inside and put me on the couch. Between offering tea and asking questions, the next hour was a blur.
I don’t know how long I laid on the couch when a doctor came in the door. He asked me the same questions as the couple.Yes, I had a fever. No, I can’t eat. I can’t drink anything either.
By the time the doctor left, the neighbors called an ambulance, and I was frantically trying to find a coworker to talk to the company insurance company. They’d talk to the ambulance when they got there to tell them what hospital to take me to.
Here is the difference between riding in an ambulance in Beijing and in the US
I rode in an ambulance twice in my life in two countries. Once in Michigan and once in Beijing. The difference between the two was subtle but noticeable.
I was nineteen when I rode in an ambulance in 2007. At the time, I had health insurance, so I didn’t have to pay anything for the ride. The inside looked steely and cold.
I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. But I don’t think the EMTs would’ve let me walk in the vehicle if I could. I would’ve had to stay on the stretcher regardless.
Now, as of this article, I don’t have health insurance. If I needed one, I’d have to pay a lot of money to have one pick me up and take me to the hospital. Friends would often tell stories about how they’d drive themselves to the hospital instead of calling an ambulance because of the price tag.
If you see an ambulance on the road with the sirens on, you have to pull over in Michigan. Even if you’re driving the other way, all cars stop for the ambulance. Without sirens, it acts like another car on the road.
Keep in mind, I lived in Beijing from 2013 until 2019. I rode in an ambulance in 2014, so if any laws changed, I’m unaware of them.
When the ambulance came to pick me up, I had the choice to walk or get pushed on a stretcher. I chose to walk. I had enough embarrassment for a day.
The vehicle itself looked like it saw some things. I wouldn’t call it a rickety car, but it didn’t look like a new vehicle either. Nothing about it made me think there would be anything wrong. A car is a car as long as it works.
At the time I lived there, an ambulance with its sirens on didn’t get special treatment. It had to follow the same traffic laws as any other car on the road. I don’t remember if the paramedics turned on the sirens or not. It wouldn’t have made a difference with the ride.
I didn’t see a difference between the two rides. Granted, I slept through both of them.
Now, if we talked about the hospitals in both countries, that’s a different story. It’s not that China has terrible hospitals. The international hospitals and the foreigner section in regular Chinese hospitals looked fancier than what the locals had.
The EMTs led me into a bed and had me lay on it. The good news, I didn’t have food poisoning. Turns out I had a nasty case of gastric enteritis. The disease was contagious and going around the city. I found out my coworkers had it too, and it’s why I couldn't find anyone to answer my call. By the end of the week, most of my coworkers caught it and were at home, sick for days.
The doctors put an IV in my had to get some fluids back in my system. They gave me a choice to stay in the hospital overnight or going home after the IV bag emptied.
I still had American brain that night. I expected to pay thousands of dollars for the IV, so I wanted to go home after. I don’t think I spent more than $100 that night. The doctors took me to a pharmacy to take some medicine, and they helped me get a cab home.
People get worried when they think about needing medical care in another country. In some places, there’s a reason to worry. China isn’t one of those countries.
A nasty case of gastric enteritis was the worst ever happened to me while I lived in China. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. My hospital experience didn’t end up as scary as I imagined it to be.
In a country like China, most people who’d never visited think no one speaks English. But in a medical situation, doctors and nurses do everything they can to make sure their patients understand what’s happening. My Chinese was passable at the time, but I didn’t understand everything. The EMTs took me to an international hospital. All communication in those hospitals happens in English.
It’s a scary situation to be in an ambulance and not understand everything happening. No one wants it to happen to themselves. But in a place like China, you don’t need to worry.