Officially SARS-free

Those in my inner posse already know that I’ve been sick for the past few days, but I thought I’d give everyone the 411.

Since Sunday I’ve had a fever ranging from 99.7 to 102.5, and I’ve been sniffling and coughing up all kinds of gross-colored loogies.

Monday I opted to stay home from school, thinking that I’d get better. When my fever had dropped to around 99 or a little higher on Tuesday, I grudgingly packed my things and went to school. It was then that I discovered that I had the voice of a gremlin, as Jeff put it, and really couldn’t talk much. I went home after class, halfheartedly ate some dumplings and took a nap.

Tuesday night I went to bed at around 10:30 p.m. and slept very soundly until a friend called me at five minutes to midnight. Having been rudely awakened, I could barely sleep the rest of the night. This morning when I woke up I had a fever of 101. 5, which quickly shot up to 102.4 as I was discussing my health issues with Kieran. My dad was mysteriously incommunicado, so I told my teachers I was sick and went back to sleep.

Dad was all worried that I had pneumonia, and Devin insisted I had SARS, so today I finally forced myself to venture out to the student health clinic. I had been avoiding it all week since I felt silly going to the doctor for a cold, which I’ve never done before in my life. Usually when this happens, I just ride it out and have my dad check me for anything serious, but since he’s a few thousand miles away this time, he was uncharacteristically worried about my health and insisting I get checked out. I also strangely enough don’t really like going to the doctor. Probably the biggest factor in my procrastination was that even inside my apartment it’s bitter cold, and I was pretty dang sure outside was going to be worse.

Finally I dragged myself out of bed and went out, feeling quite tired and weak. I haven’t really been eating since I’ve been sick, so that wasn’t helping matters. I walked down to the campus and found the clinic. There, I discovered a few things that are pretty different about Chinese hospitals:

Waiting your turn

At the registration window, I paid 1 kuai for a waiting number and a patient history booklet, and then took a seat outside the doctor’s office.

After a few minutes, a man came out, but nobody came to call my number, so I stayed put. Then, I little old lady walked up to the doctor’s door, knocked briefly and then barged right in. At first I was a little shocked at this lack of respect for other patients’ privacy, and then I remembered that I’m in China, where privacy doesn’t exist. Knowing this, I fended off other patients who wanted to jump to the front of the line and went in a few seconds after the little old lady went out.

Patient history taking and assessment

Once in with the doctor, she had me sit on a little stool. Perhaps a little thrown that I was white, she just stared at me and didn’t say anything. So, I launched into a short history of my illness. After asking a few questions, she wrote up a little doctor’s order and told me to go draw blood.

Ok, that was weird, right? Usually doctors try other things like listening to patients’ lungs and such before ordering costly tests. But I took the order after making sure she really did want my blood, and left.


Like most Chinese department stores, hospitals require you to take an order for a good or service to a payment counter, pay, get a few receipts and tickets nicely stamped in red and then go to another area to get said service.

Chinese medical care is incredibly cheap. Including two lab tests (15 RMB, 5 RMB), an arsenal of cold medicines (38 RMB) and consultation (1 RMB), I paid 59 kuai — under $10 USD.

Taking tests

So I went to get my blood drawn, sat down and took my coat off, expecting a vial or two to come from my arm. Instead, the nurse pricked my finger, wiped the blood on a tiny glass tube and viola, I was done. I sat outside waiting for my results.


As I waited, a doctor passed through the hall, smoking a freshly lit cigarette. In a hospital.

Illness assessment

After looking over my blood test, the doctor said that I was free of significant bugs and I could go home and rest. Nervous at the overall unfamiliarity of the experience, I hesitantly ventured that my dad was worried I had a lung problem. Without skipping a beat, she sent me to go get an x-ray. I had really been hoping just to have her listen to my breathing, but no dice.

X-ray safety

When I got to the x-ray building, nobody was there, so I waited a few minutes until a surly woman showed up who demanded roughly “what do you want” or another possible translation “what’s wrong with you?” I gave her my x-ray order and she took me into the x-ray room. I asked if I should take off my coat, and she said no. She also didn’t give me a lead apron, so I might not have babies. Or maybe I’ll have superhero babies!

Anyway, she didn’t have a lead apron either, so I figured they just don’t use that here.

After looking at my lungs on the screen, she barked at me to get down, wrote my name and school department in a book, and told me I was fine.

Final thoughts…

Glad I had gotten the whole pneumonia thing out of the way, I went back to the doctor, collected the records of my tests and received a few prescriptions for fever reducers and cold medicines. Not a huge fan of Chinese product safety, I considered forgoing the medicines and just going home, but finally I got them out of curiosity.

Overall, I was a little surprised by the things I saw at the hospital. After all, this isn’t some back-alley unlicensed place, it’s a university hospital. Even though most of the population smokes, I was really surprised a doctor would smoke inside the hospital, which I consider rude and obviously detrimental to patients’ health. I was also really shocked they didn’t spring for x-ray aprons — after all, they obviously have money to spare if they’re building three new monolithic buildings on campus as we speak. I guess I’d be a surly doctor too if my x-ray unit didn’t have lead aprons and I was being exposed every day to harmful radiation. For a country that emphasizes learning so much, I was surprised that medical care on campus was a little lacking.

At least I got what I came for — peace of mind that I don’t have SARS.

Doctors out there — what do you think?