Today we had some overdue business to take care of. Immunizations. Because we left Canada rather quickly, we did not get our six month boosters for our various hepatitis shots before we left (we practically boarded the planes with the needles still dangling from our upper arms). As such we carried the doses with us on the plane here and have kept them in our refrigerator since then. The only thing we had to do was find someone qualified to stick the needle in our arms. But we had no idea where to do this until now. Because medical things are so technical and hard to translate, we decided to go to the international hospital here in Beijing with English speaking staff.
It was definitely my first time coming face-to-face with having to pay for my medical care. Although it is embarrassing to admit that fact, lets just call a spade a spade. It was quite an eye opener to go to the hospital and be told, "Now that the doctor has talked to you for five minutes, you owe us 2000 RMB (~$300)". I have only experienced this two other times. When I was 12, I knocked my teeth out ice skating. The insurance company covered new teeth for within 6 months of the accident, but because of delays (by the insurance company) the claim went through 7 months after the accident. I remember feeling about 5 minutes of guilt that my parents had to shell out $600 per tooth. (I won't mention what happened the second time I knocked my teeth out). The other time was when we had to get Jude to the hospital in an ambulance. I was very ripped off when a bill for $250 arrived for the 10 minute ride.
Today it hit home that I grew up as part of a small percentage of the world's population with "free" medical care. The only thing that kept me from going to the hospital for "free" care was the availability of transportation. When we took newborn baby Jude to the hospital for pneumonia / possible meningitis and stayed for three days, there was no bill for us. But today we had to travel with a wad of cash, and I still had to go back later with another wad.
However, there was something quite nice about going to a place where I speak the "language". Having studied in a medical subfield, it was really nice to see laboratory charts that had familiar clinical terms like blood albumin, prealbumin, occult blood, etc. I know what those things are, and that meant I could ask the doctor questions and understand the answers. When I was in a medical clinic Dazhou, Sichuan, I saw a chart denoting the most common causes for hypertension treated in that clinic. I was really interested and wanted to know more about it, but the doctor only spoke Chinese. Even if we were educated in similar areas, we were unable to communicate about them.
It was also nice to see some medicines with English on them today. There is something unnerving about giving your children a medicine that only has Chinese characters on it. Its not that I doubt their legitimacy (well, maybe I do at times), I just don't know how to use them and researching them only produces websites in Chinese characters. For example, I have a lot of trouble with my left wrist. It is a recurring problem that is almost arthritic in nature. For the last week it has been so bad that my arm has been immobile. So James went to a pharmacy and asked for a medicine for joint pain. He brought home something called "Dog Skin". Sure enough it comes in skin-like patches that could be very effective for all we know, but we have no idea how to use it. We have also found that asking for translations for medical things always produces very unclear answers and a lot of confusion. Anyway, when I was give a prescription today for an anithistamine for my wrist, I was very happy. Just two days ago, I told James this was exactly what I needed.
On a side note, we have used some traditional Chinese medicines that do seem to be quite effective. For example, the picture I included at the top is a traditional medicine for a sore throat. It is the pit of the Boat-Fruited Sterculia. It starts out like the pit of a plum, but when you put it in your drinking water, it expands and fills your cup like a sea sponge. I tried it, and I thought it did the job quite nicely.
In three days James will be off to Thailand for a week, where he will be attending an agricultural seminar and meeting with big names in the realm of rice research and visiting rural farms. He is very excited about it. This is the first of three one-week trips he will be taking this fall. Another is to Korea and then to Northern China. We are certainly not bored! I am very thankful that one of Ari's teachers is our neighbor and friend, and that she has offered to take Ari to school for me in the mornings while James is away. This saves me the hassle making two trips to Ari's school with Jude. It's a fair bit of walking so it takes about an hour to go there and back when Jude is along. Doing that twice a day with my own schooling and other responsibilites would be too much! Keep us in your prayers!