In addition to my anxiety and concern, I am always a little bit excited about Chinese hospital visits. They are a test of my language skills. They are rare cultural and educational experiences. However, in October 2015, my mom was admitted to a hospital with symptoms of a heart attack. That visit lasted eight days. We were in Harbin, in northeastern China, between North Korea and Russia. Although Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, it is hardly Beijing or Shanghai.
I should mention that this was my mom's first trip to China. My dad has joined me on many China journeys over the past thirty years. My mom, however, is irrationally (her word) afraid to fly. But she wanted to join me on a trip at least once in her life. 2015 was the year.
It was the walk toward the Great Wall that should have given us a clue that my mom was ill. As we walked up a hill, she panted."I don't think I've ever been in worse shape in my life!" Neither of us realized that her exhaustion was not due to jet-lag, but to a few seriously clogged arteries, one of which was the "widow-maker".
We flew to Harbin, another flight and another stressor for my mom. That first evening in Harbin, she went to our hotel room early, feeling a little dizzy and tired, symptoms that had been diagnosed as panic attacks in the US. She had not told me why she was going up early, just that she was tired. About an hour later, my mother came back downstairs, white as a ghost. We got in a taxi to the nearest hospital.
The EKG did not show anything. The doctors were thorough, however, and took some blood to rule out heart issues. The rest is history. My mom's largest artery was almost completely clogged, as was another smaller artery. She needed two stents. The hospital called in the best cardiologist with the best English skills, trained in Australia and the US. We were given his personal cell number. My mom had round-the-clock nurse in her private room.
The nurse is the young woman in glasses in the top picture. The security guard in the picture became a good friend of my mom's during her ordeal. At first, he and the other guards and nurses would walk by my mom's room and stare at her as if she were a cute animal in a zoo. They would point and smile at her, but would not engage. Each day they would get bolder and bolder. Some would wave or say "Hi" and run away laughing at their attempts to speak English. This was amusement for my mom who could not leave her bed and had no books, television or any other form of entertainment. Eventually, her guard came in and they did their own form of sign language. They communicated in their own way and became the most unlikely of friends.
I attribute my mother's life to that hospital in Harbin, due to the excellent care that she received. But I also know that if my mom had been in the US, she would have been complacent. She would have felt unusually tired and dizzy, but would have tried to sleep it off. She would not have gone to a hospital and she might not be here today. Although our China trip was far from what we expected, ultimately being halfway around the world saved my mom's life.
So the answer to the question, "What if I get sick in China?" is easy. You go to the hospital and you are given the best care possible and are treated with respect and reverence. It probably seems odd to the average American, but to me, the medical experiences are indeed different, but no less excellent than in the US.