Whether I stay in Longzhou this next year or head off for a new placement, one thing’s for certain: It’s time for the yearly Chinese health exam, required for all new or renewed visas for foreign experts. (That’s me, by the way.)
Years ago, when I first came to China, we had just one health check and that was pretty much good for your stay in China for years. But schools are now required to buy health insurance for their foreign teachers so a new rule came into effect. Foreigners were required to go to a local hospital to have the basics done: EKG, blood and urine analysis, liver check, eyes and ears, and lung X-ray. Any communicable diseases were cause for alarm and would be treated before another check was done again to make sure all was well.
We still have the same exams but this time, each province has created a special health check clinic for those going abroad or those staying in China. It falls under the government’s Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine. The document itself is called the Health Certificate for International Travelers.
I Have What??!!
My first health check at such a clinic was in Chengdu, 7 years ago. We registered at the front desk, paid our 280 yuan ($33 at that time), produced 2 photo head shots and off we went to the second floor. There, we whisked through different stations with different doctors and different exams. It was a very quick, efficient process and took 45 minutes. 3 days later, we returned to receive an official certificate which indicated if we were healthy and fit for duty.
Interestingly enough, the Chengdu exam resulted in a snaffu of sorts. When I returned to pick up my certificate, I assumed I was healthy and ready for another visa application but instead, I was told to sit and wait. Another blood draw was taken and then I was ushered into a dark, back storage room by a very nervous young doctor. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening until he sat me down and apprehensively looked at my bloodwork.
“Is something wrong?” I asked. Now I was getting nervous!
“Uhm, there is a little problem,” he began in my language.
He paused, trying to formulate his English words. Obviously, he was out of practice at this sort of thing. Poor guy probably was wishing he’d paid more attention in his English medical terminology class he took in college. I was even wondering if the clinic doctors had drawn straws to see which one would confront the foreigner about whatever it was they were obviously hesitant to talk about.
My young man took a deep breath.
“It seems you perhaps, maybe have . . . syphilis.”
Syphilis?!! I have syphilis?!
No wonder he pulled me into the storage room for privacy. I could just imagine other foreigners becoming irrate and causing a huge fuss, accusing the Chinese doctors and lab techs of ineptitude and stupidity. (Yes, I have seen foreigners act that way. It’s very embarrassing.)
My immediate reaction was one of surprise, and then an open chuckle.
“I think there’s some mistake. That’s impossible,” I replied.
“It’s a very simple thing to cure,” my physician went on with great authority, not believing me at all. My lighthearted, relaxed attitude had obviously boosted his confidence. “We have medicine for this. I can write it for you today and you can take it for 4 weeks. After that, you can come back and we will test again.”
“That sounds all very nice,” I said, “but I really can’t have syphilis. I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have relationships. I don’t have sex.”
He eyed me with skepticism.
“No . . . little sex?” he piped up with a boyish grin.
I suppressed my rising irritation.
“No,” I intoned. “No little sex. No big sex. Just no sex.”
He frowned and thought a moment.
“Have you touched someone with open sores? You can get syphilis from open sores. Shaking hands. Have you been shaking hands, maybe with a beggar?”
“No. No shaking hands with open sores and beggars,” I answered. “But I do go swimming every day. Can I get syphilis from swimming?”
He scoffed at my remark and adamantly shook his head.
“Oh, no, no! No syphilis from swimming.”
The two of us sat in silence. We had reached a stand-still.
Finally, my young doctor suggested we wait 3 days for the second blood test analysis. After that, I could return to see the results and we’d go from there.
I left fully convinced that my return in a few days would result in a negative reading. But as impossible as it seemed for me to have syphilis, there was a petrified part of me that wondered if by some weird, bizarre, quirky happening, I actually did have it. My mind was racing — I’d never get my visa renewed in time! I’d go on record with the government as having an STD, which would eventually get back to my school! A foreign teacher’s affairs are always big news on a small campus and spread like wildfire. I could just imagine my students whispering: “Will our beloved Connie be teaching us next year? I heard she has . . . syphilis!”
It was the longest 3 days of my life. When I finally returned to the clinic, I hesitantly walked through the doors. I approached the counter, handed over my passport as ID and held my breath while the woman glanced at my name. She went digging through a pile of papers, pulled out one of them and handed it over to me.
My certificate! I passed! Hallelujah!
Obviously, I’m one of those rare few who test positive for a syphilis STD test even though I don’t have it. A different, more detailed analysis was administered the second time and turned up negative, leaving me in the clear.
Off to Nanning This Week
So now it’s time once again to head off to the provincial clinic for another health exam. This time, it’s inNanning and will be my 3rd time to have this done here. The cost is now 300 yuan ($50) with an extra $5 for a speedy, 2-day processing fee if you wish. I’ve already changed my classes around so I can do this. I’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon (Monday), have the test on Tuesday morning, pick up my results on Thursday and return to teach on Friday.
The Nanning clinic is quite spiffy and, as in Chengdu, is a fast 45 minutes at most to get through all the examining rooms. I am actually quite friendly with the staff there, especially my EKG doctor. When I first was examined by her, she admired my sports bra and commented on my athletic figure. I told her that I enjoy swimming every day to keep fit. She then pulled out her tennis racket and a ball which she batted around the room to show me how she keeps in shape. Seems there are a lot of slow days without much going on and that’s how she spends her time in between EKGs.
“I’m almost 60 years old,” my spry doctor announced proudly.
Last year, I gave her one of my May Day holiday pictures which I give the students every year. It was a photo of me holding Little Flower with our Longzhou stone bridge in the background. This year, I’ll be taking the 2012 May Day picture as well to give to her. Just a small thank you from me for her tireless work at the clinic.
My vast China experience has taught me that it’s always good to have friends in high places, especially those who are in charge of approving your in-country health certificate. After all, you never know what wacky, unexpected something might turn up on your annual physical charts. I’ve already had syphilis. Who knows what might be next?
From Longzhou, China, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.