When the ambulance appears in the front of anyone’s house in my small Mid-western town , the whole world seems to know.
Next door neighbors peer out of windows to see who is in such urgent peril. Cars slow their speed so those inside can glimpse who’s being carried outside. Dog walkers stop to gawk while their pooches strain at their leashes to continue onward.
In other words, news travels fast that someone in our community is being rushed to the nearest hospital, 20 miles away in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Just days after my arrival from China, such news was making its way all around town, not about one of our family’s neighbors or friends, but about my dad.
A Serious Medical Situation
Last week, my father was taken by ambulance to Terre Haute Union Hospital’s emergency room because he literally could not breath.
After 3 days in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), he was diagnosed with acute pneumonia. His lungs have been quite fragile for many years now so for him, pneumonia is deadly and life-threatening. At present, he is being loaded up with antibiotics, steroids, breathing treatments and anything else his doctors can do to make him feel better.
He is currently in a regular hospital room but in no shape to leave or be transferred. My mom and I drive over from our Illinois town, Marshall, every day to stay with him during the day before returning home in the evening to take care of Lao-lao, our Chinese earthquake rescue Chihuahua, and rest up for the next day’s visit.
Aside from our daily to-and-from hospital trips, we also deal with another challenging venture: Since we live next to the Illinois/ Indiana state border, which happens to be a time zone, we in Illinois are one hour behind the Indiana hospital time. Makes for a bit of confusion when converting “our” time to “their” time, especially when some doctors begin their rounds at 7 a.m. which is 6 a.m. for us, meaning if we’d like to get first-hand information, we need get out our front door by 5:20 or we’ll miss them!
Union Hospital: The Place to Be
For anyone reading, especially my Chinese followers, I can tell you that the newly built Union Hospital is a good place to be.
Gorgeous, airy building with open lighting and spacious waiting areas. The doctors are conscientious and knowledgeable. The ICU nurses (both male and female) are utterly amazing in patient care and their colleagues on other wings are likewise excellent. The specialty staff, such as the nutritionists and respiratory therapists, certainly know their stuff. Everyone is caring, helpful, and answers patient and family questions thoroughly.
There is definitely a close bond that is formed between those of us who are worried and concerned, and our healthcare professionals who are treating our loved ones. Since this is the first time I’ve actually been involved in any long-term hospital stay for my dad, I am learning quite a lot about our medical system and how wonderful it is compared to that in China.
Things American Readers Might Not Know About China’s Healthcare System
While I am no expert in Chinese hospital care, I can only report on my own personal experiences or what other Chinese have told me.
Many Americans may not know that healthcare in China is not free. Yes, Chinese have to pay for their medicines, doctors’ visits, operations and so on. The cost will be substantially lower than in the States, and a percentage is covered by insurance, but a substantial amount is out-of-pocket. If you have a serious illness or you must receive a life-saving operation yet don’t have the money upfront to cover the treatments needed, then you will not get the care needed to live.
When you read over past blog entries, you will notice this was true for Jason’s (Ji Ke’s) sister who had congenital heart disease. The non-evasive procedure she needed to fix the hole in her heart, which had been left undetected from birth until she was 21 years old, cost around $5,000. Her family, farmers from the countryside, could only scrape together a small percentage of this. Without the full amount, the hospital would not admit her so I stepped in to cover what the family could not.
She received wonderful care at Chengdu’s Hua Xi Hospital, one of the best in the city. I visited for a short time while she was in a large room with 12 others who were recuperating from their own operations and treatments. Everyone had their own cot, lined up alongside the wall, with a chair for a guest visitor beside it and a small cabinet to place their things on. This was in the recovery wing for high mobility patients. They were chatting and visiting with family members who were sharing huge baskets of fresh fruit, a favorite gift to those in the hospital. The room and medical facility was clean, the staff professional but not present often as they were extremely busy, and the conditions acceptable, in my opinion.
City Hospital Care for the Foreigner
My other hospital experiences involved those who were Amity teachers, those I was teaching with.
Years ago in Luzhou, my American colleague Beth (in her 50’s and new to China) had a respiratory illness that sent her to our Luzhou Medical College hospital. Beth had the money for her treatment and paid for a private room at $22 a day. It had a TV, its own bathroom (most are shared among 4 to 6 people depending on the room size) and an extra bed which Beth paid for so another person wouldn’t be in the room with her. She was on intravenous drips for 2 weeks and not allowed to leave until she was 100% recovered. Doctors in China are never quick to discharge anyone. Even new mothers get coddled and cared for in the hospital for 2 weeks or longer after giving birth. America is a very different story, where those who are able are hustled out as soon as possible. (For my Chinese readers, a new mother in my country, one who has no complications, usually remains in the hospital for 2 days or 48 hours before going home.)
As for Beth’s hospital stay, I remember that two of our students took turns being with her 24/7, which is the custom in China. Nurses are overworked and have little time to attend to the hundreds of patients they are in charge of so basic patient needs (feeding, monitoring, comforting, bathing, hygiene upkeep) comes from family members. They stay with their loved one around the clock, making sure they are comfortable. They are also the ones to hustle off to get the nurse if there’s a problem, such as an IV runs dry or a patient requires something beyond their help.
This was 10 years ago but I believe the same watchful care from Chinese families still continues today.
A 1994 Experience in a Rural County Hospital
Twenty years ago, another of my older Amity colleagues (56-year-old Jean from Great Britain) wound up in a county hospital when we went traveling and she became sick. It was some sort of stomach thing which had her on constant IV fluids being pumped into her system. The hospital had never had a foreigner before but did have a private wing for the privileged. This wing opened out into the open-air walkway with the rooms having never been used because no one privileged enough had ever been in them.
That was, until Jean arrived and she was quickly ushered inside.
Wallpaper was peeling off in clumps from the molding cement walls. The private bathroom was filthy and had no running water. The metal-framed bed was harder than a rock with a thin, lumpy padding placed on planks of wood. I was in charge of cleaning the room and food runs, which mostly included noodle soups I picked up at venders lined up alongside the streets. (In the larger public hospital rooms, crammed with 20 people, the family had set up coal braziers next to the beds and woked up meals for everyone. I remember the food smelled pretty darn good!)
We also had someone’s sad-looking mongrel roaming about. He was being treated for mange and had spots of purple iodine (a Chinese cure-all) over his hairless skin patches in the hopes this would cure his skin ailment.
He was a sweet little thing but Jean was always discouraging me from being too friendly with him. In her miserable state, I don’t think she was too pleased by his presence, which became just another reminder that we certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Jean spent 4 days in the hospital with the doctors trying desperately to get rid of us. At that time, being responsible for a foreigner’s well-being was a huge commitment and one which could get the hospital into huge trouble if, heaven forbid, Jean took a turn for the worse.
Although she was in no shape to be released, the staff pulled some strings and got us both into a sleeping car for the 5-hour train ride back to our school’s city, Nanchang. Jean was then able to get better medical care from our school and the big city doctors. However, by that time, she was pretty much over whatever it was she’d picked up.
Closing Off with Visuals
While I have many more stories to tell about Chinese hospital, I’ll close this off more for my Chinese readers who might be curious about hospitals in the States. The following are more pictures taken at Union Hospital, where my dad continues to remain.
From Marshall, IL, here’s sending you a huge Ping An (Peace) for your day.
Note: My dad is not doing well. I am just very grateful to be in the States and be able to spend time with him, my mom and my brother.