On my third day in Shanghai I received a wake up call that was real China. I experienced what it is like to receive emergency medical attention in the world’s second most powerful nation. I also saw with my own eyes the difference between being rich and being poor in China. I also learned that when your heart is about to explode in China you will get an ultrasound of your uterus.
It all started with a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Jonathan and I unknowingly entered a one day tournament in Shanghai. It was August and it was very hot. During the third game my heart started racing incredibly fast. With every beat that my heart made I felt like my whole body was convulsing. Jonathan told me to sit out for a point or two so my heart would have a moment to slow down. 5, 15, 20 minutes went by and the heart rate was not slowing down. It wasn’t painful but it was very uncomfortable. We scrapped the original plans to go to Ikea and headed home on the subway. I felt so lightheaded and weak that I couldn’t even stand up on the Subway, so I sat down on the dirty floor of the Shanghai Subway where children pee and men spit.
Jonathan and I deduced that I must have been really dehydrated and I gulped down two bottles of sugary water. Unfortunately it didn’t do the trick, so we headed home thinking that I could just rest and maybe then the heart would slow down. It didn’t. It had now been almost three hours since my heart started racing and Jonathan decided that maybe we should go to a hospital. The liquids that I consumed earlier had no plans of going down and I began to feel as if I had food poisoning. Maybe food poisoning raises your heart rate for three hours? We still had no internet in our apartment so we couldn’t research a good hospital nearby. Instead we asked a friend who pointed us to one he had been to previously.
We now were in a typical Chinese emergency room where I thought I may contract Ebola virus. The doctor took my pulse, upon discovering that it was at the “normal” rate of 200 beats per minute he was became very focused on my stomach. Are you pregnant? No, that’s impossible. Are you sure? Quite. 100%? 300%. He had zero interest in my heart rate, because he assumed that everything is attributed to a demon baby inside of me.
I was sent to an EKG, then a CAT scan, then the IV room. Before any procedure you have to pay at the cashier, because the “EKG and dash” epidemic in China. During my excruciatingly uncomfortable 1.5 hour wait in the scariest IV room in the world I was visited by at least 10 Chinese interns who were brought in by the doctor from the emergency room. It honestly felt like I was the first white woman they have ever seen. I don’t know what he was saying to them, but it was probably along the lines of, “Well now, here a white woman with a really fast heart rate because she drinks too much milk.” After the zookeepers left, I was given an IV which made me throw up all the contents my stomach. Poor Jonathan had to hold and then close the Ziploc bag (Note – Ziploc bags are AWESOME for puke). I don’t feel too bad for others around me because a white girl throwing up four liters of stomach contents was by far not the most disgusting event in that room. It was now 12am and after 9 hours of 200 beats per minute marathon my heart slowed down.
At last, I felt like I could live and breathe again. The new group of interns arrived and they were nowhere done with me. They carried me to a different building to take an ultrasound that was heavily discussed among 4 interns. I guess they saw the demon ghost baby showing them a finger. Afterwards, they congregated amongst themselves for 40 minutes. It was a very productive discussion because when they were done, they came up to us and told us to go to a different hospital. “Please go to the United Family Hospital because you have fluid in your uterus,” they pleaded. I almost laughed in their face. I didn’t want to go to another hospital, I wanted this circus to end. We did, however, go there and it was like going to a hospital in Canada. It was clean, modern and the nurses spoke English. They were confused why we were there and when I gave the reason that I was told previously, they were bewildered, “Everybody has fluid in their uterus.”
To my surprise an American doctor came into the room and she asked me to start from the beginning, “I am being passed an EKG, and ultrasound of the uterus. I have no idea what’s happening. Can you please tell me what happened?” She laughed as I told her the story of the past 5 hours. She said that I was most likely given the run around in order for the hospital to earn an extra 100 RMB from a foreigner and to have my internal organs gawked at by interns. She looked at the only result that mattered, the EKG and said that I had a classic episode of SVT, Supraventricular tachycardia. It comes unannounced and it’s possible I may never experience it again. She said that the IV I was given would be the last resort in a normal medical facility. She confirmed that I didn’t have food poisoning but it was just my heart not pumping enough blood to other areas of my body. She talked and I listened. It was blissful to finally speak to and understand a medical professional after five hours of being treated like a circus animal. The cheque, here, was given as we were about to leave. It was 10 times the price of what we paid at the Ebola institute, but here I was given quality care.
So there it was, first hand, the difference between having money and not. Understanding what may be wrong with you and being taken advantage of by a shady hospital. Is this why traditional Chinese medicine so popular? Is there a reason for such incompetence of medical professionals, do they not take the Hippocratic oath in China? And if you are in dire need of medical emergency while you are unconscious, will you not be treated at a medical facility until you wake up and pay up?