There are times when undertaking the most basic jobs here in Beijing is guaranteed to give your favourite blogger a good laugh – and certainly makes one stop and reflect on things that are normally taken for granted back in blighty.
Just this week, for instance, I had to top up my supplies of medication, for if the truth be known my blood pressure shoots through the roof if I don’t pop three pills each morning. Must be all the excitement of throwing these blogs together…
Now, back in the UK one just drops a copy of one’s prescription into the doctor’s surgery, returning a short while later to pick up a signed version of it and toddle off to the pharmacy to pick up the pills.
Not in China!
Here you have to see the doctor each time you want a prescription renewed and that usually means going to the local hospital. The one nearest my place of work is the China Japan Friendship Hospital – popularly known to the locals as Zhongriyiyuan (中日友好医院). It has been ranked among the “Top 10 Hospitals in Beijing” and as one of the “Top 100 Hospitals in China”; and it has even been rated "the best hospital for foreigners in Beijing" by the Association for Foreigners, whoever they are. Wow!
Regulars will know I have written about it before, when I once had to go in search of a dentist.
I normally half expect to see the place filled with the walking wounded whenever I visit. The area is filled with Beijing’s notorious taxi drivers, after all, who seem to take it as a matter of course to aim at the nearest thing they can find on two legs and accelerate directly in that direction. But the only blue lights I can see flashing today are on an ambulance whose crew are about to rush inside, presumably for their tea break.
Zhongriyiyuan is well proud of its reputation, and even devotes an entire wall showing off some of its awards to the passing millions who give not even a single glance in its direction…
Mind you, that could perhaps be to due to the fact that there are so many signs everywhere, resulting in the average visitor soon getting sign-fatigue…
But you have to give them credit for making it easy to find virtually anything in this medical utopia. Want an infection? Go to the infection Department. You’ll find it near 'Grate No 9' …
which is the other side of the “campus” from Grate no 2 through which I came…
If you want to relax or work out where you can leave your car, then you are directed to the 'Lawn, Parden, Parking Lot' (though I suspect what they actually meant was the 'Lawn, Parden and Garking Lot').
And you can’t accuse them of not having put in a lot of thought to the positioning of the various buildings. Want the Morgue? Look no further than the waste and sewage disposal situated slap bang next to the boiler room. A touch of genius, I reckon!
Today, however, I am not yet in need of the morgue, and instead follow signs to the ‘Inernational Department’.
It being mid morning, the corridors are crowded out, not least with the locals dining out in style along with some nurses and doctors and a few walking wounded, who all know you can get some good cheap nourishing chow by queuing up for what passes as a make-shift canteen in the principal aisle.
You can always tell who are the doctors, who are the patients and who are the visitors. The doctors, after all, wear white coats, while the patients walk around like extras from a film set of Schindler’s List. Almost everyone else is a hanger-on.
But enough of the hospital; and back to my story.
I approach the reception and ask if I can see a doctor to renew my prescription.
“You hybatnsh&*^$%#?” I am asked by a girl who has obviously landed the job for her international language skills.
“Err, I beg your pardon?” I reply sheepishly, not having quite caught the gist of her question.
“You hybatnsh&*^$%# yes?”
A more senior receptionist intervenes. “You hypertension?” she asks after taking my file from the aforementioned lass.
Stupid me! “Er, yes. That’s me,” I reply, handing over my hospital ID card for it to be swiped by the bar code reader.
“You go first cashier. Pay 100 kwai. Then come back,” I am ordered. In China they like to see the colour of your money before parting with any services. I do as I am bidden…
I get a slip of paper to wave at the receptionist who tells me to go round to the nurse station and try my luck there.
Though there are crowds thronging the area, this laowai is for some reason waved to the front of the queue and soon I have been allocated to a pretty young doctor who asks me to follow her to the consulting room.
Now in the UK they say that you start feeling old when you think the policemen look young. I think the same could be said of doctors. This doctor looks like she is hardly out of high school, but I guess she knows my age anyway, having quickly looked through my file that was placed in her charge as I was handed over to her.
I follow her down the corridor; but, alas, the consulting room is busy. Oh dear. “Maybe this room over here is … oh no; OK let’s try … errr… no, that’s busy too”. We wander up and down the corridors of the hospital looking for a free room, but every one is in use. My poor doctor is getting more flustered by the minute. Some 15 minutes later she tries the stomatology department (that’s the dentist to you and me and lesser mortals). It’s free!
We pile inside and I am invited to sit in the dentist chair while she sits on the accompanying stool. This has to be a first for me – getting a prescription sorted out expecting any minute to be asked to open wide!
But instead, the door bursts open and the actual dentist – who is returning to what he presumes is an empty office – marches in, unzipping his flies as he does so, while heading for the private loo on the other side of the room. He stops short; does a double take; realises this is his office after all; nods cursorily to the doctor while zipping himself up again and heads for the loo again, from where there soon emanate the sounds of a dentist seeking relief from a very full bladder.
My doctor carries on as if nothing has happened. It is obviously par for the course in this award winning sanatorium.
Despite having been clearly told, on the last occasion I was here, that patients can only get a three month prescription supply, I decide to chance my luck and ask if I can have six months’ worth of pills. Maybe it is because she is still flustered from having walked me round in circles previously; or perhaps she is still very green about the gills. But she punches in 6 months to the computer, and out comes my prescription, no questions asked.
I thank her profusely as we head out into the crowded corridors once more, leaving the dentist to enjoy a belated spot of privacy.
I look at the prescription and realise that I am going to have to part with over 4,200 of the readies – something I had not expected, having never thought for one moment I would get away with a request for so many pills. So instead of making for the pharmacy, I walk back along the corridor-come-canteen and out again into the sunshine, determining that I will return later during my dinner break.
Now, one major problem in China is that because of fears over forgery, the largest bank notes they have here are only 100 yuan – that’s about £10. I carefully count out 43 of the said notes and stuff them into a large pocket before retracing my steps from the morning.
I head for the pharmacy department which is slap bang next to the cashiers. In complete contrast to this morning the corridors are empty. No doubt the lack of portable canteen facilities is one of the reasons for this.
I wave my prescription at the pharmacist who makes the Chinese equivalent of “tsk tsk” and points me in the direction of the cashier.
Kerching … I count out my pile of banknotes which the cashier places into the obligatory note counter (to make sure there are no duds in there) and I get another receipt complete with red chop mark which I take back to the pharmacist.
He takes one look at the prescription and a shadow falls across his face. “Máo! Wu shi ar ma? Máo!” he splutters (which for those of you whose Mandarin is not quite up to it, roughly translates as “No! 52? No way!”)
It appears the poor guy is incensed that I am about to deplete his stock of drugs … You see, in China, most drugs are sold in week-long packets of 7 pills. One of my pills is only half the required strength, so I need two packets per week. Hence 6 months’ supply equates to 52 packets of one particular drug; I also need 26 packs of another and 13 of yet another which comes in handy fortnightly refills. That’s 91 boxes all told.
Perhaps it is as well that I cannot understand more of this fellow’s invective. His face is going bright red and he shouts over to the nurses’ station for someone to explain to this laowai that he is being asked the impossible.
Another pretty young doctor comes over at this moment (Golly – two pretty young doctors in one day. What a hospital!) and gets into conversation with the red faced little man. I ask if there is a problem, but am ignored by both of them until eventually I am asked to go and sit down ‘over there’. The nurse is summoned over, given a load of instructions and all but runs off down the corridor. The doctor comes over to me and asks if I would mind waiting a few minutes while they get in some more supplies, and then strides off to greet another patient leaving the area – and me – totally isolated.
I watch the tank of gouramis across the way for a few minutes, but eventually come to the conclusion that this is going to be a long wait. I take out my new(ish) iPhone and start a new round of Candy Crush, managing to reach four new levels before the nurse returns, weighed down by a plastic bag bursting at the seems from little boxes of pills.
The pharmacist is nowhere to be seen as she hands over my piles of boxes to me – luckily I found out last time I was here that you are expected to bring you own bags with you. You certainly won’t be helped out by someone offering you a plastic bag.
I stuff the boxes into two shopping bags and stagger off, discovering that outside, night has finally fallen in the interim. I pass the hospital shop near ‘grate 3’ but as I don’t need any cigarettes or Coca Cola I make my way straight home.
I am now the proud owner of what looks like a lifetime’s supply of medication, pondering on my next challenge … getting my employer to cough up 90 per cent of the bill!