A Day in the Life of a Sick Person

Since we've had so much more interaction with medicine here between looking into G's situation and dealing with M's eyes, many of you have expressed surprise at what it's like. So I've been gathering pictures of representative situations to share with y'all. This is a long post, so only read it if you're interested!

I'll take you through a typical doctor visit. First of all, all doctors are at hospitals. Usually the first few floors of a hospital (which would have at least 20 floors) are clinics. So you go to the hospital first thing in the morning to line up to take a number to see the foreign doctor who speaks English. You can't make an appointment ahead of time. So each doctor has a certain number of patients they see in a morning, and you get a number for which order you came in. If they run out, you're out of luck. A local pediatrician would typically see 40. FORTY PATIENTS IN ONE MORNING. And no nurse doing the regular weight/height/temperature check, all that is done by the doctors themselves. After you have your number, you wait your turn for the machine to call your name. If you were really early, it might be only a thirty minute wait, but if you got there late and got a high number, it could be three hours.

M getting an ultrasound, which she found very tickly. You'll notice there are three people doing it. I have no idea why, but this is typical for every kind of test.

When it's your turn to see the doctor, you go in and explain your sitation. They'll usually order some tests, which since you're in a hospital, you can do at the same place. Let's say you have a fever and it's been more than a week, so they need to check if you have an infection and need antibiotics. The first thing to do is to get blood work to see if your white blood cells are high (which would mean you do have an infection). So, the doctor orders the blood test in the computer system. Then you go line up to pay for the test. The cashier scans the medical card you got the first time you went to that hospital and her computer tells her how much you owe. For a test like, this it'd be about 5 USD. You pay for the test and then bring the receipt to the fourth floor, where they do bloodwork. Then you get in line for blood. Once it's your turn, there's no fancy chair to sit in, you just hand them your receipt and stick your arm in a window. It's kind of like a teller window at the bank, but the bottom near the counter is open to allow arms to go in. They take the blood, and then when they're done, they use a long q-tip to put pressure and stop the bleeding and then hand it to you. You need to keep putting the pressure as you walk away until the bleeding stops. No band-aid. And you can imagine that the floor is sprinkled with these used q-tips from people who missed the trash can. But most of them are in the ash tray near the escalator.

Now you wait for your results. If it's a simple blood test, as in our case, it'll be maybe an hour. So you sit around (I prefer the quieter sixth floor for this situation) and then when it's time you scan your card at the results machine and it'll print them out for you. Now you need to bring them back to the doctor, but your number is already past. So you just barge into their office.

This is a patient staying at the hospital (see the wrist band?) who went down to the first floor and waited in line to register for his own MRI. The wait time for an MRI is 1-2 days.

You stand there while the doctor finishes up with whatever patient is actually being treated then. I have learned a lot about how medicine is practiced in this country during this time. Then once that patient is done, in the few seconds before the next patient comes in, the doctor looks at your blood results. Let's say that ours show an infection. So, now he orders more tests through the computer system to find out where your infection is: a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia and a urine sample to check for a UTI. Meanwhile, the next patient is already in the room. Then you repeat the process: line up, pay the cashier (this time it's maybe 50 USD), wait in line for your x-ray, do your x-ray. While waiting the three to four hours for those results, you go do the urine test.

This is my favorite part. You go to a random bathroom on the fourth floor, and grab a flimsy plastic cup with a tiny handle for your thumb from a shelf outside. Then you wait in line, because there's only one stall and, by the way, the light is broken. You use the squatty potty to pee in the cup and then you take your open cup to a window that opens into the bathroom. The lady behind the computer scans your receipt and prints out a label. Then she tells you to grab a test tube and pour in your sample. Just dump the extra urine in the giant open trash can next to you. Then you hand her the test tube and she puts your label on it. You need to wait three to four hours for these results too, so you decide after that long morning, you'll grab some noodles nearby.

I love it when, despite all the fancy machines for registering, paying and printing out results, you still find a nurse keeping records by hand. And yes, nurses really wear those hats.

After your noodles, you come back and try the machines to see if your results are out. They're out early! But by now the doctor is no longer in the clinic, and you need to call his cell phone to find out where he is. Lucky for us, he's just in the wards upstairs, so you just need to go to his floor to bring your results. You wait in line for the elevator and then squeeze in with 15 other people, some of whom are accompanied by relatives carrying their IV drips. Your floor is pretty high up, so by the time you get there, you don't have to elbow anyone to get out. The whole floor smells like cooking oil because everyone got food delivered for lunch since there's no cafeteria in the hospital. It also smells like smoke in the staircase, even though that's against the rules. You see several food delivery guys racing out of the staircase to deliver their food since they're paid per order and they opted to run up the fourteen flights instead of waiting for the elevator. You walk past the rooms, all of which have three patients each, plus all the associated relatives, and only one very smelly squatting toilet. Everyone's bedding is different, because the hospital only provides the bottom sheet.

You find the doctor in an office and he looks at your results. You have pneumonia! No problem, he calls his student who is still in the clinic and tells him what prescription you need for antibiotics. You wait ten minutes for the elevator going down and then go back to the clinic you were in this morning. The friend uses the computer system to write your prescription and then you repeat: pay the cashier, scan your card at the pharmacy downstairs, wait for them to call your number. Then they give you your medicine but don't give you any instructions. Fortunately, you're literate, so you can read the instructions in the box. You're done! Now, after spending the day from 8am until 2pm in the hospital, you can go home to take your medicine! And also get a iced tea delivered.

Some iced tea with milk to recover from a day at the hospital.

Okay, you may not believe it, but that's actually a very smooth, easy hospital trip! In our scenario, you got to see a foreign doctor who spoke to you in English, you only had to do a few tests and the medicine you needed was available.

We are very fortunate to have a decent hospital close by and a few excellent foreign doctors there who can treat us and our kids! But I think now you may have a better understanding of why we only go to the doctor if we REALLY need to.