How my visit to a Chinese hospital became a Tinder date
Not being the healthiest kid, I’ve been to the hospital countless times throughout my life. However, my frequent doctor visits suddenly stopped after I arrived in China. This wasn’t because I became healthier but simply because I didn’t know how. Not only do I not speak much Chinese, but Shanghai’s gigantic public hospitals, which are usually swarming with thousands of patients waiting for hours on end, seemed too daunting.
However, this winter was different. Symptoms of what I thought were an ordinary cold worsened as the weeks went by. I began to feel apprehensive that this could turn into something serious. Sure, it would have been more convenient (albeit ridiculously expensive) to just pop into a foreign-managed private clinic. However, as a student, I had to opt for the cheapest alternative, which meant going public.
My determination wavered with the question ‘how can I communicate with the doctor?’ My limited language ability thus forced me to find someone to go with. A colleague happily agreed to accompany me, but the catch was that I’d have to wait another five days until her day off.
Then, the most unexpected of offers – some random Chinese guy I met on dating app Tinder during a previous search – wound up being my knight in shining armor.
There began our first date, en route to the hospital, in complete awkward silence. Thanks to an English-Chinese dictionary app, we previously were able to communicate freely on WeChat. But in reality my poor Putonghua and his limited English prevented us from carrying on any type of conversation.
We arrived at a hospital in Pudong on a Tuesday morning, which I naively expected to be less busy than, say, a weekend. But nope, the waiting room was pure chaos. Unlike my home country Canada, where you see a physician first then they direct you to a specialist, here in China it’s up to the patient to selfdiagnose themselves to the receptionist and specifically ask for the type of specialist you want to see. But first, we had to go to the cashier to pay for the doctor I had not even seen yet. What?
When I got to the cashier, a middle-aged woman angrily yelled at me to “make a card first.” Grabbing my sleeve, Tinder guy escorted me to the registration desk where I filled out forms about myself. Then we repeated the whole process of lining up to pay. Again, grabbed by my sleeve, I was dragged to a specialist just to have to wait in line again.
When I finally saw an actual doctor, she just shook her head and “tsked” at me for coming to the wrong department. She inattentively prescribed some medication, probably just to get me out of her little room. I, again, had to go back to the cashier to pay for this medication, and then had to go to the other side of the building to pick it up from an affiliated pharmacy.
For each specialist I was incorrectly sent to throughout the morning (there were several), I had to physically jostle my way into the doctor’s office past a dozen other patients attempting to queue-jump my number. Even while being examined, I was shocked that anyone could just walk in and watch. Privacy clearly doesn’t exist here.
Exhausted, I couldn’t wait until the day was over. But when I looked at my watch, it was only 11:30 am. Just my luck, this is when all the doctors and all the nurses and all the pharmacists and all the receptionists go to lunch followed by a nap. Deservedly; they work tirelessly and have to deal with thousands of sickly people every day. But for me and poor Tinder guy, this meant sitting around the hospital until 1 pm.
That doctor seemed rather frustrated by the language barrier despite Tinder guy translating for us; she indifferently dashed off some prescriptions. After four hours at the hospital, that 5-minute consultation was thankfully the last. Not surprisingly, I felt like my hospital visit made me even sicker, what with all the coughing, sneezing, wheezing, hacking, puking patients all around me.
I still don’t know what kind of pills I took or what caused my sickness in the first place, but thanks to Tinder guy I got my meds and recovered soon after. Alas, that would be our last date – I don’t think it’s very fun for locals to have to baby-sit sick foreigners, especially ones they can’t even communicate well with – but dang if it wasn’t a memorable one.