Saturday, October 4, 2014

That one time I had an operation in China….My experiences going under the knife abroad

The battle scars!

Welcome back everybody! It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post, but this time I have a sorta excuse...I had surgery here in China! I know crazy right?!  I will cut to the chase and tell you that I’m doing just fine and I’m resting at home. I even had physical therapy today and the physical therapist mentioned that I was healing well. Now, I’m going to detail below exactly what happened and how I went under the knife abroad…

What Happened?
I’ve always enjoyed being active with dance and other types of fitness. Almost a year ago, I decided to add yoga to the routine which I really fell in love with (especially since the first time I tried it years ago, I absolutely hated it). Well, I didn’t end up with an injury due to yoga; in fact, it was something rather familiar to my routine. I was doing a low squat and when I came back up I heard a “pop” in my left knee. I know that my knees “pop” sometimes (hey…I’m getting old) so I thought I would just massage it out and keep going. Unfortunately, there would be no immediate recovery and when I noticed the pain that accompanied it, I knew that something was very wrong. I decided to take action and go to the hospital.

Public Hospitals in China:
My journey begins at the People’s Number 6 Hospital (Chinese: 上海交通大学附属第六人民医院) since it’s very close to me and according to the internet, really good for sports medicine.
When it comes to public hospitals in China, there are a few things you need to know. First, they are not for the faint of heart: there are endless lines, long waits, loads of sick people (I’ve seen a few people vomit right in front of me), angry people (there has been a surge of revenge murders against doctors and nurses in China, so much so that some hospitals provide self-defense courses for staff), not very clean conditions, and then, more waiting. It’s best to bring a Chinese speaking friend with you so, I brought along the school nurse to help me navigate the system. 

Secondly, one should subscribe to the hospital and pay a fee (35 RMB/ $5.70 USD) to obtain a card. Then, a patient gets in another line to see a doctor (Also inexpensive, I think mine was 50 RMB/ $8.30 USD). We went straight to the emergency department and luckily, the line was very short. Finally, when it was my turn to be seen, the doctor touched me for five seconds (you know, he didn’t want those black people cooties) and when I didn’t welp in pain, he concluded I needed an MRI and sent me away. I was in the chair for one minute and that was all. I then went in another line to pay for an MRI (At this hospital it was 500RMB/ $80USD, def not too expensive) and the follow up consultation (100RMB/ $17 USD). 

I had the MRI which was on a new looking machine, albeit with the good ol’ Chinese dust/dirt all over it. After I finished, I waited a day for the results. Again, I brought the school nurse with me and we waited in an area with hundreds of people. The nurses at the hospital estimated my wait time to be around 3 hours and they weren’t lying! By the time my number was called, I entered a consultation room to see a doctor who had my results. He said something very quickly, scribbled something on paper and then dismissed me. Since I know very little medical Chinese (and the school nurse isn’t great with medical English), he saw the confusion on my face and blurted out “surgery!" You could have knocked me over with a feather at that point, except the line of people who were waiting behind me would not have allowed it. I held back my tears and I told the school nurse I would seek a second opinion. She said this would be an excellent idea so; I went to the private hospital just down the street…

Private Hospitals in China:
Since I’m staying in Shanghai, the most developed city in China, my review should not be taken as gospel. I will say that private hospitals are much, much better than the public ones. They are impeccably clean, staffed with friendly and helpful employees, and quiet waiting rooms…it’s almost like being back in the west (except for the all Asian staff). Of course you get what you pay for so they are considerably more expensive than the public hospitals, but much cheaper than the U.S.

 I knew of a private hospital named Landseed Hospital (上海禾新医院 为了您的健康,们用心服务) through a coworker who had previously been a few times. The hospital was from Taiwan and they boasted about their western style medical care, bilingual staff and the large amount of insurance companies they accepted (including mine). 

I went straight to the orthopedics department and I waited a very short time to see a doctor. The doctor was very warm, friendly and knowledgeable and she spent a considerable amount of time with me. She recommended an X-ray and MRI, which I had done that same day. We received the results quickly and the doctor saw from the X-Ray that it wasn’t a bone issue. After looking at my MRI however, she saw the problem, which turned out to be a meniscus tear in my left knee. Apparently the tear was bad enough that I would need surgery. She even brought out a knee model to show me exactly how the knee should work and the problem with mine. She carefully explained in English what to expect from the surgery and the recovery time of the operation. I learned that it would be a minor operation with a short recovery period of 6-8 weeks. I was still bummed to know that I would need surgery, but I felt a bit safer knowing I was in good hands.

 After a month of going back and forth with the insurance company, the doctor personally called me to let me know I would be going under the knife in two days, and my operation would be done by the famous Dr. Shiyi Chen. Apparently, Dr. Chen was a like a rock star in the mainland China sports medicine world. He was credited with getting Liu Xiang, the famous Chinese hurdler back to good health after fixing his troubled Achilles tendon. I was in a daze leading up the surgery and then it was finally surgery day!

The Operation:
My hospital suite...Clean, nice and comfortable
I quickly packed a bag that morning and called my mom to say a prayer. I tried my best to catch a cab, but gave up when I saw a bus. From the bus I hoped onto the metro and finally after a ten minute walk, made it to the hospital. I was trying to take the easiest and least stressful route but, a rainy morning in Shanghai left me no other option but the aforementioned (rainy days in Shanghai=no cabs!). I was escorted to my room which was really nice and comfortable.  I had one of my Shanghai besties' meet me at the hospital and she kept me entertained with small, light talk since she knew how scared I was. Finally the team of doctors, including Dr. Chen came into the room and once again explained the procedure. I also had a Taiwanese-American resident who would be there the whole operation (he was also a cutie : ). After the discussion, it was time for my I.V. which the staff kinda messed up on (in their defense, I have really small and not noticeable veins), which only increased my fear. Finally, I was transferred to a wheeled bed and led to another floor for the operation…

I don’t remember much after that and once I woke up I was crying. The staff was worried until I shouted that “I was alive!” They laughed and wiped away my tears and then I was back in my hospital room. According to my friend, I was gone for quite awhile (two hours I believe).  The Taiwanese-American resident explained the next steps which involved sleeping and no eating. I took a small nap and after a few more hours, I learned that I was able to eat. I was surprised to learn that the hospital didn’t have food, but there was a restaurant and Starbucks on the ground floor. I had some rice and vegetables and then I went back to sleep till the next day. 

The next day I felt much better and happier. I had a nice Starbucks breakfast (A ham sandwich and green tea latte) and I rested comfortably in bed watching online t.v. and grading papers (I couldn’t get too far behind on work). I decided to stay at the hospital until the evening since the insurance covered it and I wanted as much help as possible before being on my own.  I met the physical therapist that would be working with me on my recovery who had an OK level of English however, his personality really made up for it. He was really funny and showed me some exercises to do at home. I will see him two times a week for two months and then hopefully, I will be back to my dancing and squatting self!

I know this was long so thanks for reading! Tune into my next installment on how I get around being disabled in China!

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