Jumping Through Hoops, the Medical Side (or “Put Your Pee Cup There, Please”)

Last week, Brian and I had to go for medical checks at the Tianjin International Travel Clinic, so that we could be okayed to receive visas for remaining in the country. When you consider the fact that you are much more likely to get a horrible, communicable disease while in China, rather than outside it (i.e. tuberculosis, because someone hocks up a loogie and spits it on the elevator floor by your feet), it seems rather ridiculous that you have to go through this formality, but it does make a lot of sense in light of the fact that they get 543¥ ($86) off of every foreigner and half of that off of every Chinese person who wants to leave the country. The clinic is open from 8:30-10:30 AM every day (because you have to go in fasting), so I arrived 2 minutes before opening time (my taxi driver had to ask several people how to get there), and stood outside waiting with a bunch of Chinese people (I know, big surprise, I live in China).

In case you wonder what the taxis we ride in look like. I didn't take this. But who wants a blog with no photos?

Once the doors opened, everyone walked in at once, grabbed a form and went to fill it out, so I followed them. I filled in my personal data, and then checked “no” in all of the boxes beside the following ailments (among others): the plague, yellow fever, toxicomania, cholera, leprosy, venereal disease, opening lung tuberculosis, diarrhea and mental confusion (I may have some of that, but I dared not check “yes,” and if I do have it, I blame China, anyway). Then I saw where everyone else was walking, so I followed them, and I was motioned to the window beside the window where I was standing, so I went to THAT window and was motioned back to the desk where I got the form when I walked in, where the man (in a white coat; every employee, even the cashier, was wearing a white coat–to inspire confidence, perhaps?) stapled my photos to the form, showed me where to sign it, and put his stamp of approval on it.

I walked back to the window I was just at, handed them my forms, was given a checklist that I was to carry along with me for all of my procedures, and pointed toward the cashier (you never do anything in China, except ride a taxi, without paying first). I paid her and walked to the hallway that held all the stations, looking for the least occupied station (Brian had told me to do whichever ones I could do first, especially the x-ray, instead of doing them in order). I tried to go to x-ray first, and saw a sign that said “X-Ray” pointing to a room that was dark and unoccupied, so after a moment of mental confusion, I went down to the other end of the hall into the ENT section. The man (in a white coat) showed me a picture of two numbers in colorful mosaics to test my colorblindness, and then motioned to a chair at the other end of the room and pointed to the chart full of E’s. I wasn’t sure what to do, since I didn’t know if he spoke English, and when I hesitated, he said, “Up, down, left, right.” So I obeyed, and told him which way 5 E’s were facing (I had to make it up on the last row, and so did Brian, and we were both wearing our glasses, so it makes me wonder…). Then he signed off my sheet. Glad they feel I’m fit to enter their country only if I’m not colorblind and can tell which way some E’s face.

I went to the urine and blood room and stood in a short line to have my blood drawn. I had a moment’s panic when I watched her take blood from the person in front of me, and it looked like she was just taking needles out of a box, with no packaging to show they’d never been used (I was told to insist on needles that I see come out of sealed packages, for obvious reasons, but I don’t actually know how to say that). I think they were coming out of a sealed plastic thing after all, so I’ll be okay, and if not, hopefully no one went before me who has some horrible blood-borne disease. She stuck the needle in (the least painful blood drawing I’ve ever had, incidentally), then pulled it out and gave me half of a Q-tip to put over the hole, which was bleeding more than I’ve ever bled after giving blood. I had to collect all my paperwork, my coat and my purse as quickly as I could, somehow keep the tiny Q-tip squarely over the blood, and take my tiny pee cup to the restroom. I walked into the restroom and found the delightful squatty potties for which China is so famous. Every inch of that bathroom was disgusting, with suspicious matter all over the floor and walls, and no hooks or ledges to put my things on. I wasn’t even sure how I’d get the stuff down so that I could stop the bleeding and throw the Q-tip away. So I made my way to the only Western toilet in the room, hoping for better luck, and there WAS  tank for resting my things on, but I lifted the lid and it was absolutely the most disgusting toilet I’ve ever seen. So I stopped the bleeding, disposed of the Q-tip (not on the floor, as Brian says they do in the men’s room, which he said was littered with bloody Q-tips), and collected my things and went back to a squatty. I somehow managed to do my business, collected my things and carried my tiny cup of pee out to stand in line with a bunch of other people all waiting with their pee cups. It was one of the strangest sources of camaraderie I’ve ever experienced. When it was my turn, the lady took two drops of pee, dripped them on a stick, and then handed the cup back to me, and motioned to a small garbage can in the hallway filled with half-empty pee cups. So I disposed of my sample and went to find the next least occupied room.

I went next to the ultrasound room, where the insides of my torso were examined for a minute or two, and then moved on to the “Internal Medicine/Surgery” room (feeling a little nervous). I followed the lead of the two others in front of me, sat in front of the blood pressure cuff, then let the doctor feel my neck, then removed my shoes and stood on the scale/height chart. I collected my 2/3 full sheet and moved on to the ECG room, waited in front of a curtain for the two others who were before me, then walked into a room with a table and what looked like instruments of torture on it. The instruments of torture were actually the most efficient ECG equipment I’ve yet experienced. Cuffs for around your leg and arm, and sensors that just suction onto your chest (instead of double-sided tape). I guess I passed. The sheet was returned to me, and I headed back down to figure out the x-ray.

I stood staring perplexedly at the dark room with the sign pointing toward it that said x-ray, and then as I turned to look behind me, a thick metal door slid open, and two fellow guinea pigs walked out.  I was obviously lost and looking for x-ray, so they nodded and pointed to the room. I saw a sign that said “Remove your bras” (I had been prepared for such an eventuality, but I couldn’t help laugh at the older middle aged man standing at the x-ray station right beside that sign. I bet he loves his job.) and I handed the man my paper and went to stand at the x-ray machine. He said, “Close the door,” so I went and closed it, and then I went and stood at the x-ray and he almost immediately said, “Finished.”  I walked out of the building and began the always fun task of figuring out which major road I should walk to to find an empty taxi.  And that was it.  2 days later we picked up our reports, and China considers us normal specimens of health, worth of residence in our country. Go us.



  1. Whoa!!! I think I’d have been on the first plane out! You are amazing to have even navigated your way through all of that!

  2. […] real life in China was the trip to the Tianjin International Travel Clinic which I posted about here–I guess it’s one way to weed through all the foreigners who want to live here and keep […]

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