Taking a Child to a Chinese Hospital

Since moving to China, I have dreaded the day I’d have to take one of my children into the hospital for an emergency. Last Thursday, it finally happened. The children were playing on their favorite piece of adult exercise equipment (pictured below from last year) when Toby fell off and one of the feet swung back and hit him in the face. I went to pick him up, and when I saw the hole in his lip, it was obvious it was not something that could be repaired with a Band-aid. I grabbed him up and told Bobi’s mom (who was there, thankfully), that we needed to go to the hospital, so she told the other kids to stay at the park (including her little niece, who was crying because she was so upset that Toby was hurt), and she ran out to the road with me and got a taxi and told the driver to take us to the children’s hospital (big mistake, which I kind of felt even at the time, but I asked the driver if we couldn’t just go to the nearest adult hospital and she said no, it was better to go to the children’s hospital). Bobi’s mom took the other kids back to her house, and Toby and I set out on the half hour taxi ride to children’s hospital. Toby was a champ and hardly cried, and just held the tissue on his lip while I made phone calls (and fell asleep, because he hadn’t had a nap that day). I called Brian and told him what happened and asked if he knew anyone who could come with me to translate for me, and a really nice woman I’d never really met before (named Cinderella, or Cindy) volunteered to meet me at the hospital.


When we arrived at the hospital, we waited outside for Cindy, then we went in and paid the fee to see the doctor (you always pay first). I think it was 25 or 35 kuai. They sent us up to the mouth portion of the hospital and the woman looked at his lip and sent us to pay for a shot he had to have first and then to the place where he would get the shot. I held him and they gave him a shot in the butt, for I don’t know what, and that was the end of his composure, my poor boy. Then we walked back up to the original mouth nurse/doctor and she sent Cindy to pay for the procedure (440 kuai). When Cindy got back, the true nightmare began. They told me I couldn’t go in with him and I said, No, that’s out of the question, and after some arguing, she said I could be in the room, but I had to stand by the door, about 10-15 feet from the bed (I’m terrible with distances). I was upset but I didn’t know what else to do, so I brought him in and laid him on the bed and they wrapped him up in a blanket like a papoose and made me walk away. There was a doctor and one nurse assisting her, and somehow the nurse managed to hold him still while the doctor injected anesthetic right into the wound, without any preparatory numbing cream or anything. He just screamed and screamed and screamed and I have never felt so like my heart was just being ripped out of me. I felt so so angry with them, because I felt deep down like what they were doing was just wrong. After the shot, they couldn’t hold him still anymore. He got out of the wraps and managed to twist around and bury his face in the bed so they couldn’t get to it. Eventually they let me come over and try to talk to him, but he was out of his mind with terror. There was nothing I could do or say to convince him to turn around and stay still.

Wonderful Cindy with the boys a few days later.

Wonderful Cindy with the boys a few days later.


They implied two things which I resented very much. One, that Chinese children don’t need to be sedated to do this procedure, but that Toby did (I was pretty sure he didn’t need to be), and two, that he was only “behaving” this way because I was there. That is just crap, and I know it. I feel so sorry for Chinese parents who are always told by everyone—schools, the government, doctors, their own parents—that they are not the ones who know what’s best for their children, and they just accept it. I know, as an American, that unless it’s some kind of major surgery, parents are usually with their children when they see a doctor. And I know that Toby was far beyond making any kind of choice to behave the way he was “behaving.” Later, I watched a grandmother and mother hand over their 2 year old girl for some minor procedure, and she just cried and cried, and they just said, be brave, and let her go. It’s ridiculous and unnecessary. Maybe they think they are raising strong children by forcing them to overcome their fear at a young age, but I was raised the western way and somehow I manage to be brave enough to go into surgery as an adult. Anyway, I’m a little irritated as I write this, if you can’t tell.

A picture by Piper of the Oral Hospital.

A picture by Piper of the Oral Hospital.

So the doctor said we had to go to another hospital where they would sedate him for the procedure and we got our money back and left. On the way, I called Brian who gave me the number of a student of his who is a doctor and that student suggested we go to the Tianjin Oral Hospital, so we went there (with a terrified, very upset Toby, on hearing that we were going to another hospital).  At that hospital, they allowed me to clean the wound and put numbing cream on myself, and we went in to the operating room and they allowed me to hold the lower half of his body and talk to him the whole time. There were two nurses holding his head still and the doctor worked so quickly and efficiently and managed to do a really good job in spite of the fact that Toby was screaming the entire time (and so moving the place where they were working). When they finished, they put a completely ridiculous bandage around his head and told us not to feed him meat, fish or hot things and to come back in the morning to change the bandage. They also said to give him a 3-day course of antibiotics (I am not sure if that is normal, but I did it anyway, though I hate using antibiotics here, because Chinese people use antibiotics like Americans use cough drops.) (Cost at the oral hospital: 660 kuai, about 110 USD)

Poor Toby the day after, taking a nap to recover from the excitement of the night before.

Poor Toby the day after, taking a nap to recover from the excitement of the night before.

We returned the next day, and the minute Toby saw the doctor, he was terrified all over again, and they didn’t want me to go in, but I just said that I was going in anyway, and they gave me a mask and a hat and let me lay him down and hold him, and I was able to convince him that they weren’t going to hurt him, and he did well. They said to come back in two days for another dressing change and we left (cost 26 kuai). Two days later we returned and Toby was even braver and again they said I couldn’t come in and again I said, Yeah right. While we were in there, another patient was brought into the same room to a bed 3 feet from Toby’s. They said they didn’t want me in because of contamination. That is completely ridiculous. How is my presence in there, just holding Toby and touching nothing else, any worse than having another patient who might even have some kind of contagious disease, in the same room with him? How could his wound be any more contaminated than when I clean it myself at home? (I forgot to mention that they kept surrounding his head in a ridiculous bandage to hold the gauze over his face, which chafed behind his ears and got filthy immediately, so we just switched to Band-aids once we walked out the door.)

There were a lot of people waiting the second time we went back.

There were a lot of people waiting the second time we went back. The boy’s bandage is like the one they gave Toby.

They said it was healing well and that we should return on the 16th to have the stitches out (in 4 days). Well, today was the 16th, and Brian had tried to prepare Toby for what was coming by explaining it all, but Toby was just plain scared once he saw the hospital, and when we went in (and paid the obligatory 6 kuai to see the doctor), the doctor told me I couldn’t go in, and I said, No, I’m sorry, I am going in. I went in last time, and I’m going in this time. He said, Well, you can carry him in but you have to leave, but I carried him in with no intent of leaving (he was crying almost as much as the first time by this point), and I laid him down on the bed and the doctor said, Now you have to go, and I said no, and he said, Yes, you have to go, and I refused. So he said, then we can’t do it, and I said, that’s fine then, my husband will do it. So I picked up a very grateful Toby and walked out. I stopped on the way to appeal to the woman I know from our last apartment who is a dentist there, but she said she couldn’t help me (she asked the head doctor and her co-workers and they all said no). So I just left. I must admit, it was pretty satisfying to just walk away, but I still feel frustrated about it. I can’t believe they would just flat out refuse to do it just because a bio-hazardous mother was in the room. So I guess the stitches will come out tonight once he goes to sleep.

We did get one thing out of it - super cool doctor get up.

We did get one thing out of it – super cool doctor get up.


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