…The mad queuing started to make sense, kind of, once we found ourselves sitting in front of the doctor’s room, waiting to be called in or for my name to appear on the screen. You see, in China they don’t seem to have quite grasped the whole concept of following the order of appointments. To my utter astonishment I soon discovered that those, who queued up first, felt they had the right to walk into the room before those, who actually had earlier appointments!
Referencing the number given at reception didn’t seem to make any difference as people simply pushed in!As you can imagine, my OH and I were quite upset as we specifically made the appointment as early as possible-8.30am-as we both had to return to work but nobody seemed to care about the timings and walked in whenever they felt like it. And I truly mean, WHENEVER. Vast majority of patients was completely oblivious to the fact that there is someone in the room already and they could potentially be walking in during someone’s examination. To my even bigger shock, practically no one bothered to knock prior to entering the doctor’s office! Imagine you’re sat there, discussing your private issues, asking for advice on what could be a very sensitive topic and suddenly a stranger walks unceremoniously in and not only interrupts you but actually starts talking over you! Sadly, that is exactly what kept happening for the best part of that morning.
Thankfully my dear OH shared my sentiments with regards to such behaviour and refused to let anyone into the room during our visit, regardless of how urgent their issue was. I understand that some people turn up without appointments because they need to see the doctor quickly and the waiting time can sometimes be over a week long, however some of those ‘urgent’ patients displayed a very arrogant, entitled attitude as if we, the patients who did make appointments, HAD TO give them priority and were visibly considered rude if we dared not to give them a priority!
To my surprise the doctor spoke good English, however switched to Chinese immediately after finding my husband spoke Mandarin. I am still baffled as to why the doctor chose not to continue speaking English if it didn’t cause a problem for her and she knew all present could then communicate with each other. I felt sorry for my husband, who had to remember A LOT of information, and at the same time felt frustrated for being completely ignored as a patient. I was treated as a companion at best and not the one who actually needed help. I used to work as an interpreter and am well aware that even when a patient doesn’t speak the language, one should still direct speech towards that person and not the translator. It’s basic courtesy if you as me.
The entire pushing in and disrupting other patients’ appointment made me truly angry. The excuse of ‘this is the culture here‘ cannot and should not be applied in this situation as it is simply not acceptable to behave this way, especially in a health institution where nobody goes out of pleasure but to deal with a given problem. It’s not an easy visit for anyone, so why make it more stressful by displaying lack of awareness, understanding and manners?
I must admit, that the patients are only partially responsible for such terrible atmosphere though as it should be up to the doctor to stop people from skipping queues, pushing in, entering without knocking or being called in. Shouldn’t it be down to the medic to follow the rules and encourage order? Why does it seem so impossible to tell people off when they are interrupting an appointment? I believe that if the doctor acted appropriately, patients would too because they would have no choice. As long as the practice of seeing patients with open doors so everyone around can hear the issue discussed (as is common all over China though thankfully not in hospital/department I visited), of dealing openly with those entering the room aware that another patient is inside and of seeing patients without caring about the order of appointments continues, nothing will change.
What was particularly frustrating was the fact that instead of giving us all the information at once, it was given in drip-drabs and so we had to keep returning to the same doctor multiple times! Why not tell us right at the beginning that we need to pay for the appointment first (massive queues) or that I need various blood tests done even before I introduce the issue I came with (more gigantic queues)? Once everything was sorted and the appointment finished, we had to queue some more (and why not?!) to buy medication (done on site but that is changing due to contracts the hospitals sign with particular pharmacies) and to make another appointment (as a foreigner without a Chinese ID I am limited in services I can access). ‘Free health care’ is not free at all-on one occasion we were blatantly asked to purchase an expensive product we did not need, otherwise we wouldn’t be seen! Everyone was subjected to that disgusting practice and nobody protested. As usual.
To add to the stress, the concept of privacy is entirely foreign here. The word seems to have completely lost its meaning. I refuse to believe that explaining loudly every single detail of someone’s treatment while standing in the middle of the hallway full of people is in any way normal, China or not. Same goes for staff walking passed unphased when one is subjected to an examination. It might be their daily life but it’s not mine and I’d appreciate some respect and privacy. As if that wasn’t bad enough, another doctor I saw completely missed a bad result on one of my blood tests, which delayed my treatment significantly. I presume that was because she was in a rush to get me out of the room to be able to see as many patients as possible in the short time her visiting hours allow her (on a side note-none of the doctors with offices down a long corridor turned up on time. Some only started seeing patients an hour after their official starting time). The doctors’ and nurses’ attitude during my few appointments, with a handful of exceptions, was horrible with some openly dismissing my concerns and questions, ignoring patients calling for help or even mocking. Having worked in hospitals and health clinics in the UK for most of my adult life, it shocks me to the bone that a health practitioner would dare to behave in such manner. You’d probably get sued for that in Europe. But this is China. Another world. On so many levels.