How to Avoid a Horrific Hospital Stay in China

After a CAT scan at the Hong Kong University hospital in the Futian District of Shenzhen, the doctors discovered multiple hernias that needed to be dealt with. They gave me a date and we started the process preparing for my surgery. Despite the help of my Chinese assistant, English speaking doctors and years of experience in China, I was caught completely unprepared for the hospital experience I was about to have. I shouldn't have been, but I was. The information given to me by the doctor in the outpatient clinic was wildly different from what actually happened. Nobody prepared me for what I was going to go through. My friends assumed I already knew what it would be like. I didn't. So, for those of you that may need, knock on wood, a hospital stay in China, here's some information to help keep you from suffering what could be a horrific experience.


I'll start with a positive note. I was surprised at how little the total experience ended up costing. Prior to the surgery, I was told to bring a 30,000 RMB deposit and that it could end up costing anywhere between 30,000-70,000 RMB. When I checked in, I was asked to give a 10,000 RMB deposit. The day after surgery, I was asked for another 7,700 RMB. In the end, the total bill came out to just about 13,800 RMB to fix up the three hernias with a total of six days in the hospital.

You'll glean from this story that in hindsight it may have been a good idea to get a private room. When checking in, I did ask for one. They said ok, but it would be triple the cost. Not just triple the cost of the room though, triple the cost of everything. The surgery, medicine, doctor, everything.  So I went with the standard room instead.

Another interesting note about cost is that the day after the surgery, a clerk came in with another bill. I had to pay it immediately. Be sure to have your support team ready with cash in case you need to pay anything more.


Checking In:

Make sure they spell your name 100% correctly when you check-in or during any part of the process or hospital visit. If there is an error, it will cause days of trouble to fix it. My name was spelled incorrectly on a form and it caused a lot of trouble.

Be prepared for things to happen suddenly. Appointments can be made and you may be asked to do something very quickly... and you need to pay for it. You may need to take the window opportunity; otherwise it may be more months before another window opens.

During the check-in process, I expected to be given some kind of checklist of anything special I would need during my stay. I wasn't. I asked, but they didn't advise that I needed anything special.


Lack of Information:

There was literally no information. Don't expect any. They don't tell you what happens next or what to expect. In the end, the surgical approach or plan changed drastically from a minimally invasive, more expensive laproscopy to an old school 150mm incision and sutures.

None of the forms have English and there weren't any English speakers in my department. The cashiers, clerks, nurses etc didn't speak any English; however, the doctors did speak English. I cannot stress enough how I couldn't have done it without my Chinese translator.


What to Bring with You:

Aside from the hospital clothes you are forced to wear, they don't provide you with anything while you're in. Here are a few things I realized I would need after I already checked in.

  • Deodorant, Toothbrush/Toothpaste, Soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Change of clothes for after your release. They will not let you wear your own clothes while you're in-patient. Your comfy pajamas can stay at home. They will insist on your wearing their clothes.
  • Bring any medication you take with all the labels to show them. They won't let you take them so they'll need to see what you take to provide you with what you need.
  • Towel / Washcloth (you may not be able to shower properly after your surgery): Really think about how you're going to bathe. They don't give supplies and there are no stools in the shower.
  • If you're used to sleeping with two pillows or more, bring your own. They won't give you more than one.
  • Post Surgery Supplies: When I got out of surgery, I needed to wear a belly band. I didn't have one and they didn't tell me that I needed one and they didn't sell them. So ask your doctor very clearly... "What supplies will I need post surgery?" and "How do I use them?" You may also need some help to change your dressings or things like that. You need to figure that out on your own. Also, ask them what you should do in case of emergency. Contingency plans; especially for after you leave the hospital.
  • Support Team: You need someone there; or at least on call constantly, to help you with pretty much everything.



They don't provide food. You would expect, after a surgery, that they would put you on a special diet. No. You have to bring your own. The nurse will likely scold you about what you're eating too. Talk to a doctor about our diet plan BEFORE surgery so you can prepare for it and prepare to have people bring you the food. Bring lots of snacks; healthy stuff though. There's no in-room refrigeration so don't bring anything that will spoil. They provided hot water for soup but not drinking water in bulk to my room so be prepared to have someone bring you plenty of water.


Additional Things You May Want to Prepare:

  • Prepare your own body. If you are getting surgery on an area that is hairy, you may want to consider shaving yourself. It may not be a problem for the surgery, but dealing with bandages on hairy areas afterwards can be a painful experience.
  • Learn how to say "Tell me tomorrow" or "I don't understand" in case they babble something at you after your surgery. You may not be 100% clear due to the anesthesia and you may miss something important they're trying to tell you.
  • It may help to learn a polite but firm way to say "shut the fuck up" in Chinese. Other patient's support team in your shared room may not be very considerate of your need to sleep and recover after surgery.


Hong Baos (Red Packets):

Be prepared for some interesting hongbao requests. For example, one was a promise that I wouldn't pay hongbaos. I heard it's common for doctors and nurses in other hospitals to request them; however, in this one, any gift at all to the staff was strictly prohibited. I wouldn't have minded paying though if it meant better service. 


Cultural Issues:

  • My daughter came to visit one day. When she didn't come back the next day they constantly asked where she was. Their expectation is that you will have someone with you at all times. 
  • They don't do anything early in the day.
  • Expect to hear multiple stories. The nurse was telling me I was going to be in for at least two more days on the same day that the doctor told me I was going to be discharged the next day.
  • Chinese people are nosey. I had my curtains drawn for privacy. Of course, they often poked their head in despite that. I had my own closet; however, other people constantly opened it to have a look inside. 


Overall, if you treat this like you're going on a camping trip to some remote wilderness you've never been to before, you should be ok. Whatever comforts or necessities you need, bring them with you. Good luck.


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19 Jun 2018

By The Cut Man

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