April 20, 2012
The day I (almost) jumped into the river
Ring, ring. It's a call from the foreign affairs officer at our school about our passports and residence permit extension. "Oh, no," I was thinking as I tried listening in on Jeremy's phone conversation,"She's calling to say she needs us to meet her in the morning to go get a medical exam so she can extend our visas. And I just survived a medical exam in Shenyang last month, but that one won’t work because Harbin wants me to do theirs." I had myself so thoroughly convinced of this, that it took all the self-control I could muster not to sprint 100 meters to the riverbank and fling myself into the barely-above-iceberg temperature waters in protest.
Now you're probably wondering how a medical exam could be so bad that I would contemplate hypothermia to avoid one. Well, for some people, like Jeremy, it's no big deal. But for a doctor-phobic, anxiety-ridden, needle fearing weakling like myself, it's the dreaded event of the year (or two years if your luck holds out). All the foreigners who need to renew a residence permit need an up-to-date medical exam. After requesting you skip breakfast (and coffee!!!!!), they cart you off to a special office for foreigners and a few Chinese who need these special exams. Although the place is more familiar feeling than a true Chinese hospital, it is still a very strange and awkward place to us. They give us a form with our photo on it and we go from one room to the next visiting "doctors" and technicians who poke and prod us, then stamp our paper in the proper space and send us off to stand in line and wait to be poked or prodded in the next room.
As stated by a fellow teacher recently "There's no toilet paper, soap or band-aids!" Can you even imagine a world in which there is no toilet paper, soap or band-aids? Now, can you imagine a world where those three things don't even exist in a medical setting? The no toilet paper or soap thing would be a non-issue if you weren't required to pee into a thimble and then pour the thimble-full into a small test tube. No soap. And everybody's doing it.
And that's not even the worst of it. Getting blood drawn is as simple a transaction as going to the local bank teller to make a deposit, except you aren't giving them your money, you're giving them your blood. Step up to the counter, shove arm through glass window, hold breath, "little" stick, wait a while, you're done. No band-aid.
Making the whole deal worse, the workers at said institution have to put up with people like myself who would rather eat their own toenail clippings than visit said institution. So, instead of using words to communicate what they would like you to do, they just end up pushing you down on a table, ripping your shirt up and slapping some cold jelly on your side so they can do an ultrasound on your gallbladder. Totally necessary. (I'm sure it isn't that blatant in real life, but it really feels this way to me.)
Oh, and the X-ray room is really cool. They shoved about 5 of us in there, told us to take everything off from the waist-up and put on a paper shirt. Then it was time to cozy up to the chest X-ray machine. That was all fine, but the part I couldn't get over was staying in there to endure the stray rays bouncing around the room while the other 4 people were x-rayed. Each time, the tech would come into the room, line up the next person, then go back to his observation room separated from us by a huge metal, sliding door. Then he'd shoot his rays and enter the room again. I'm thinking "If he finds it necessary to close that huge metal door each time to protect himself from all these rays, why in the world do I have to stand here be exposed to 4 more x-rays than required????" But, then, I'm making a huge China mistake. Never, ever ask why. It will just drive you crazy and you'll find yourself contemplating an icy plunge to escape a medical exam.