Seth Barham Design
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Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Injured in China

Sorry for the delay on the weekly post. I was late in writing it, well, because I physically couldn’t write it. No one warns you about the occupational hazards of teaching. A careless mistake left me with my right arm dangling uselessly for at least a couple of weeks. I’m not particularly superstitious, but a week before this happened someone had asked me about Chinese hospitals. I said I couldn’t really comment because I managed to avoid them in my three years here. We were drinking at the time; perhaps I forgot to knock on wood. 

What happened

In the last month or so, I had decided to start making progress toward becoming a marathoner again. I was running almost every day, doing yoga, abs, strength training and a bit of meditation to tie it all together. I had a tiny bit of pain in my right shoulder, but didn’t think much of it. Then, two weeks ago, I stupidly lifted a kid up that was trying to write on the whiteboard but couldn’t reach. I felt something give and then the next day my right shoulder and arm were useless and in agony. I was unable to lift my arm and suffered 9/10 pain in my bicep. After a few days of that nonsense, I decided to pop my cherry. 

Daqing People’s Hospital (Public)

Saturday is a pretty big day for classes at my school, as it’s a private language center and the kids come there on the weekend when they’re not at public school. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t finish my classes, so my boss decided to take me to the hospital (protect your assets, business 101). Usually I would insist on going to the Oilfield Hospital because it’s more modern with better trained doctors, but my boss thought the lines would be too long at that time of day and she was probably right. 

Healthcare is a little strange in China. Despite being a communist country, it’s not free. Pretty much everyone here has private health insurance purchased individually or through their employer. It’s dirt cheap however; I only pay 90 yuan ($13) per month. Much like pre-ACA America, how your insurance works here can depend on the hospital. My insurance is essentially useless and does not cover most hospitals in Daqing - it’s been a long running point of contention between my employer and the foreign staff. This is something you should be asking about before you come here to teach. 

Anyway, even if you don’t have health insurance in China, things are extremely cheap compared to the States. To register and receive consultation from a doctor was only 5 yuan ($0.76). You get what you pay for. The guy moved my arm around, told me it was just a strain and sent me home without an X-Ray or MRI and wrote down the name of some TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) to get at my pharmacy. Not very useful, overall. 

Daqing Traditional Bone Hospital (Private)

A couple days after essentially being ignored at the People’s Hospital, I had a terrible night of pain. Fortuitously, or however you want to look at it, another teacher over here was having some serious problems with his knees and was in so much pain he couldn’t walk, let alone stand and teach in a class full of 5 year olds. My boss packed us into the cripple mobile the next day and took us to a private hospital on the other side of the city. I was skeptical initially - private hospitals can really go either way here. Some offer a premium service compared to the government hospitals, others simply try to scam patients out of their money. I was willing to try anything at this point. 

We arrive, and I help Larry out of the car onto his crutches. We were a sorry sight, him limping in with extreme pain written across his face and me with my drooping shoulder and meat-bag of an arm dangling at my side. The entire lobby of the place was gutted and being remodeled with welders welding away and scraps of metal littering the floor. This sort of thing is just kind of normal here and I barely notice it. 

The doctor takes a look at me and thinks that I might have torn my rotator cuff. It was something that had crossed my mind and was really hoping that it wasn’t the case. After an X-Ray and further poking and prodding, he told me he was almost positive this was the case. Maybe it’s a minor tear and it will respond relatively well to physical therapy, or it could be more serious and require surgery. He told me to come back in 10 days and based on my progress he would recommend an MRI to see the extent of the tear. If I do need surgery, he was honest enough to say I should go back to the US for it. 

What to do next

I was happy with the private hospital (despite TCM being in their name) and the doctor there seemed to know what he was talking about. You can usually tell pretty quickly with these things in China. The whole visit set me back 70 yuan ($10.65). Not too shabby for an X-ray and a proper diagnosis. I will probably get an MRI regardless of how well I improve - they cost about $100 compared to an average of $2,600 in the US. I bought an elastic band for a buck in the local market and found some YouTube videos of physio for rotator cuff injuries. Yeah…physical therapists aren’t really a thing here. 

So yeah, this was a whole shitty situation less than two months before I leave China for good, but at least I can now give you a bit of insight on how hospitals work here and what you’re going to pay. As for the shoulder, it seems to be slowly improving. I’m really hoping surgery isn’t the case as spending all of my savings on medical costs is not really my idea of a warm welcome home, but if so…what could be more American than that?

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