Friday, November 20, 2009

Patients tongue-tied at clinic

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Patients tongue-tied at clinic

I had the swine flu. I think.

At least that is what a Chinese doctor at a hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Beijing, told me when I turned up there last week.

I had been sick for days and was only getting sicker when I finally decided to drag myself out of bed and go to the doctor.

I decided to go to a Chinese clinic because it was cheap, convenient and my employee benefit package would cover most of the cost.

At the registration desk, nurses took my name and then took my temperature. It was well over 38 C. They stuck a mask on my face and led me to the hospital's emergency fever clinic. I was the only foreigner and the only person who spoke English and I had no idea what to do.

And so I sat there, holding a little, pink slip of paper, feeling panicked as I tried to figure out how to see a doctor.

The waiting room was filled with patients whose faces were also hidden behind blue and white masks. We all stared at each other.

Or rather they stared at me while I tried to beseech them with my gaze to please tell me something, anything on how to get help, on how to figure out what was wrong.

I speak some Chinese but under these conditions I was speechless altogether. So I continued to sit in silence, trying to observe the order of things. I did figure it out, eventually, and when I finally saw a doctor the only words she could tell me in English were: "It could be H1N1."

So as unsettling as it was to learn this information, it was even more unnerving to not know what to do about it. The pharmacy handed me half a dozen boxes of Chinese medicine that I did not know how to take.

A Chinese friend volunteered to translate on the phone, but the pharmacist refused to speak with her.

And that was it. I went back to the waiting room, wondering whether I was done or whether I would be quarantined. After a while, I decided to leave. I took off the face mask, caught a taxi home, got back in bed and called a foreign clinic.

China has received praise for the aggressive measures it has taken to stem the spread of H1N1. Yet with the onset of winter, the outbreaks of flu in China are on the rise.

Chinese hospitals must be equipped to effectively and efficiently deal not only with more Chinese patients but also with patients who cannot speak mandarin, patients like me.

It is a problem easily solved with hospital interpreters, a common position at many major medical campuses around the world.

They form a lifeline between doctors and their patients, making sure those who are sick understand what is wrong as well as understand what to do to get better before they ever walk out the door.

taken from : China Daily

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