I went to hospital yesterday because of a problem I've had the last two days with my right ear. For the most part, it hasn't been much more than a muffling of sound, but twice now it's gotten very, very painful. At any rate, to the hospital!
I went to a local hospital, not a hospital for foreigners, as I wanted the full experience, and I knew I wasn't going to come out of this needing surgery. On the surface, it's not all that different from a Western hospital. In need of a bit of a deep clean, perhaps (ammonia and bleach, China, have never hurt anyone (er... yeah)), but the idea was definitely the same.
I checked in at a window and told them my ear was bothering me. I had to pay 6元, a bit less than a dollar, to check in, and then I went, with my translating friend, to the fourth floor. I checked in and waited. Perhaps now the greatest difference is the lack of reading material. There are no years-old National Geographic, nor any 国家地理学会 for that matter. I'd expected as much and brought my own, so that wasn't such a big deal.
I went in to see the 耳科医生 (Audiologist) after only a few minutes. She looked in my ear and told me I'd damaged it cleaning it. When I told her this was impossible, as I don't use q-tips, it hardly seemed to phase her, though it was difficult to read her expression through the face mask. She printed up an order for an audiogram and sent me on my way.
We went over to a window, where I paid another 31元 ($5-ish) for the audiogram. We went back to the same waiting room, and waited. When I was called in, I had an experience that was esoterically very funny, but may not mean much to you. I will do my best to relate it:
I have had three audiograms in my life. The first was at an independent ear-plug manufacturer in Chicago. The second was at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In both places, I was brought into a room and put in a soundproof booth. I was then given sound-isolating earbuds with foam around the outside, so they would fill your ear canal and block out all outside noises. You are completely and utterly cut off from the outside world. Were a fire alarm to go off and your doctor particularly prone to panic, you'd have no idea. Then, the doctor plays a series of tones at different frequencies and volumes while you sit and press a button each time you hear something. It's a surprisingly tense and unnerving experience, I find, as you really don't want to miss the tones. You get trigger-happy. Moving on.
The third audiogram was here in China. I walked in the testing office to find not a soundproof booth, but that they'd divided the room in half using drywall. The light fixture in the ceiling was half in the "room" and half in the "booth". The door to the "booth" was made out of drywall. The headphones "inside" were old can headphones that sit on the ears, rather than over them. A test done with iPod standard-issue earbuds would probably be better. The whole thing felt a bit like they'd seen a picture of a western audiogram setup without ever having asked questions.
From there, we went back to the q-tip doctor, who looked at the results quickly, told me to stop cleaning my ears ("Stopping before you start is the best way to quit," I said quickly), and then gave me an antibiotic, seemingly to keep me from bothering her again. Which is fine with me. That prescription cost 16元 to fill. The big lesson for the day, I think, is that there are benefits to not being able to sue your health-care provider.