Health check

All my organs are still in their proper locations. At least that’s what I assume the ultrasound was about.

It’s that time of year again: Health check time.

Every foreigner who’s lived in China on something other than a tourist visa knows what I’m talking about. The wonderfully bewildering cattle call that aims to learn something about your health. But things they are a-changin’.

I’ve taken half a dozen trips to the Beijing International Travel Healthcare Clinic way out in the hinterlands of the Haidian District. It’s the only place in Beijing where a foreigner seeking a long-term visa is able to get the official health check they need every time they apply for a new visa type. It takes longer to get to the hospital than it does to do the exam.

I remember the first time well. Accompanied by my Beijing-based friend, Jordyn and I walked into the clinic feeling the nerves of healthcare anticipation buzzing. But that buzz of anticipation turned to a hum of confusion as we were given a sheet of paper and herded from room to room to complete a barrage of tests that included an EKG, chest x-ray, blood drawing, eye test, and more.

I realized something strange was going on about the time that Jordyn laid down on an exam table at our first station and had her shirt yanked up to her throat with nary a shielding curtain in sight before her naked flesh was slathered in cold jelly.

And then when I was jammed up against the x-ray machine with no lead apron to be found. And then when then ear, nose, and throat exam consisted entirely of sitting down in a chair and standing back up without the doctor even looking at me in between grunts.

And then the assembly line blood drawers who as far as I’m concerned are the best in the world, sliding their needles and vials in and out without me ever feeling a thing.

And then when I walked, heart pounding, up to the door labeled “surgery” to find just a scale.

In fact after that first time, I’ve come to view going to the health clinic as a treat. It’s that sweet look on every first-timer’s face stuck somewhere between anger and fright and bewilderment which finally melts into “what just happened to me” as they walk out the door.

But changes are coming fast in China, and the healthcare clinic is just one more little example. The first time I went, each mini-exam required the signature of the presiding doctor. Yesterday they all had premade name stamps. There were guides to point you from one door to the next. There was a lead curtain to keep the x-rays at bay.

The eye and throat tests were still a joke, but now they even close the curtain before they take off your clothes.


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