As part of the long, complex process to obtain a work visa and residence permit for China, foreigners are required to go through a medical exam upon entering the country. I knew this was part of the process but had no idea what would be done or what was expected. After arriving on Monday, January 17th, I was told that I had an appointment scheduled for Thursday at 2pm and that I was not allowed to eat anything after 8am that morning in order to be prepared for the exam. Uh… okay, I guess I can live with that.
I hadn’t eaten a sufficient amount on Wednesday, nothing seems to sound or look good when everything is completely foreign, but I had managed to get to the grocery store and pick up a box of cornflakes and some milk! I set my alarm for 7:30am Thursday morning and got up for a quick bowl of cereal & cup of instant coffee before 8am.
It was freezing cold outside, I’m suffering from a miserable cold and after 3 days of snowing continuously the snow finally started to stick. I was running about town to get to Kid Castle’s main office, meet someone, go to the police station (another requirement I had to meet within 72 hours of landing on mainland China) and find my way to the medical office. I was freezing, miserable and hungry when it was time to go. I managed to get a ride most of the way there, then caught a cab, handed the cab driver the address someone had scribbled down for me in Chinese and made it to the medical office. Building 1 of this complex, fenced, guarded by security, was the health inspection building. I paid 25 kuai (rmb) to get the required 4 photos taken and checked in at the front reception desk with my passport. I was concerned about being 5 minutes late to my appointment – but there were many others arriving at the same time and we were all given slip with a number and a quick form to fill out.
“Go to room 118, wait for you number.”
To room 118, waiting room, my form is filled out and I sit anxiously wondering how they will poke and prod me. I’m #131, they are on 128.
“131 to room 119.” That’s me!
I go to the small room attached and there are two women sitting across from one another at a long desk with an empty chair next to each of them. I am pointed to the first seat and sit down, handing girl #1 my form. She frantically types my information into the computer, gives my paper back and directs me to the next seat – where I hand girl #2 my paper. She staples a sheet of barcode stickers to my form and sticks one of them on my picture which is stapled to the form. I’ve been labeled. “Go to room 118.”
Across the hall I go, I have to make my 697rmb payment before I am subjected to the exam. “Go to room 113 for exam.”
Okay… just down the hall there is a door that is open and on the window next to it is labeled “Room 113 Clinic”. Past the door the hallway continues and there are chairs lining the hallway, a few people waiting and a few staff directing other people around. Right as I enter into the clinic area I am ushered into the first room.
“Take off shoes – stand there.” (pointing to scale.) My height and weight are digitally measured and recorded on the back of my form. “Put on shoes, go change, put this on” (handing me a folded robe) “take off shirt and top underclothes, put these over shoes” (handing me plastic footie things) “here is your key.”
I go back further into the room where there is a row of doors to little dressing rooms across from a row of lockers. Get changed, lock up my stuff and it’s time for the fun stuff…
“Go to room 109.” After changing I start at the end of the hallway, each little room on either side has a sign outside with the room number and a lovely description. 109 – Sample Collection. Two women are waiting with chairs next to them, ready to take samples. Just blood apparently, two vials full – both labeled with barcode stickers from my form. There are no pleasantries, no small talk to distract me as she pricks my arm, just a fat needle and quite the shove into my vein. I’m bandaged with a cotton-ball and band-aid and told to apply pressure for 3 minutes and go to room 110 (ENT).
An older woman waits at a desk where I sit down. Little colored dots with numbers written in them are taped to the table. She points at them and asks, “What number?” Then I am given what looks like a metal kitchen utensil and told to cover my right eye and look at the mirror. An eye chart with E’s facing in different directions is showing. She points randomly at some and I prove I know my left/right/up & down. “You wear contacts?” No. “You have nose or ear problem?” No. “Go to room 111.”
X-Ray. A quick x-ray of my chest is taken and I’m moving along to the next room, a fun one. I walk into the room and a curtain is set up in the middle of the room (good thing as they don’t shut the doors to the hallway). I walk around the curtain to see what awaits me and an older woman says, “open your top, lay down.” Yes, ma’am! I lay down on the pepto pink sheets (matching the pepto-pink walls in all the rooms) put my head on the pillow (as I wonder if anyone with lice has been in today) and pray that the metal clamps on the bed have nothing to do with me. Oh, but they do. She sticks one cold metal clamp on my ankle, another on each wrist, (hitting my knee once to check my reflex), with my top open she pours some sort of gel (antiseptic?) onto my chest and grabs a handful of this little balls all connected with wires. I probably had a look of terror on my face, but she didn’t mind as she used little, cold metal suction cups to stick these random medical instruments to my chest. Within a minute she was pulling them back off, clipped a printout of my heartbeat (I’m assuming) to my form I was still carrying around, and said. “Go!” I re-tie the front of my robe, wiping the gel off me with the robe and go out into the hallway. I have to sit and wait for once but it is only for a minute as they quickly have the next room ready for me.
Ultrasound. Really? You took a chest x-ray, my heart beats fine and I put on the form I’m not pregnant, do I REALLY need an ultrasound? But of course, a little Chinese man behind a blue curtain tells me to open my top this time. And he pours gel on my chest again and does his ultrasound. The very confused and concerned look on his face as he was moving around my ribs made me think that perhaps I was missing something. But he told me to breathe a couple times, poked me in the ribs and let me go. At least he was kind enough to hand me a paper towel to wipe off with before I left. I throw it in the overflowing trash bin full of other victim’s paper towels and move on. Thinking at this point, this whole thing might just be part of some cruel medical experiment the Chinese are putting on and they use foreigners as their subjects.
A staff member checks my form and sends me into the last room left in the hallway. Ahh, a woman at a desk with a blood pressure sleeve, this will be easy. She takes my blood pressure and then points to the bed behind the curtain – “sit down, open top.” Again!?! After she listens to my heart and breathing she looks over my form and says, “All finished!” with a smile. That’s it? No rectal exam, no peeing in a cup? Are you sure? But… I was starting to like the pepto-pink walls and 1920’s medical equipment.
Alas, my medical exam was over and I could change back into my 5 layers of warm clothes to face the Shanghai snow. In under an hour, I had been processed, poked, prodded, sampled, x-rayed and terrified for my life. The Chinese may not be the most technically advanced in the world – or the most pleasant with their sharp, quick English demands, but they are most certainly efficient.
Before leaving – I must stop and turn in my form and address an envelope for them to send my results, directly to my employer. Isn’t that some-what illegal in the US? Well, if there is anything terribly wrong with me – I guess work will know about it.
A taxi and two subways later, I run into a store to pick up a bite to eat – shoving it in my mouth as I arrive a few minutes late to school.