Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Is There a Doctor in the Orient?

Night Penguins
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
We're all familar with the expression that ignorance is bliss, and I often agree. Especially when it comes to certain topics, especially disease. I've taken a few classes on infectious diseases (at PA) and a few on bioterrorism (at Gtown) and the result is I'm rather nervous about any sort of outbreak. This is one reason I postponed coming to China, as when SARS entered the scene, I wanted nothing to do with the East.

China, with 1.3 billion people, has a shaky health care situation on its hands. With so many people, most of them crowded into the northeast cities, disease can spread quite rapidly. This fear in mind, I took a trip to the hospital the other day to get some innoculations taken care of. The upside is that the shots are cheap, as the government wants everyone to be able to afford them. A full battery costs about US$2.50.

The hospital (or clinic, I dont think it was a real hospital) was run like anything else in China: chaotically. We had to fight to make our way to pay for the shots, then fight for the doctors attention, then fight to get out. Once again, it was handy not only being a honky, but also having a police escort.

For this first visit, they only took some blood to test to see what antibodies I might still have floating around. Thursday I'll return to get the actual shots. But this is the real story:

The doctor told me after drawing the blood (don't worry, she used a clean needle, fresh from a sealed bag opened in front of my own eyes) that I was not allowed to shower for 5 days. I asked my companion to verify this, and to ask why. The explanation was over my head, so I called it in to one of my TA's who English is pretty good. She confirmed it: I'm not supposed to shower for 5 days after getting a needle of any sorts in China.

This bothers me, because, well, as some of you will attest (family and roommates) daily showers are a good idea in my world. FIVE days without a shower is, er, bad. Fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing? What do I mean by bad? I'm sure someone will post the answer below.

According to the doctor, the needle in the arm disrupts you circulation, and if you shower, you could come down with a fever. Which makes no sense to me. (BTW, according to the doc, a needle in the hand or the bum wouldnt cause the same problem.) I think this might be a trace of traditional Chinese medicine clinging onto the modern scientific world. Some sort of hold over of the "qi" philosophy.

I asked all my classes about it, got some confusing answers, but this is the one I like best: "Why can't I shower after my shot?" "You've lived in China for two months now. Haven't you realized it is filthy? The water could open the wound and let it get infected."

This is perhaps my brightest student out of all my classes, but I'm still calling bullshit. If there are any medically trained individuals reading this, please chime in. I'm specifically to the numerous relatives and freinds who graduated from GU's School of Nursing and Health Studies. (If you didn't know Aunt Roe, they changed the name of your alma mater.)

On last bit on Chinese medicine: a foot massage here is not just a foot massage. Nor is it some sort of Pulp-Fiction euphemism for sex. The foot massage is considered a legit practice of medicine, and many Chinese go for a rub to have their ailments diagnosed. And the parlors are everywhere. I'll visit one soon enough, though not so much for the medical advice.


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