An excerpt from my China travel diary, on how I had my first CT scan ever in a hospital in China:
Growing up in Calitzdorp in the nineties, medical aid was a foreign concept to me. My father was a municipal labourer and my mother a housewife, and there was only a day clinic in town. If you got really sick, you had to drive to Oudtshoorn. For that you needed a car. Hence, we never got sick.
This is probably why my body rejoiced when I moved to Korea and to the comfort of universal public health care. The same goes for China. I have had all my major health checks (and scares) in a foreign country. I had my first and best dental work in Korea, I’ve only seen a Korean gynaecologist and now I had my first CT scan in China. I can’t help but wonder: If I’d been more exposed to doctors when I was young, would my embarrassment of yesterday have happened?
That time I had a CT scan in China
I insist on going to the hospital alone. I’m not even a teacher here, just an addendum. But the HR manager is adamant; he’s sending someone with me. I feel bad for taking J away from her work. She says she doesn’t mind.
At the hospital, we’re ushered to the CT scan area, where we queue at the nurse’s station to sign up. “Queue” is a generous term. Everyone bundles their way to the front, hoping to be helped first. J looks at me apologetically. I tell her not to worry, I’m okay.
I am okay. Until I see the needle they stick in your arm. Will they take it out? No, it has to stay in for the CT scan. The no-nonsense nurse has skills. She sticks it in there without me even noticing. But when I look down. Oh dear God. There’s a thick needle in my arm.
We wait by the doors to the CT scan room. My name will appear on the board when it’s my turn. The people around me look at me with curious interest. I smile and blush, joke about being such a baby.
My name gets called out. We walk to the front. My sweater feels tight. Too tight. The vein in my arm is bulging. My right hand feels numb. My head is sweating. Are you okay? J asks. I’m okay, I say. I really need to pee, but you have to hold it in for the CT scan. My legs start to wobble. I can’t breathe. Try to keep it together. Don’t lose face. Your face is very white, J tells me. I can’t see. I want to vomit. I fall, all at once. The tiny woman by my side keeps me up, pulls me along as she races to the nurse’s station. What’s in the needle? she asks. Nothing yet, the nurse replies, the doctor will inject a dye before the CT scan. Is she allergic to anything? Are you allergic to anything? No, I’m healthy. I have no problems. I’m hot and cold and deathly pale. Can’t see, can’t breathe.
The lady who was joking with me before brings me a cup of water. Her husband has a needle in his arm, too. I feel like an idiot. Sit down. My heart slows down. I feel better. I’m okay. The doctor says we should reschedule the CT scan. No, I want to do it today. But you passed out. I’m just hot, I’m fine now. Please, I want to do it today. Take a few minutes; wait till you’re not so pale. I need to pee. You can go and pee, J says. But I don’t want to mess up the results of the CT scan. I want to know what’s in my kidney.
J translates the results of the previous day for me. It’s not that serious, she says, they just want to know what it is for your medical check for China. I’m fine. I know I’m fine. It’s just part of the routine. People get shit in their kidneys all the time. Besides, I mos have two.
At last it’s my turn again. We walk into the room. Take off your pants. Lie here with your hands above your head, legs facing forward. I close my eyes. The spaceship sucks me in. I feel intense heat on my crotch and legs. Clench. Did I pee myself? A voice over a microphone gives me instructions. Hold your breath. Breathe normally.
It is over. I walk out. You can pee, but only half. We have to do it again.
I walk into the oriental-style loo and perch, still conscious of the needle sticking into my arm. You could never be a heroin addict, I joke with myself. Sweet release. Shit! Only half. How do I stop the stream? I manage somehow. Fish out a tissue that’s seen better days.
Outside, I must wait 15 minutes before the second CT scan. I know I peed more than I should have. I drink as much water as I can. J gives me a chocolate. In that moment, I love her.
The second CT scan is over quickly. Same process, but now I know the heat is from the machine.
I get a bar code, which I’ll scan into the machines tomorrow to get the results. The hospital is so efficient, yet the staff members are so caring. I like China already.
Mister Z picks us up. He’s the school’s driver. I want to write a book about him. He talks through the translation app on his phone: Do you have high blood pressure? I don’t think so, I say, J translating for me. I need to learn Chinese so I can speak to Mister Z. He points to the back of the car. He bought me three bottles of water. I thank him; he asks J how to say you’re welcome in English. Thank you, I say. Welcome, welcome, he says.
I’m in good hands here.