Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sick in Macau: an adventure in Chinese hospitals

A view of the casinos from my hospital room  at Kiang Wu Hospital in Macau.
          As many of you may have noticed, I have not been updating regularly in Macau. However, I have been responding to your comments. The lack of posts is not because of my difficult work schedule, or my lack of dedication. Rather, it's simply because I have been enjoying life and waiting until the urge to write came back to me again. In September 2013, I became really sick and after 2 weeks in Macau in and out of the hospital, I flew home to California for another 2 weeks to get a full work-up. After a colonoscopy, 2 cat scans, and 15 pounds lighter, luckily I found out everything is A-OK and all my health issues were due to a thyroid disorder which is easily manageable.

3 months later, I am finally feeling back to normal and strong and in-shape again! And my time in the hospital in Macau makes a great story right? So after finally deciding that I had to see a doctor I walked a measly 10 minutes from my apartment over to Kiang Wu Hospital. There are only 2 hospitals in Macau that accept my national health insurance plan provided by the University. I found the fact that there are only 2 hospitals fascinating and after doing some research I later realized there is only 1 public hospital.  Reuters did a great piece titled "One public hospital, 36 casinos: Macau's skewed bet on prosperity." It is a little funny when you think about how many casinos there are here and only 1 public hospital. But we also have to  keep in mind that the population in Macau is relatively small and women here have the 1st highest life expectancy rate in the world in terms of longevity. The Macau Daily Times article reported that according to the Central Intelligence Agencies latest report, "Macau actually beats Japan in the longevity stakes, coming in second worldwide with an average life expectancy of 84.43 years topping the Japanese figures of 83.91.
         So, with such a healthy city, I guess in all reality the hospitals are doing pretty good to service the population here. As I noticed with my own hospital experience, they will try and hold you hostage to get as much pay off as they can get! The young girl sharing a room with me simply had a bad cold and stayed in the hospital with an IV for 5 days until she was well again. Her boyfriend came over regularly and hung out, and she was just hanging around reading Chinese gossip magazines all day until someone brought her food and entertained her a bit.
I wobbled over expecting to receive a follow-up appointment with a gastro-specialist, and instead, because of my extremely low blood pressure was thrown a hospital gown and admitted 15 minutes later. I did actually need medical care at the time, but there was no way that I needed to be there for one week as the doctors were insisting. They spoke good English, but they really didn't know what do to with me. They also stick to a very simple frame of mind focusing only on treating your symptoms and not trying to diagnose the real problem. I also realized (and I quote my co-worker) "People simply just do whatever the doctor tells them too here because they are like God and they know what is best for you." Which sounds completely ridiculous to any Westerner that takes full responsibility for their health decisions and goes to several doctors to seek out 2nd and 3rd opinions.
        Basically to get any tests ordered within a reasonable amount of time, you need to sit there as an in-patient, or else you have to brave the long ticket lines of the out-patient department and scheduling line which can often result in waiting 1-3 months before you get any tests run. This is simply due to the fact that there is not enough medical equipment or doctors to service all of the patients in the hospital. And the fact that there are only 2 hospitals in Macau that accept the national health insurance.
        Not wanting to pay up front at a private doctor, I flew home to use my American insurance and see doctors who really knew what they were doing. I'm not saying all doctors in Macau are bad, but the second I got home, they immediately started testing me for a million things that the doctors here would have never considered based on my symptoms. It could have been months or even longer before I was diagnosed if I had waited in Macau.
         So, lesson learned. When you are stuck in a really bad health situation, make sure you have a back up plan in case you are working outside of the country and get sick. You might just end up like me, taking all 10 of my sick days and hopping on a flight home to see a doctor.

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  Creative Commons License  Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

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Creative Commons License
Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
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