13 Oct 2004
Recently I mentioned that I had been in the hospital. I’ll share some of that experience now.
The reason I went to the hospital is that over the past year I have developed a case of varicose veins in my right leg, behind the knee. I’m not crazy about going to the doctor in China, but since it has definitely gotten worse over the past year, I decided it was time to have it looked at. There’s an “international” hospital near me I’ve gone to before that seems very clean and professional, so I decided to go there again.
When I showed up at reception they asked me in English what trouble I was having. I had done my homework, so I told them in Chinese that I thought I had varicose veins (静脉曲张). That sure surprised them. I guess they don’t get many Chinese-speaking foreigners, let alone ones that diagnose themselves in technical terms using Chinese.
The doctor took a look and did a few simple tests. She concluded I had varicose veins in my right leg. She sent me down to another floor for a more thorough ultrasound examination to make sure I didn’t have any major problems with other veins or arteries inside either of my legs.
So then they put some clear gooey stuff not unlike vaseline jelly on their ultrasound probe and ran it over various parts of my leg. The woman running the ultrasound machine was communicating the results with another woman in Shanghainese, so I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. But I sure perked up when she started giving special attention to my left leg (the one that was fine) and saying “wa te le,” which is Shanghainese for 坏掉了 or “it’s gone bad.” She was saying that one of my blood vessels in my left leg had gone bad, which, it’s safe to say, pretty much freaked me out.
I went back to the first doctor, and she interpreted the ultrasound results. “You have varicose veins, but your deep vessels are fine,” she told me.
“But the lady downstairs running the ultrasound machine said that one of my blood vessels in my left leg had gone bad!”
“Really?” She looked at the test results again, frowned, and excused herself to make a phone call.
I grabbed the test results and took a look myself. They seemed to indicate that everything was normal.
The doctor returned, telling me, “no, your deep blood vessels are all fine.” That was a relief, but I felt like going back downstairs and smacking that other woman.
That resolved, the doctor finally got to the bottom line. “Your varicose veins are not serious enough for surgery. They won’t get better, but you can do some things to prevent them from getting worse. You’re not in pain, so there’s no reason for surgery, but if they do ever get really bad, surgery is an option.”
“Is that surgery expensive?”
“Well, what do you consider expensive?”
“I don’t know… about how much does it cost??”
“Around 20,000 rmb [$2,500 US].”
The things I could do were (1) avoid standing for long periods of time, (2) wear an elastic band around my leg, (3) take the medicine they gave me, (4) — optionally — acupuncture.
The doctor told me she didn’t know how I felt about acupuncture, but that it could possibly help my condition. They had their own acupuncture specialist there in the hospital, and I could have my first session right away if I wanted to try it.
I think I’m a pretty open-minded individual, but I’m definitely skeptical about a lot of Chinese medicine. Still, I don’t lump acupuncture together with tiger penis soup and that sort of “Chinese medicine.” After having been told that my condition wouldn’t get better, I was eager to try something that might help. So I agreed to it.
A nurse guided me into the acupuncture room. She had learned that I spoke Japanese, and for some reason liked to talk to me in Japanese. So, with a douzo (“please”) I was ushered into the acupuncture room.
The acupuncture doc was a thin, oldish Chinese man. He seemed very confident. He asked me to lie face down on the bed. It was one of those beds with a hole for your face so you don’t suffocate. Then he asked me not to move.
The doctor proceeded to insert five disposable acupuncture needles into each of my legs behind the knee. The first few in my left leg I hardly felt. Then he stuck one into the nerve. I felt like a powerful electric shock was surging through my lower leg, from the knee down. My leg jerked wildly, but I managed to restrain the rest of my body.
“Ah, you’re sensitive,” the doc observed. Cute.
The right leg went a little more smoothly, but there was still a bit of discomfort accompanied by an involuntary jerk when he inserted the needle into the nerve.
The needles inserted, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure what was next, but I figured the worst was over.
Then, to my horror, the doc brought out some clunky electrical device and started hooking it up to the needles. “You may feel a little something,” he told me as I braced myself.
I was not at all prepared for the electric shock that came next. It was even more powerful than the insertion of the needle, and my leg went into involuntary spasms. I think I might have cried out a little. The doctor quickly turned down the voltage, but not before I decided that he was an evil, evil man and I hated him. He then repeated the process with the other leg, the second electric shock being just a bit less violent than the first.
He adjusted the voltage so that the current kept my legs involuntarily twitching, nonstop. It was very uncomfortable. It kind of felt like I had had too much caffeine and was all jittery, but I couldn’t move around and work off the energy. Plus I was very conscious of the feeling that there was an electrical current running through each of my legs. Twitch, twitch, twitch went my legs.
I was able to bear it, though. I asked the doc how long he needed to leave the power on. I figured I could handle five minutes of it. “Half an hour,” he said cheerfully as he left the room.
Needless to say, it was a very long half hour. I can tell you from experience, your body doesn’t get used to an electrical current flowing through it. My legs twitched nonstop for the whole 30 minutes. The doctor put on some classical music, but it just seemed to taunt me.
By the end of that treatment, I was sure I would not be back for more acupuncture. It also turned out to cost way more than I had understood. 400 rmb ($50 US) for each session! Not continuing the acupuncture treatments was the easiest decision I’ve made in a while.