About 3 months ago, Julie and I were invited to a wedding in Guilin in China. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have already had two unsuccessful attempts to get to China. In each case, I wrote about the preparation and my dialysis plans in detail. In each case, some medical problem arose and I bailed out, in one case literally on the border.
So this time, I decided to stay quiet about the trip until it actually happened. This has proved to be a winning strategy.
Where is Guilin? About 500km north-west of Hong Kong, about 1.5 Hrs. flying time (the red bit).
Guilin is a major tourist destination within China, for the Chinese. Why? Mainly because of the beautiful scenery around the Lu River and amazing Karst mountain landscape. What are Karst Mountains? They are the small, pointy mountains you often see in traditional Chinese paintings. I used to think these artists had maybe a little too much opium when they painted them, but no, they actually exist.
They are formed over thousands of years by the action of water flowing over mostly limestone bedrock, slowly wearing softer bits away, leaving large chunks (often riddled with caves) poking to the sky. It is an amazing sight. We were certainly looking forward to it.
We flew to Hong Kong on Wednesday 4 September. The following morning I dialysed at the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital Dialysis Centre, on the 16th Floor, 2 Village Road, Happy Valley. I have written about this centre before. They are very good; equal to any western unit I have visited – though a little pricey at HK$3,500-$4,000 (about US$520) per session.
After a dash to the airport, we flew to Guilin that afternoon and the adventure began.
For dialysis in Guilin, I went to the Internet and found one hospital in the city of Guilin that offers dialysis to foreigners: the Center of Organ Transplantation and Blood Purification of No. 181 hospital of the PLA. Yes, PLA stands for People’s Liberation Army. It is a military hospital built in 1946, and it is BIG. There are about 40 different buildings on the complex, and they do pretty well everything. (This is me standing in the rain outside the entrance.)
I spoke to the head nephrologist there, Dr Liao – she in broken English and me in fractured Mandarin to arrange my dialysis. She was very helpful and accommodating. I wanted to stick to my 5 session per week dialysis routine while I was there, and she was happy to oblige. So I arranged for four sessions, Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.
We were staying about an hour away from the city, so we hired a driver, which cost about US$25 per trip. I had no idea where the hospital was, and unfortunately neither did the first driver. Unbeknown to us, he took us to one of the many other hospitals in the city.
Each hospital has a reception desk, with one or two people who direct/guide you to the correct area. They wear a red sash like a Miss World entrant; you can’t miss them. I, with my impressive Mandarin, went up to one and said I want to go to dialysis… (in Mandarin I said “mumble, mumble tou xi [dialysis]”). She looked at me, quite startled. So I acted out a brief mime of inserting needles into my fistula. Ahh, Dui (yes!). (I later re-checked my Pleco Mandarin helper regarding Tou Xi. There are two entries: touxi, fourth then first tone means dialysis; touxi first then second tone means surprise attack or hold up. I think I got my tones just a tiny bit wrong.)
Anyway, off we all went together to building 79. Julie and I waited in a queue to see the doctor in what was a quite run down clinic. At this point, Hong Kong was looking the more likely option for the rest of my stay.
But we were such an oddity that they moved us to the head of the queue and the doctor listened to my story. I explained that I was there to see Dr Liao for dialysis. Wrong doctor, wrong hospital. Generously, he wrote down the correct address for us. We found our way onto the street and grabbed a passing cab to what everyone knows as ‘The 181’.
The 181 guide walked us through a maze all the way to the dialysis centre where we finally met Dr Liao, only 2 hours late for my appointment. But all was well. I gave blood for a Hep B test, passed it and 10 minutes later went to the ward. Julie stayed behind to pay for the session (1,000 RMB, about US$165).
The ward was amazing. My unit has 10 chairs. In Stockholm they have around 25, which I thought was impressive. Here they had 80 – eight zero – beds.
My machine was a Fresenius and the session was absolutely fine. Because I put in my own needles, I attracted a crowd of nurses to watch. Very off putting, but eventually I got there. The nurses were great. Not a lot of English spoken, but enough, and my smattering of Mandarin was actually useful. I am constantly impressed by the way non-English speaking countries teach English at school. If only we would did the same in the West, with Mandarin.
One guy, a machine technician, spent half an hour or so talking with me, to practice his English, which was pretty good, with one small exception. After I put in my needles, he asked: “Why do you put in your own noodles?” Not noodles, needles. Ah yes he said. Noodles/needles, I always mix them up!
I was very nervous before my first run. You hear so many stories about re-using lines and filters, iffy infection control, etc. But I saw none of that. The staff could not have been more helpful. The nurses were well trained and meticulous; blood pressure checks every hour, regular line and needle checks; everything documented. And so friendly. If their eyes were anything to go by I think they were smiling most of the time (face masks have their downside). I had a little trouble with one needle site which the nurses dealt with without missing a beat.
Dr Liao took some group photos that she is emailing to me. I am looking forward to them. I’ll put some up in my next post.
I still haven’t been to the big cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but if a smallish Prefecture-level city (of only 4 million people!) has such good facilities, I am looking forward to giving them a try.
We saw the Karst mountains up close.
ps: The wedding was good too.