The Foreigner’s Farce of a Physical Exam

One of the lesser-known complications of getting my Z Visa to work in China was that I needed to have a physical exam done. Without a doctor’s approval of my perfect health, they wouldn’t send my official Letter of Invitation that the Chinese Embassy in Chicago would accept to give out visas. They want to make sure I don’t have any viruses, deformities, or illnesses that’ll infect their people. (I wish I would have known this while I was still employed and insured – but I digress.) Anyways, I found a doctor to do it at the last minute… it took a week for the results to come in, scan them and send them to China. Four weeks later, I had my letter and two weeks after that, I was in China.

Enter the dramatic part of the story.

When I arrived, I discovered that some Chinese doctors don’t trust American doctors. Of course they don’t. And why would they? I would have to have another physical here in a Tianjin clinic. My co-worker said that she didn’t have to have one because she flew in to Beijing instead of Tianjin. How does that work? What’s the difference? If only I knew, I probably could’ve flown to Beijing too and taken the 30 minute bullet train ride here. But now there was no way around it. I needed another doctor’s appointment before I could get my resident’s permit.

And this was unlike any “doctor’s appointment” I’ve ever had before.

First of all, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a family doctor here. You know, the one that you grow up with and you have mutual knowledge of each other’s lives, etc. No, there are too many people to adequately handle that. You just go to some random hospital/clinic, get a form filled out, get fixed up, and you’re out on your own again. Secondly, there are heaps of people who need to get physicals in China. Whether they’re applying for a job, attending a university, or hoping to do some travel, they need to get checked out. Because of that, the physical exam process needed to be streamlined. I was about to find out what that meant.

The day of the “exam” came and I thought I was ready. I had my passport, my shirt, and my dignity… little did I know, I’d only come away with one of those.

Grace, the assistant at my company, came with me to help translate and we hopped in a taxi. When we got there, we started filling out the form and paying for it. It only cost 400 RMB, a little over $50, whereas the one back home mysteriously cost over $500! But let’s not talk about health care costs.

It all starts in a hallway. The hallway was long and poorly-lit, with doors on both sides, opened slightly to let the horrible smells out. Grace handed me a sheet of paper with six blank boxes, all labeled in Chinese characters. Apparently, I was going to need to go into each of the rooms, one by one, and get the different boxes filled out. No need to worry, though, Grace would lead the way! With privacy thrown out the window, we head into the first room.

Immediately, I figured out that this must be the poking room. I sat down, with Grace by my side, and rolled up my sleeve. Fifteen seconds later, we were already leaving. It only took a couple seconds to find my vein, a couple seconds to poke, and a couple more to explain to me that I was the one who needed to hold the cotton ball in place. You see, they didn’t have tape.

The next room had little cups lined up and people grabbing them and going into the bathroom. They came back with their cups filled. I knew what this room was about! Grace sheepishly tried to explain to me what to do, but she couldn’t find the words. I told her that I think I got the idea, grabbed a cup, and followed suit. Then, in front of the whole room (which felt like the whole world), I brought my full cup to the nurse. Two boxes done.

There was a line for the next room, so we moved to a different one. I guess there’s no particular order. Here, I was instructed to lay down on the table and pull my shirt up. Grace graciously turned her back. EKG time. A minute or two later, Grace translated to me to take deep breaths. I did. We were done.

Tumbling E Eye ChartThe next one was an easy one, a vision exam. Ever since my lasik surgery last spring (highly recommended, by the way), I’ve had better-than-perfect vision, so I wasn’t worried about this one… until I saw the eye chart. It didn’t have the English alphabet! I should’ve known! The best way to describe it would be that it had the letter “E” facing all directions: backward “E”s, upward “E”s, downward “E”s, and normal “E”s. Umm? Seeing my confusion, Grace explained to me to motion with my finger which direction the open part was facing. The doctor pointed to one and I pointed up. He pointed to another one and I pointed left. He pointed to a third one and I pointed left again. The doctor smiled and said something. When we left the room, Grace told me that I had perfect vision. Thanks Grace, but I kind of already knew that.

(I’ve since learned that this type of eye chart is called the “Tumbling E” and used for children and people who can’t speak. Interesting? I learn something new every day.)

No line at that one room anymore, so we slowly peaked in. It was our turn. What happened in this room, I’m kind of nervous to write about, because I still don’t understand the what or the why. From what I could tell, there was a bed and one of those monitors that I’ve seen used on pregnant women to check their unborn child’s growth or whatever. What’s that called again? Oh yeah, a freakin’ ultrasound. I tried to tell her that I wasn’t pregnant, but she must not have understood my panicky English. The nurse motioned for me to lay down and pull my shirt up. Grace, again, graciously turned her back, told me it might be cold, and giggled a bit. (FYI Giggling is not cool in these sorts of situations.) The nurse smiled, lathered my stomach region with some goo and rubbed the baby monitor machine over it. Phew! I’m definitely not pregnant. What just happened?

The last room I also thought would be an easy one: X-ray central. I had to go through this vault-sized door while Grace and the doctors stayed on the one side. Once I got into this other room, I could see them all through a window. I honestly felt like I was in a zoo or testing lab or something. Through a speaker, I heard Grace say to stand on the platform and to not move. So, I stood on the platform, perfectly still. The machine behind me started moving up but stopped around my lower back. The doctors and nurses gasped, and Grace started to giggle again. Great! What now? Dangit, I was too tall for their x-ray machine! Figures. Grace told me to squat down a bit while they took the picture. So, with cell phone in pocket, I wobbly squatted while they examined my chest cavity. Done.

With all six boxes finished, we turned the sheet of paper back in to the front desk and I signed my life away. In all, it was only about a 20 minute process and I now understand what streamline means. Grace had to take my passport to finish my residency permit application and I lost my dignity somewhere in Room #2. I only came away with my goo-covered shirt.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

3 Comments

Categories China, Culture, Tongue-In-Cheek, Travel

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  • Soapsoup

    Hi, thanks for sharing your experience.  I was about to pack and go before I figured I needed this form.  Are there certain “pointed” place I can get the Foreigner Physical Exam Form filled out?  Thanks!

    • http://danielkonold.com DK

      “Pointed” place? What do you mean?

  • Invictus8

    Another whiny, melodramatic foreigner. “I lost my dignity!” “I felt like a zoo animal!” Stay in your pampered, child-proof U.S. bubble and spare us your pithy “observations.”