A minor bike mishap on a rainy day sent my bike and me sprawling on a muddy
blacktop road. The trip leader required a doctor’s report of the accident. I
was one of 16 bicyclists, pedaling almost 200 miles in southeastern China.
Mrs. Wu, our English-speaking interpreter from Hong Kong, and a Chinese man I
had never seen before walked with me from our hotel to a hospital in downtown
This “hospital” was ancient; it was probably converted from some large
public building or school. There was no waiting. A nurse in a soiled, ankle
length uniform led us down a hall to a gymnasium-sized room that was crowded
with doctors seeing patients. The room was unlit, and its windows were too
filthy to admit much natural light. People stared at this foreigner as the
three of us wound our way to the desk of the waiting doctor.
The doctors sat at flat-top desks, and most of the patients stood. The
desktops had blood pressure cuffs, thermometers in glass containers and a
nasty looking open jar with greenish stuff inside. There was nothing else on
my doctor’s desk, and I wondered how many mouths that thermometer had been
inside of that day.
The three of us stood as the doctor asked in Chinese, “What is your name?”
“Where are you from?” and “How did the accident happen?” He spoke to the
Chinese man, who translated it to Mrs. Wu, and she asked me in English. My
answers went back to the doctor through the two interpreters.
Again and again questions came from the Chinese doctor to the man, then to
Mrs. Wu, then to me. I was soon weary of all this chatter and spiced my
answers with attempts at pantomime. I rolled up my pants leg to expose the
street burns with cinders under the skin, but he didn’t pay any attention to
that. When he finally asked where it hurt, I showed my road burns and
indicated soreness in ribs when I took a deep breath.
He stood and jerked my blouse up over my shoulders and stared at the area but
didn’t touch me. I imagined that everybody in that big room was looking. My
only consolation was that I had on my best bra!
The doctor took my blood pressure reading but still didn’t look at the
cinders. I asked Mrs. Wu about that and she learned, via the communication
relay, that “They will take care of themselves.”
Without a word the doctor got a note pad, three small envelopes and some boxes
of pills from the desk drawer. Three times he shook pills into the palm of his
hand and counted them into the envelopes. Then, laboriously he drew Chinese
characters for our trip leader, who knew not a word of the Chinese language!
The only thing I could decipher was “BP120/7~.”
Sorting the pills into the envelopes, he said something to Mrs. Wu and handed
me the three unmarked envelopes. Then the doctor put a flat, wooden stick into
the messy jar and brought out a little of the green stuff. I expected him to
smear it on my street burns but, instead he smeared it on the medical report
and attached the bill for office call, the report and three kinds of pills.
Total charge: 45 cents!
Imagine my surprise when this doctor stood, held my hand and spoke in perfect
English, “Mrs. Gerard, I hope that you enjoy the remainder of your bicycle
visit to China~, and do be careful.”