An Unexpected Visit to a Chinese Hospital

By Janelle Clausen

Less than two minutes after I and two accompanying professors entered a hospital in Yangzhou, China, a gap-toothed hospital staffer greeted us. Not two hours. Two minutes. How was this possible?

As we swatted away pestering mosquitoes, the staffer guided us to an elevator that led to the surgical ward. En route, we passed two patients in matching pajamas and surgical eye patches. Great sign, I thought.

We quickly reached a doctor, who was finishing an appointment with another set of patients. He motioned for me to sit in the now open chair beside him. There, I told the doctor and his staff about the mysterious object in my ear.

“How did you manage to get toilet paper in your ear?” our gap-tooth guide asked in Chinese. Dinda Elliot, one of the professors with me, translated. I suspect she left out the part where the guide called me a “stupid American.”

Here’s the honest answer: We waited four or five days to fix the problem. I made toilet paper earplugs to drown the sound of my roommate’s snoring. It worked for two nights. Come day three, one burrowed beyond reach. We told one of my professors, but concluded it wasn’t an emergency at that point.

Don’t judge me.

A face mask obscured half the doctor’s face, but his tired eyes showed the sheer volume of patients he had treated that day. He seemed too tired to judge me. I tilted my head and as the doctor inspected the inside of my ear. Before long, he began excavating my ear canal. My face grossly contorted in fear. Please don’t sneeze or something, I thought. I really like my hearing. Somehow I didn’t cry.

He gently picked out the lodged paper. “Want a souvenir?” Dinda asked with a laugh. The doctor flicked the small yellowed ball into the garbage pail.

Yilin Chen, the other professor with me, guided me to the elevator to exit. She had to press the down button three times before the elevator came. Once again we passed the two chatting patients with the matching pajamas and eye patches.

When we finally reached the front desk on the first floor, I was presented with a bill that had to be paid in full. It was a grand total of 93 renminbi – or $12. All for a few moments of service.

We Americans may think that’s a bargain. But Yilin told me it represented a large chunk of change to an average Chinese worker, who earns less than 1,000 reminbi ($160) a week.

This is why most people buy earplugs instead.

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