03 Nov

The quest of the good doctor in Beijing

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This is a record of my failed attempt to cure otitis media (middle ear infection) with tea tree oil (australian essential oil) and finding a good otologists (ear specialist) in Beijing.

Being a common example of those kids with their ears popping now and then, now in my adults the symptoms of ear infection felt rather familiar. I was googling for some natural ear infection remedies and one widely spread alternative was the use of tea tree oil. I had a few drops left which I diluted with purified water and occasionally administered in my ear with a pipette. After a few days the symptoms were nearly gone but I went to the hospital to have it checked. Little did I know this was only the very beginning of my great adventure with the Chinese medical system... about which I now know a great deal more but still no where near enough.

good-doctor-quest-friendship-hospital--Beijing Friendship Hospital

So I got down to Beijing Friendship Hospital one evening, which was ghostly deserted in contrast to how crazy busy it is during the day. After a few empty corridors there was an empty examination room, after which you need to start yelling "nihao, nihao!" and after a while the doctor appears from somewhere.

She seemed friendly enough, briefly listened to my problem and tried to look into my ear with a head lamp and said: "I can't see anything". Soon she proceeded to stick a stick in my ear which was very painful. Hearing my cry she moved on to the next order of business, to write a prescription of antibiotics with her computer.

good-doctor-quest-friendship-hospitalBeijing Friendship Hospital treatment for ear infection

This was the yield. Eye drops (they had ran out of ear drops), disinfection liquid and antibiotics for three days. However I felt that I was hardly examined and that the antibiotics were just thrown at me. The doctor had noticed that foreigners are reluctant to taking antibiotics and naturally I was not very keen on taking them either.

good-doctor-quest-home-remedyFailed home remedy for ear infection and money Buddha

Thus I bought another bottle of tea tree oil and continued my treatment with an added mix of extra virgin olive oil with it. Never put olive oil into your ear.. it just makes a mess out of your ear canal as it's not that easy to get out. I am still however convinced that water diluted tea tree oil is good for disinfecting the year. Slowly the pain in my ear started to come back until it was evident that I had to go to see a doctor again.

This time, I wanted to find a good doctor, a real ear specialist. I found out that in China there is a website called 好大夫在线 meaning (好/hǎo) Good (大夫/dàfu) Doctor (在线/zàixiàn) Online. It's the largest medical site in China that helps you find doctors and information about medical conditions. They even have a free Android app. On the downside they only index big hospitals, excluding smaller medical centers even if they would be good.

Just like in any country a specialized doctor is not a guarantee, one needs a reference. However if you do lack a reference the site also functions as a kind of social platform for the doctors. You can comment, give hearts as points, leave your thanks, reviews and so on which should be read with caution but can be a valuable source of reference nevertheless. According to someone working at haodf.com, the good well known otologists operating in Beijing are at the Beijing Tongren Hospital that is specialized in otolaryngology. Tongren has many VIP2 level otologists so I though to just pop by and see what happens.

good-doctor-quest-tongren-hospitalBeijing Tongren Hospital

Before I had heard that Chinese hospitals are overcrowded and that the Chinese go to the hospital extremely early. Only now I truly understand this. I arrived at the hospital at around 1PM and there were no available ear doctors left. So they suggested that you go and talk to the doctors themselves to ask if they could give you extra time.

As far as I know, phone bookings are made a few days in advance. So if you need a doctor in short notice you have to go to the hospital and queue for an appointment. Everyone wants to see a good high level doctor and the competition can be fierce. It's not a bad idea to wake up at five in the morning to go to the hospital.

The concept of a doctors surgery is rather loose.. at the Friendship Hospital you have people queuing inside some of the offices, breathing down the doctors neck while waiting for their turn. At Tongren there was a nurse managing the operating just behind the door, with a line of patients standing on the other side.

So the quest was to go and pass through all those people, get the nurse to slightly open the door and shout inside to the extremely busy doctor to beg for an extra position in the patient queue. His answer was that he had hardly slept last night and that he needs to sleep too. Where were the doctors from the big list of ear specialist displayed on the hospital home page..

My condition was really very painful so next stop was the emergency ward. A nurse directed to an office to consult the doctor reciving the emergency patients, who at first refused to give medical attention. But after enough complaining and begging, with a frustrated look and no eye contact, she handed over a number written on a slip of paper which was a sign that she had accepted to treat me.

Now obviously the hospital was packed with queuing patients, however if you have any connection to a doctor: relative, friend, friend of a friend you can skip everyone and just walk into the doctors surgery. While I was waiting for my turn, this happened once where the discussion was open for the queying patients to hear over how they were being skipped in line. I had to wait for just an hour, but obviously I did not get the ear specialist I was hoping for.

This time she cleaned and examined my ear thoroughly with the proper tools. I was diagnosed with 分泌性中耳炎 (secretory otitis media). Even though her personality was rather cold, she was very efficient.

good-doctor-quest-tongren-hospital--Beijing Tongren Hospital treatment for ear infection

I started to eat the antibiotics from the previous hospital and received actual ear drops, one for general use and the other to prevent pain. I suffered for the three days the antibiotics lasted and as a result my condition had improved but still some pain and loss of hearing were present. So I decided to go back to the Tonren hospital, this time early (arrived at 10:00AM) to get an appointment with an ear specialist. Nope, I was again, too late.

Next stop Beijing Xiehe Hospital which has quite a good reputation. A huge entrance hall lined up with service windows, short queues. With efficient, good service it's like another world! After being guided a bit here and there.. Nope, here too I was too late to get an appointment.

good-doctor-quest-xiehe-hospitalBeijing Xiehe Hospital

But then I discovered the International Medical Services department. Despite it's name, I hardly saw any foreigners as Chinese are also allowed to use their services. Just the hospital bill here makes the difference. When the ear doctor would have normally cost me 15CNY (less than 2euros) here the bill was 200CNY (25euros) plus the medicine is more expensive.

I received care almost immediately, the doctor could speak a little English and almost seemed like a normal reception in the west. She gave me all kinds of advice, asked questions, had the proper tools and so on. According to her the antibiotics I had eaten were not very good, which would explain why I had still not recovered and said she will prescribe good antibiotics for me.

good-doctor-quest-xiehe-hospital-medicineBeijing Xiehe Hospital treatment for ear infection

This time I had another interesting set of drugs in my hands which does not leave me convinced about the quality of service either.

New antibiotics, this time for 4 days. She seemed to be very concerned about my breathing. So she prescribed Ephedrine nose drops, which is used by athletes for example. It raises the heart beat, increases breathing and gives strength.

Then I got Myrtol Standardized capsules. It's not a medicine, but a mix of essential oils and non-medicinal herbal extracts which is commonly used for clearing the lungs. No official medical study has proven it's efficiency however. I tried googling in English but hardly nothing came up. In Chinese there was some information that it could be directly administered to the affected ear. Also there seems to be some connection between colds and flues being the cause of ear infections which is why the treatment of lungs and other air passageways could be useful? All this has left me pretty baffled.

On top of everything she advised me not to use the droplets from the red bottle because it is more likely to cause pain than actually remove it as advised by the previous doctor at the Tongren Hospital.

Either way, eating another set of antibiotics should take care of it and I am close to being recovered. Hard to conclude anything but next time I might lean on the international services but still be very careful with the selection of a doctor.

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