Long story short, seven or eight years ago I needed a colonoscopy to discover the source of an intestinal problem I was having. Whilst probing about and eventually finding the source of my troubles: an intestinal infection, they happened upon a malignant polyp and removed it, a lucky coincidence for me. As I'm too young for such things to be found, my doctor has since recommended I get a colonoscopy every five to seven years. As it was at times interesting, I'm going to pass along my resulting colonoscopy experience here in China.
In order to begin the procedure, I was told to go to the hospital and make an appointment. It was my first trip to a hospital in China, and like the remainder of the country, was in relative chaos. People milled in all directions, and after running the gauntlet that is the Chinese registration process - from this counter to that window to pay the registration fee, from this window to that booth to have blood drawn, from this booth to that window to talk to a nurse, to that window to pay for the blood test, to this booth to talk with someone else, to that counter to have a doctor sign a piece of paper, to that window to collect the blood sample, to go back to the doctor to have him sign the blood sample, to pay another registration fee, to this window to register – you get the picture, I held in my hand an appointment for the following week to have a "mirror viewing scope viewing procedure", and all for 274 RMB (Chinese dollars), which is roughly $50 US. (I've been told a colonoscopy in the US costs between $2000 and $3000…)
Now, the colonoscopy I had in the US was done while I was an in-patient, so I don't know how much of the pre-procedure you're allowed to do at home. All I know is the night before I was given a vial of fluid – literally neon green – and told to drink heartily so that my insides would be clean come the next morning. And early, early at three o'clock I was given another taste of the foul tasting stuff just for good measure. "We want your intestines squeaky clean" I remember the nurse telling me. Not only did the stuff taste terrible, but its effect was quite rough: by the time I would make it back to my bed I was already running back to the bathroom, weakened stomach muscles quivering and contracting involuntarily. What they gave me here in China was also green, but not neon: it was a small package of leaves anonymously wrapped in paper with instructions to brew like tea and drink the night before, which I did. Though I am a supporter of herbal remedies, I can objectively say the leaves were much gentler on my stomach and intestines than the lethal neon green concoction, all the while inducing the same result. I was never exhausted, in pain or in a hurry, and at noon entered the Chinese hospital with intestines squeaky clean, once again.
A lot of people before coming to China have the impression that poverty is like a blanket smothering life here. But the truth is, while poverty is certainly omnipresent, there is also a significant portion of society with the same amenities as Western countries, this disparity supposedly being the largest in the world. (I once saw a BMW – 7 series - beep at a donkey pulling a cart to get out of its way.) So, upon seeing the room where I would have the procedure, I think most Westerners would remark: "Well, it looks a little grungier than I'm accustomed to, but the equipment seems state of the art.", which it was. Unfortunately, while 274 RMB does pay for a colonoscopy, it does not pay for anesthesia (which must be really expensive in the US to make up for the cost difference). In the US I was happily anesthetized and have no memories of the procedure. However, fully awake in China, I have… uncomfortable memories. Truly painful only upon a few occasions, the rest of the time I was just in general discomfort. A plastic and metal tube being twisted, wedged, shoved, yanked, and prodded along the full length of the large intestine is not exactly Coronas on the beach.