So You Need to Go To The Hospital In Shanghai

Going to the hospital in Shanghai is the equivalent of going to see a GP in England or the USA. Russell has had a bad cold for days and we couldn’t get the pharmacist to give us any medicine that actually worked, so we set off for the hospital in the morning on Wednesday. For Emergency care, your experience may be different.


Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital is bustling. It’s on a major corner, and ambulances are driving up to the entrance regularly with patients in the back, beeping incessantly at the crowds around the door of the outpatient facility. We are across the road, having grabbed a taxi and done the usual embarassing dance of show and tell with a translated address.

We cross over and enter the fray, through the large glass double doors. It’s very intimidating, as most seems to be in China at first glance. There are people evvvvvverywhere.

The nurse’s station is an island in the middle of rivers of people coming and going, yelling and silent, some coughing, but very few spitting on the floor (although I did catch a couple of grand-dads getting the evil phlem out). We begin our Game of Charades by motioning that Russell has a bad cough, although as it turns out this nurse is the one with practically the best English in the place.

“First, register. Then fifth floor.”

“Ok, thank you.”

We register. The line is long but fast-moving. The woman in front of us has her passport and residence permit out. We don’t need our passport, as it turns out. A provisional driver’s lisence is sufficient. That’s good, since our passports are with the immigration office for two more weeks. I feel as if we are walking around naked without them in my bag. This is made up for by the packet of papers that the registration officer gives to us, along with the change she throws my way. A ‘self-keeping’ booklet for medical records. Some receipts. Some unidentifiable papers.

We head to the fifth floor. It’s not immediately apparent which number is ours, nor which room. Respiratory department, I assume. Left, right, then down a hall lined with metal chairs.

124. Called into room 17.

“Can you speak Chinese?”
“No.”
“Ok, please speak slowly.”

We explain Russell’s symptoms. We produce the evil-smelling syrup that the pharmacy down the road from our apartment gave us, which seemed only to make things worse. We gesture phlem coming out of our mouths. We gesture insomnia (a toughie).

“I want to give you a blood test.”

“Um…for what purpose…?”

“I want to give you an antibiotic.”

“Um….ok?”

We gesture thanks.

We head to the cashier and throw a receipt at them. They throw it back, and gesture for another one of the papers that we’re holding. We hand it over, gesturing apology. We pay 50 RMB for the consultation, and head to the 4th floor.

Where is the blood test station? Where is the number system? Ok, so they just do the blood draw right there? Through a window? What? Oh, our number has been called already. Go, go, go. Ok, hold this cottonball to your arm. Go somewhere. We gesture confusion. Go somewhere. Confusion again. You speak some English, right? Tell them.

“Go straight, then left, then down.”

We read the signs again, and notice ‘Laboratory Results’ on the first floor. We head down there. We gesture confusion to the harassed woman behind the desk. She checks our recipt with paragraphs of Chinese on it, gestures that it isn’t in the computer, and says, “One hour.”

We go across the street to find something to eat, but fail. I get a boba tea instead. It’s bitter and tasty. I haven’t had one in years. Maybe since…college? In Boulder, at that little place that is near the lingerie shop, behind what is now a grocery store but which was once the cheapest movie theatre…is it even there anymore? I look across the crazy road in Shanghai to the hospital that’s buzzing with people. In what other life did I have that last cup of Boba tea?

We go back inside and collect the laboratory report. There are people sleeping on the benches around the escalators. We gesture thanks.

On the escalator, we notice that our life has become Game of Charades since our Chinese is soooo bad. And now we’re singing the Game of Thrones credits on the escalators in the hospital, thousands drifting past. We’re in that quiet and largely impenetrable bubble that a strong language barrier produces. Embarassment isn’t a concern.

Game of Charades continues. We gesture to some random respiratory doctor about where to take the lab report.

“Go to the room 17, please.”

The doctor is there, waiting for us. We give her the results; she checks a result. Still no idea why a blood test is necessary for an antibiotic. We receive the script. We ask for a doctor’s note for work. The doctor takes us out to the nurse’s station and we get an official (bizzarely) blue stamp.

We go downstairs and attempt to get the medicine.

“Pay first.”

We go to the cashier and pay by card. We take the many accumulated pieces of paper to the pharmacist.

“No! Number 9!”

We retreat to window nine. The massive pharmacy is hugely efficient. Thousands and thousands of prescriptions at once. Runners grabbing bags filled with medicines and passing them to the dispensers. Lines and lines of people waving bits of paper at them.

“This one: one pill, one day. This one: three times, 30ml.”

“Thank you.”

We head outside, 2.5 hours after we walked into Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital.


Simplified Instructions for those too sick to deal with my long narrative above:

WARNING: If you happen to be British, fight your queuing instincts. Abandon them. They will not serve you. If you’ve ever lived in Italy, dust off your fila elbows.

  1. Go to the nurse station on the first floor.
  2.  Go to the registration station. Pay 12 RMB for a hospital card and packet of papers. DON’T LOSE THESE. It’s best to use cash.
  3.  Go to the department you registered for. Check the number on your receipt from registration and go to the consultation room when your number/name comes up.
  4.  Talk to the doctor. Speak slowly, and consider bringing a translation app.
  5. Pay the cashier on that floor for the consultation. You can use cash or card.
  6.  Get tests done if needed (the laboratory is on the 4th Floor for blood tests).
  7.  Wait one hour for the results.
  8.  Go to the first floor and get the results from the ‘Laboratory Results’ desk.
  9. Take the results back to the doctor you spoke to. There is no number to wait for this time, just wait until they are available.
  10. Get a prescription and/or a doctor’s note.
  11. Go to the cashier on the first floor. Pay for your prescription. You can use cash or card.
  12. Go to the pharmacy on the first floor. Get your prescription.
  13. Go home!

Total cost: 178 RMB (50 for consultation, 116 for dispensed medicines, 12 RMB for registration fee)
Address in Chinese:

交通银行(离行式第六人民医院)
上海市宜山路600号

No. 600 Yishan Road
Nearest metro: Yishan Rd Station, Line 9 (Exit 3)
Nearest busses: 732, 122, 50 (probably more options)


Russell’s One-Line Review

“Henry Ford would be jealous.”

About the post

2015, China

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