As is custom in China, there are no GP’s with a private practice in Yangshuo. For medical care I must turn to one of the local hospitals and pray for a competent physician. Communication between different departments is non-existent and the only patient records doctors can access are the, usually semi-decomposed, booklets each patient brings to a consult. Treatment rooms are decorated with bloodstains. Beds are filthy and full of rat holes. The air inside the building reminds me of rotten meat and makes every molecule in my body scream. “Veerle, turn around! You’ll never make it out of here alive!”
In spite of my fear, I head for the hospital the next day. It’s Monday morning. I’m alone. My friends are all at work and my husband is leading an expedition in Tibet. As expected, I’m greeted by a serenade of crying toddlers who have I.V. needles stuck in their foreheads. The little faces, drenched in tears, look so terrified that I almost turn around and run back outside. I redirect my gaze to the obstetric department. The pink walls radiate warmth and are remarkably clean compared to the rest of the building. A façade, I think. Women keep disappearing into the small rooms down the hall. The real horror hides in those small torture chambers.
It takes me all of my willpower but I manage to drag myself into the doctor’s office. Surrounded by pregnant ladies of all shapes and sizes, I try to convey to the obstetrician that I just discovered that I’m expecting. She mutters something inaudible then shoves a piece of paper in my face.
“You pay first,” she snarls. Her harsh tone doesn’t surprise me. After eight years in China, I’m used to being treated like I’m a nuisance. But my hormones are raging. Tears start spilling over. In attempt to stop myself from going on a crying jag I focus on the faces around me. The people in the room all stare at me as if I’m from a different planet, which only upsets me more. My eyes red, my fingers barely able to hold on to my purse, I pay the bill of 7 Renminbi (0.70 GBP). Next, a nurse presses a miniscule cup made of Saran Wrap into my hands. I know what to do with it and am grateful that I can leave the room.
It isn’t hard to find the toilet. I just follow the thickening scent of urine. I pick the cleanest booth and squat down. It takes quite some balancing skills to urinate in the tiny jar without touching anything. Once finished, I return the cup, chock-full of yellow fluid, to the doctor. She asks me to sit down and wait. My hands are covered in pee and there isn’t a wash basin in sight. I feel dirty and incredibly sorry for myself.
“Yes, you have baby!” the obstetrician yells five minutes later. “Come back in six weeks.”
I don’t know if I’m supposed to laugh or cry now that I am officially pregnant. But one thing I know for sure. If I wish to get through the next eight months, I’ll need a lot more courage.