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Worst Kept Secrets › the chinese visa medical exam
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the chinese visa medical exam

Last Friday, I finally had to go in for my health check - it’s technically a visa requirement, even though I dodged it the first time around. I’m relatively sure that the whole health check is mostly just an excuse for an AIDS test, but it also involves x-rays, an ultrasound, dental and vision checks, and an EKG. I was TERRIFIED of the entire thing - I’ve been avoiding doctors and dentists ever since I got here (and as a result of all the self-diagnosing I’ve been doing, I’m pretty sure that I could get some kind of license - I don’t mess with WebMD anymore, but have moved on to medical journals. If you’d like an update on the best treatment options and appropriate dosage for perocoronitis, I’m your woman [oh no, it's not complicated enough to fly to America, have a wedding, and scoot back to China in a few weeks - why not throw in some wisdom tooth extraction too! YES!]). This isn’t even because I’m afraid of substandard service, but more being intensely freaked out by the language barrier in a people-professionally-poking-me context. I don’t like being poked - or touched, for that matter - to a completely neurotic degree, and I require detailed explanations of where, why, and how said poke is going to occur, and even then I’ll be gripping the exam chair till my knuckles turn white, frantically trying to mentally remove myself from the situation. Surprisingly, I’m ok with needles, but throat cultures, glaucoma tests, palpation of any sort, heartbeat monitoring, fingers in my mouth, ear flashlights, tongue depressors, clamps of any ilk, etc. are all things that make me sweat, curse, beg, and throw tantrums. I’m pretty much the worst patient in the entire world. In English.

So I woke up Friday morning after a hellish week of grading, resits, and stressed students, and started searching the internet for a description of exactly what was going to happen at this thing, and I couldn’t find much. So here it is, for any other Nanjing-based expats wondering what they’re about to be subjected to.

It’s simply not that bad. We taxied over to the health clinic, and my coworker and I stood around awkwardly while our liaison filled out paperwork. Then we headed upstairs to the exam rooms. We had seven objectives - blood test, x-ray, ultrasound, vision, ear/nose/throat, dental, height and weight, and EKG. Did your elementary school have a Halloween carnival, where all of the different classrooms came up with a special activity, and then visitors roamed the halls darting in and out? That’s EXACTLY what this was like. The blood test came first, and was a little scary due to its brevity. We stood in line, then stuck our arm through a window, where it was summarily tied up, stuck, and cotton-balled, and then were shooed off so the next person could sit down (I checked to be sure about the needle disposal, I promise). After that, there was a lot of running around. I’d come out of one exam room, and my liaison would holler, “ANNE! HERE!”, and I’d scamper across the hall to try to beat out the other people competing for the room. Everybody was running around and giggling - it was a little bit like an obstacle course / scavenger hunt. Dental involved opening my mouth for a guy who glanced inside, grunted, “good,” and shooed me out the door. Vision was an eye test where I’m not sure she even wrote down my answers (later my friend Leif told me that during his eye test, the doctor helped him cheat). Ear/nose/throat involved having each of my nostrils lifted briefly before being gestured out. The EKG was a little freaky, since it involved approximately 1,000 sensors, most of which wound up in awkward positions in and around my cleavage, plus clamps on my wrists and legs. That whole thing made me feel a little bit like E.T. But it was over very quickly. On my way out, I asked the doctor if I was ok, and she seemed very surprised and flipped through the chart trying to find the answer (yes). The X-rays were a treat, although I didn’t get any of the standard China x-ray stories out of it (guy standing next to the machine pushing the button, smoking a cigarette). I walked in and put my nose to the wall, and then the guy sort of slammed me into it, which ignited some fight or flight instincts. The ultrasound was cool, except for the gooey stuff. I got to see the picture afterward, and was fairly freaked out by it. It showed a shriveled twisted little thing suspended in space, and I was really scared that it was my heart, and did NOT look at all like it was supposed to (later I found out that it was my liver, and that its comparatively small size was actually a good thing). Then I stood on a scale and got my blood pressure taken, and that was that. My blood pressure was astonishingly low, incidentally.

So there’s what happens at the medical exam, if you’re curious. It’s pretty survivable.


  1. Maud Kimba wrote:

    Hi thank you so much for your details about the medical exam! I have just accepted a job in China and have become concerned about this medical exam, as I like to know that the tools and processes used in the medical process are hygienic. So glad to hear from someone who is also conscientious about this!
    Could you actually see through the window you had to put your arm through for the blood test? The blood test is the main thing that concerns me in terms of hygiene??
    Anyway thanks so much and best wishes for your life in China. :)

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  2. Peter wrote:

    Just went through it myself, they no longer do ENT and Dental (at lease in Shenzhen) Hospital a delight, well equipped, clean and great med staff.
    Eye test is peculiar, it is actually the letter E in four orientations and you say E and point in the direction that the back of the letter is facing.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

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