One of the many things that I didn't have a clue about when we moved to Hong Kong was health care. I had some vague idea that it would be sort of like the National Health system, but maybe with some powdered rhino horn or snake tea thrown in for good measure. I didn't expect that we would have much need for it other than for our regular prescriptions for things like asthma medication, valium, percodans and the other occasional mild opiate so I didn't really give it much thought before we moved.
On my first day at work, I had to have an induction. This scared the life out of me, because the last time I had one of those, I had 19 hours of excrutiating pain followed by being cut open with a knife and a screaming alien being removed from my belly. The work induction wasn't quite so painful, but sadly it was also ultimately not so rewarding. Anyway, I went along to the induction, and I was grateful to see that it didn't involve anyone sticking things up my privates, but rather was an informative session about things like health care in Hong Kong. I was given little cards for David, Sadie and I to carry around at all times in case we ever needed a doctor. I was also given little cards for us to carry if we are ever outside the country and in need of health care. I was told that wherever we were in the world, it was now safe to be ill. What a relief. I was also given a list of "panel doctors" in Hong Kong. This mystified me at first, as I thought it was a list of experts we could use to fix the woodwork in in flat, but it turned out to be a list of doctors that we could use. Yes, we had private health care.
A few weeks later, I learned a very important lesson. It is a very stupid and painful thing to put your foot between the gangplank of a ferry and the pier. The gangplank goes up with the waves and then down on your foot. If you ever want a good laugh, try to picture 200 Chinese people trying to get on a boat, a screaming Western woman, an almost teenager who is trying to get as far away from the screaming western woman as possible and a blind man who can't understand why his girlfriend is swearing, why the almost teenager has run away and why 200 Chinese people are trying to push him into the harbour. I managed to get David onto the boat and me sat down. I also managed to yell "Get your ass over here. NOW" to the almost teenager. Although most of the people on the boat did not speak English, I expect that they knew what I was saying. The mothers did at least.
The pain had subsided somewhat when we got to Lamma Island for our planned stroll. By this time, my foot was pretty numb so the 3 mile walk wasn't too bad. We even managed a lovely seafood lunch before our return ferry journey. By the time we got home, I wasn't even really that worried about my foot. I thought I might have a brusie or something until I took off my shoe and noticed that my white sock was no longer white, but bright red. And wet. That's when it REALLY started to hurt (my foot, not the sock). It took me a while to wash off enough blood to survey the damage, but there it was. A smashed toe. Is there anything more pathetic than a smashed toe? Smashed toes really hurt, but for some reason are not really viewed as deserving of sympathy. "Daviiiiiiid, my toe is smaaaaassshhhhedd", I wailed. "Really? That's a shame." "Saaaadddiiiieee, my toe is smaaashedddd." "Really? What's for dinner?" David and Sadie looked at one another and sniggered. I couldn't tell which one of them it was who muttered "it's only a stupid toe" just loud enough for me to hear.
The next morning, I was unable to put a shoe on, and my toenail had turned black without the aid of any gothic style nail polish. A panel doctor was just what I needed. So, I consulted the handy list from induction day and called up "Quality Health Care" (QHC) for an appointment. I was a bit concerned that it sounded like a discount brand that you might find at Costco or on the Home Shopping Channel, but was pleased nonetheless when they told me to come on in.
QHC is located on the 5th floor of an office building across the street from my office. Everything (restaurants, hairdressers, massage places, book stores) in Hong Kong is located in an office building; there is very little at ground level). When I arrived, it looked like a proper medical centre. I checked in with reception, and they told me that because I did not have an appointment, I might have to wait a bit. I said "no problem". The receptionist said "Are you sure you don't mind? It might be 10 minutes or so." I was too astonished to speak. To me, waiting a while to see a doctor without an appointment meant several hours.
Five minutes later, I was called into the office of Dr. Cheung who took a look at my toe and gave me all of the sympathy I had been craving for the past 24 hours. He cradled my foot, gently prodded my toe and looked terribly concerned when I winced. "It must be very painful", he said with a sympathetic nod of his head. I fell in love with him then and there. "I'm afraid I must refer you to a surgeon". I felt a surge of rightious vindication. Yes! My toe was so damaged that it required a surgeon! It may only be a toe, but it was in need of SURGERY! I was so greatful for an appropriate level of concern that I didn't even consider that the surgeon might be required to amputate my foot. Who cares? Someone was acknowledging my pain.
"How long will it be before I can get an appointment with the surgeon", I asked, expecting a date sometime next summer. "It will be about 20 minutes" he said. "I hope you don't mind waiting". It turns out the surgeon was located just down the hall and QHC was all kitted out to perform surgery right there on the fifth floor of an office building! I limped down to his office, and sure enough he ushered me in 20 minutes later. Dr. Poon was only slightly less sympathetic when he announced to me that my toenail had to come off. My first thought was to wonder how on earth I would get a pedicure without a toenail. Then I remembered the great progress that had been made in recent years in nail technology, and I was pretty confident that a nail prothesis was a distinct possibility.
So, I was shown into the operating theatre and told to lie down on the table. Dr. Poon then got an enormous syringe and told me to relax whilst he injected a local anaesthetic into my toe. Now, I know that it was the Japanese during WW2 who were infamous for torturing people by sticking sharp things under their nails, but I couldn't help but imagine Dr. Poon in a camouflage uniform trying to get me to confess to blowing up a bridge. Oh my god, did it hurt. After the first injection he tried to start the nail removal, but I was screaming so loudly he thought I would frighten the other patients so he gave me another injection. Maybe he was used to dealing with tiny little Chinese toes, but it took him four injections for him to numb me enough not to beg for mercy and confess to everything from the Cultural Revolution to the Cold War.
Once the surgery was over, he apologised for causing me pain and sent me on my way with proper pain killers. Yippee! When I go home, Sadie did not comment either on the large bandage on my foot or my exaggerated limp. I chose to interpret "What's for dinner" as her version of "Poor, mommy. Are you OK?" My toe is now fine, although now that summer is almost here I really am going to have to address that pedicure issue.