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Scrubs in Beijing Fourth year medical student from Houston, traveling to Beijing to study Chinese medicine and Chinese beer

First Day: Tiantan Hospital

CHINA | Wednesday, 2 April 2008 | Views [1397]

Morning came way too early the first day (as it usually does for me--I'm big on sleep). My cell phone alarm went off an hour early because my phone is convinced that we're in daylight savings time here. Then, Henry rapped on each door on our floor, singing "It's happy wake up time, it's happy wake up time, it's happy wake up time" to everyone. Ugh. It's NEVER happy wake up time. I had showered the night before, so my hair was a wavy mess. I attempted to fix it using my blow dryer and round brush, but the dryer + voltage adapter combo was excruciatingly slow. Looks like a ponytail day.

We eventually congregated in the fifth floor lobby in order to walk down the street to the same Tourist Restaurant for breakfast. Our meal began with eggs boiled in tea and a dish of pickled vegetables (ugh), then progressed through dishes such as tofu in a weird thick sweetish broth, a red bean "porridge" which I liked, fried bread, and pickled vegetables, then culminated in baozi, a fried dumpling stuffed with vegetables or lamb. Delicious! It reminded me of dim sum.

Back to the dorm to catch our bus.

On the way, I took pictures of the river (or old city moat) we walked over.

Some people had gathered down by the water to do taichi earlier, but now they were gone. On to the bus, which drove us a short distance to Tiantan Hospital. I took pictures of a nearby tower, in front of which people were flying kites of great size an enormous height.

The bus pulled up in front of a red gate with blue roof, which I would later recognize as Ming; this had 5 dragons, which was fairly important, as it led to the hospital.

We got out and walked to the door, passing amulet salesmen and crowds of people. Once inside, we were led through a long underground maze and eventually emerged where we needed to be, wherever that was.

In the room where we gathered, there were bottles of water and Coca-Cola at each seat, along with various Chinese snackfoods.

There was a small ceremony in which the neurosurgery residents introduced themselves and we introduced ourselves and our intended specialties. I should mention that Tiantan Hospital is well-known for neurosurgery and is a referral center for a large part of China. They have hundreds of neurosurgery beds and 20 neurosurgery ORs, making it the largest such facility I'd ever seen. The residents divided us into smaller, more manageable groups, gave us long white coats, and escorted my group toward the OR.

Outside the OR area, we took off our white coats and put on enormous green scrub pants over our clothes.

Then, a scrub gown and scrub cap, and we were herded to another room, where we were given masks and OR sandals. I do not understand the point of the OR sandals. What if you drop a scalpel? It was definitely bizarre.

My resident, Athena, took 3 of us into several ORs. I saw
an arterio-venous malformation, meningioma, juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, deep brain stimulation for severe Parkinson's, pituitary adenoma, and several others which I can't remember. Up till that point, I'd only seen 1 neurosurgery in medical school. The OR's were fairly state-of-the-art, and the equipment was very nice. The MRI scans were top-notch, including MRA/MRV, diffusion, fMRI, and others I didn't know about. In one OR, the surgeons asked where we were from, then upon learning we were from Houston, asked if we were Yao Ming fans, and discussed the Rockets recent winning streak. I'm not sure how much they know about his foot injury here, as his appearance at the Beijing Olympics is a huge source of pride for the Chinese. Eventually, we headed out, took off our silly OR garb, and went back to the bus to go get lunch at the Tourist Restaurant.

After lunch, we came back to Tiantan, where we split into groups again and toured several neurosurgical wards. Here, the differences were more striking. Each ward had 8-10 small beds, with a foul-smelling bathroom down the hall. Most patients wore striped pajamas, causing me to think of a) American inmates or b) Holocaust victims at Auschwitz, a comparison made more striking by the shorn heads of the neurosurgery patients.

A side trip to the "Doctor's Office" (resident lounge) highlighted something interesting.

In plain view of the "No Smoking" sign on the door, there were multiple cigarette butts on the floor.

Throughout the hospital, we'd seen crowds of people in the lobbies smoking in the stairwells, but this had to have been the doctors. Gross. At least all the windows were open in this hospital.

We toured several wards, looking at patients and imaging, and then it was time to go. Back to the bus, back to the dorm, and now we had to get dressed up for our welcoming banquet. I put on my simple black jersey dress, which was the fanciest thing I brought, with ballet flats. I was woefully underdressed, as well as FREEZING. We went to a banquet-style restaurant, where all tables were in private rooms off the hallway. After greeting the Vice President of the Capital Medical University, we sat at our respective tables and let the feast begin. We ate and ate, and finally the Peking Duck appeared.

Peking duck is roast duck, brought out with head intact. A chef carves it at tableside, then it is served with mushu pancakes, hoisin sauce, and julienned radish and cucumber (I think), which is formed into a fajita of sorts. It was very tasty, but I could barely eat it, as I was so full.

After dinner (and of course, beer), it was back to the bus, back to the dorm, and straight to bed (for me).

A note about the weather so far: on the day of our arrival, there was a thick brown haze in the sky, almost like pollution. It was, in fact, a combination of dust, humidity, and air pollution, which obscured most of the sky. Today, it was more clear. Even though it's April, it's quite chilly, even during the day, only reaching 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm glad I brought layers to wear, but I can't wait to buy the much-fabled windbreaker (the "authentic North Face jacket") of which Henry has told us so much. In fact, he told us about this jacket so many times that he neglected to tell us more important information about the trip, like that we would need voltage adaptors, etc. He's a little scatter-brained, but he's been bringing students here for 20+ years, so at least we have him for questions.

Tags: first week, neurosurgery, peking duck, tiantan hospital

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