Not understanding what people are saying sometimes allows one to feel safe when one maybe shouldn’t. We have enough Chinese now that China is sometimes a little more frightening than it otherwise would be.
Like at the hospital the yesterday. I was there to get a cyst cut out of my neck. And this hospital, as you can see, makes a point to reach out to English-speaking foreigners:
I find the Chinglish endearing. Can you imagine attempting the same thing in reverse?
At 3pm I’m talking with the surgeon. We’re using Chinese. She’s treated me for a similar thing before and I actually really like her. She’s the kind of person where being decent and polite gets results. I’d already thanked her for the good job she did when she cut on me a couple months ago. So far so good.
We’re in her office; I’m sitting on a stool at her desk, she and her nurse are standing in the doorway discussing my imminent operation.
“Oh,” the nurse suddenly remembers, “We’re out of clean surgical equipment. You used the last set this morning. He’ll have to come back after Chinese New Year.”
I pretend not to understand — it’s a reflexive, passive-aggressive expat response to unwelcome news in Chinese. Sometimes playing dumb means they’ll decide that solving the problem is less hassle than trying to make you understand why you can’t get what you want. (Not saying I’m proud of this…)
“Did you understand what she said?” asks the surgeon. “We can’t do the surgery today. You’ll have to come back next week.” She knows I understand. And if she wanted to she could tell me in English anyway.
“There’s no more? This is a big hospital! And I came all the way from Licun…” We live in what’s more or less an all-Chinese district that’s not near downtown or the foreigner district. It was almost a 40元 taxi for me to get to this hospital.
“Well, our dept. doesn’t have any more…” She turns back to her nurse, “He came in from Licun. What about…” and they discuss who to call and where to go look. A second nurse goes off to ask someone somewhere.
And then the first nurse gets an idea, “Or maybe you could just use a ______.” They both stop and turn, eyeing the lump on the side of my neck from across the room.
“Hmmm…” the surgeon mulls it over, her eye still on me. And it’s in this moment that I wish I had a bigger vocabulary. I don’t know what a ______ is; technical medical terms are outside my Chinese vocab range. I probably don’t even know what a ____ is in English. But I’m sure it’s something sharp. And not what they would normally use to cut a hole in the side of my neck. In fact it took them a while to even think of it. What could it be? Is it big? But I don’t dare say anything, since they seem keen on finding a way to not send me away until next week.
In the end they just took me to the O.R. on another floor and used that dept.’s stuff. I thanked them profusely for finding a way, and for using extra anesthetic (last time they used too little — ow). If I grow anything else that needs cutting out, I’d be happy to go back. I like this crew!
P.S. — Apologies for the blood. But it’s my first time to get stitches (apparently I’ve lived a very cautious life). Is it normal to do four holes per stitch?
P.P.S. — If you liked this (I mean the writing, not the gross picture), you’ll probably also like: