China Visit, May 2016: 4

May 2016 China Trip Update No 4: by Tricia Johnston

My first full day in Shenyang started with two surprises – the first was a phone call from Dr Wang to say ‘We’re waiting for you downstairs’ – I’d slept through my alarm!!!!! I don’t think I’ve ever done that on any of my previous trips! The 2nd surprise was that, when I did make it outside, it was chucking it down – it didn’t last long but was heavy while it was on.

Even although it was about 9.30 when we left the hotel (should have been 9.00!) traffic was still extremely heavy. We were heading about an hour north to the suburbs of the city where the new Rehabilitation Centre opened on May 6th. A fleet of 200 ambulances transported all the patients in one go – every male nurse in the Hospital was called in to help get patients to the ambulances and the Police controlled the traffic to ensure the ambulances travelled in a single convoy with no stops!! Given the amount of traffic in the city centre THAT was some feat!

A patient being helped with swallow reflex following a stroke
A patient being helped with swallow reflex following a stroke

The design of the new building was heavily influenced by Prof Zhang, Head of the Rehab Unit. It was four wings leading off a large, bright central Atrium. The wards are in the wings while the gyms and therapy rooms are around the Atrium on the different floors.

It was upsetting to see how many middle aged patients have suffered life-changing bleeds to the brain as a result of hypertension.

There were also a number of patients who had suffered very serious injuries as a result of traffic accidents. If the patient’s health insurance doesn’t cover a particular treatment (and many don’t) the family have to pay for that themselves often leading to debt as care and treatment is required for a lengthy period of time – one patient has been in the Unit for two years.

A patient’s legs being excessed following a stroke.

There are some very hi-tech pieces of therapeutic equipment, much of it from Germany or Norway, but still no specialised Allied Health Professionals (AHP’s) to assess patients’ individual needs and carry out treatment plans.

Technicians work on a 1-1 basis with patients but they are not trained AHP’s yet are dealing with some very complex cases.

One piece of equipment involved the patient standing on a board and looking at a monitor. On the screen was an underwater scene. In the middle of the scene was a highlighted circle with a fish in the centre. The fish kept moving about and the patient had to keep it in the centre by moving their body weight from side to side, up on their tiptoes, back on their heels etc. The aim was to improve the patient’s back muscles and balance and how was this piece of equipment developed? Well, according to Prof Zhang, it came from Europe where it was discovered that pirates (he definitely said pirates and not pilots as they were described as ‘robbers who live at sea’) don’t have back problems as they have to work hard on the ships to keep their balance. Now that may well be true but how on earth was it discovered? I have visions of pirates being arrested and during their Police questioning being asked, ‘And did you rob such and such a ship; where’s the loot and, by the way, how’s your back??’

Lunch was a more formal affair with President Guo who had travelled out from the city centre for it. The SCCG makes a tiny contribution to the development of Shengjing Hospital but it never fails to amaze me the respect in which we are held! It’s really quite humbling. President Guo had several requests for further SCCG input, including one completely new area, and these will go to the Management Comm, in June, for consideration.

After lunch there was a further meeting with Prof Zhang before we headed off to the new China Medical University (CMU) campus – it is incredible! It is huge and has a School of Nursing and a School of Pharmacy as well as the Medical Faculty. There are 15,000 students, 900 of whom are overseas students.

On the 18th floor of the main building is a permanent exhibition showing the history of Shengjing Hospital and CMU starting, of course, with Dr Dugald Christie’s arrival in 1883. Dr Christie had a vision for the Chinese to be given the knowledge, skills and facilities to take control of the development of their own health care professionals/system and, boy, is his vision well on its way to realisation.

Dinner was with Dr Wang and some of the staff from the Palliative Care Ward. I had forgotten just how much food the Shenyang folks think I can cope with!! There was a huge lunch around about 12.30 and here we were at 7.00pm with another 10 dishes and, apart from the fish stew (that’s just because I don’t like fish!), all of them absolutely wonderful – potato mud (mashed potato with a spicy pork ‘mince’ on the top, lamb, pork stuffed eggplant, runner beans and garlic and chillies, beef, mange tout and garlic, jiaozi (boiled dumplings), rice, savoury filled ‘pancakes’ and corn kernels that are cooked in goodness only knows what but are out of this world.

Dr Wang’s 10 year old daughter always joins us for this meal and the evening ended with her singing to us. She has a great voice that is mature way beyond her years. She has been selected to be part of an elite group of singers who will perform on Children’s Day in June.

And so, stuffed to the gunnels, it was back to the hotel and Dr Wang’s parting words – ‘I’ll meet you at 9.00am in the Lobby, try to be conscious.’ Cheeky monkey!

Best wishes, Tricia