Name a fatal disease? The answer could be cancer, heart disease, or even AIDS. But how could flu kill people in such a short period? What is living in the flu season in China like?
The flu has never been so brutal like what it was this winter. Globally, 2018 has definitely been a bad year for flu patients: both influenza A and B strains are circulating at the same time; flu vaccines are less effective than expected. 170 children were killed this season so far, and the number still seems to be increasing.
Yes, you’re right. We are talking about the FLU. Usually, your doctor will suggest you take a few days off from work or school, tell you to rest and drink a lot of water, with the lightest prescriptions possible given.
Now, 600 hundred years after the Black Death came to its end, the new type of flu virus once again shrouded its shadow upon people.
A Real Story about a Middle Class in Flu Season in China
Ke Li, a stock market investment blogger who lives in Beijing, posted a long entry in his blog earlier this month, recording what had happened on his father-in-law, who died in the flu season of 2018.
Like a diary, Ke Li wrote down everything happened in the 29 days from his father-in-law caught the flu, till he passed away. He also organized a 29 item list with his first-hand experiences, including but not limited to the doctor visit, medication, expenses, blood transferring, oxygen supplies and ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).
I wish you will never need this list. He said at the beginning of the blog entry.
With many details, the blog entry not only shared information about flu and the other complications but also gave readers a glance into China’s hospital system. They can even feel the joy and sorrow, bitter and sweet of an ordinary Chinese family.
I’m a southern Chinese and my father-in-law is a northeastern Chinese. It means that our relationship only ‘looks good’. In fact, we were all trying to put up with each other since my wife needed her parents’ help to take care of our kids. Ke Li started his blog entry with the common stereotypes in China.
Usually, men from south China are considered smarter, gentler and considerable, and taking better care of their families. On the contrary, men from the northeast China are usually bringing people the image of being an alpha male, brave but reckless, manly but a little self-centered.
It’s not uncommon in China that young couples have their parents live with them in order to take care of the grandchildren—which could be a little hard to imagine in western countries. Chinese people have a much stronger bond with their original families, and they tend to continue to live with their parents even after they get married. Also because of the lack of daycare services and discouragement of women becoming housewives, grandparents seem to be the best option for babysitters.
The story began with a minor quarrel between Ke Li and his father-in-law. Since there are no individual houses in most of the urban areas, including Beijing, in China, people live in condos; heating systems are usually built in the building and heating is provided by the condo managing agents. There is a significant difference in winter room temperatures between northern and southern China. Since winter is harsher in northern China, the room temperature was usually higher. That’s why they got into an argument about whether to close the windows or not. Ke Li’s father-in-law refused to either close the window or put on more clothing layers.
Winter of 2018 in Beijing was extremely dry: there wasn’t any snow the whole season. Flu had its outbreak in the city. Therefore, it was unsurprising that Ke Li’s father-in-law caught the flu.
Nobody thought this was a serious issue; they didn’t even separate the grandfather with the younger kids.
Grandpa’s running nose became a new method of amusing the kids. Nothing can separate them at that point. Ke Li said in his blog.Grandfather finally agreed to take medication after he started having a fever, even though he still didn’t want to admit his symptoms were caused by a virus.
In the meantime, a disagreement about separating the young child from the patient took place between Ke Li and his wife. Mother turned down the idea of temporarily living in a hotel room.
Somebody needs to take care of my dad, she said.
Ke Li’s father-in-law’s condition worsened, he didn’t say no this time about going to a hospital.
In China, if someone needs any kind of medical attention, a public hospital seems like the best option. (There are a lot of private hospital and clinics too. However, the quality of medical services can’t be guaranteed.)
Of course, the public hospitals in China are famous for their long wait times and short of outpatient service. Technically, every patient only has five to six minutes to be seen by a doctor on average. The lines for patient registration can be extremely long too: outside the famous public hospitals, you can always see people camping and trying to get into the line as early as possible for the next day’s opening.
However Ke Li’s father-in-law chose to go to a nearby private hospital, Hospital A. The reason was that his medical insurance couldn’t cover most of his expenses. The doctor gave him three days of antibiotic intravenous injection. He got a little better afterward.
The medical bill was about 1,000 yuan (approximate 157 US Dollar). I was joking with one of my friends who live in the United States, that the cost of medical service in China is getting closer and closer to the USA average. What I didn’t know at that time was, compared with the total medical bill afterward, this 1,000 Yuan can only cover the last few digits. said Ke Li in his blog.
The good news didn’t last too long, soon his father-in-law got worse after driving for a few hours to a neighbor city. He went to the hospital again for an X-ray checkup. The results showed there were minor infections on his lungs, along with a low white blood cell count. They decided to go to a bigger public hospital, Hospital B for a more accurate checkup, CT image.
The result was terrifying. Only 36 hours after the X-ray image, the infection had spread to a much larger area. However, the tests for influenza A and B strains were both negative.
The doctor told us it wasn’t good news because my father-in-law could possibly be infected with an unknown type of virus! said Ke Li.
The doctors of the second hospital informed Ke Li that they can’t handle it. They suggested a transfer to a better hospital.
With a population of 21 million in Beijing, there was no way to get a stay-in hospital position during the flu season, especially for the well-known Chaoyang Hospital.
I was suggested to go to the emergency room. But we could only talk to the nurse station first. They brought us to a doctor who was good at nothing but pushing patients out. Ke Li wrote it on his blog.
Fortunately, they were finally assigned to a responsible doctor. Besides the usual medication targeting on pneumonia, Ke Li’s father-in-law was told to start oxygen uptake.
Finally, they got a position in another public hospital, the Hospital D. Not too long after they finally settled down, Ke Li was asked to come outside the patient’s room by the doctor.
There are only 6 positions in our ICU, I can’t guarantee you there would be one for your father-in-law. said the doctor.
Just for the flu? Ke Li was confused.
Your father-in-law is in danger. I suggest you transfer him back to Chaoyang Hospital.
I can’t even imagine getting a position in the probably best hospital for respiratory diseases treatment of this city. The doctor suggested me to prepare for the ‘worst result’ Ke Li wrote it down on his blog.
Cared for by a few relatives, Ke Li and his wife could take turns having breaks and taking care of their child. His father-in-law seemed to get better. Everyone was confident about the day he could finally leave the hospital and go home.
Blessed by the goodness of fate, another well-known public hospital, Hospital E, told Ke Li there was an available position in their ICU. They finally transferred.
The cost of ICU was 8,000-20,000 Yuan per day (appx. 1,262-3,155 US Dollars).
Now I need to work day and night on stocks and Bitcoin trading, said Ke Li.
The break didn’t last too long. Four days later, the doctors decided to start ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).
The expense of ECMO was 600,000 Yuan per month (appx. 94,672 US dollars).
We will need to sell all the investments, even our home in Beijing to afford it. Said Ke Li.
However, even spending every single penny won’t get grandfather back to normal. He will need to stay in bed and live on oxygen uptake the rest of his life.
All the cost and burdens are all on the shoulders of the family itself.
Grandfather needs blood transfer. However, he can only get the blood after his family members or friends donate the same amount of blood.
For keeping the blood supply in the blood center is the reason.
With help of some friends, they finally got enough blood quotas. There is something more important to worry about: How was grandfather doing there?
Five minutes, it was the time Ke Li and his wife could get to talk with the doctor on duty every day.
That seems like the maximums we could get as ‘commoners’. Said Ke Li’s wife, ironically.
Ke Li wrote it in his blog,
I know the doctors were working hard on the treatment of my father-in-law. I think it was also necessary to spend a little bit longer time on communicating with the patient’s family.
In ICU, there are always people coming and leaving.
Leaving ICU doesn’t always mean good news. A patient next to Ke Li’s father-in-law left the ICU because it was hopeless for a cure. The family decided to leave to save the high costs.
But staying in ICU also brought endless sorrow and tears to the family.
The worst case still happened after all: the family was called to the hospital for an emergency meeting.
They were told to leave the ICU because the high cost there wasn’t necessary anymore. It was about time.
The hospital wanted them to transfer because they didn’t want to see their number of dead patients to go up.
The Death always came earlier than you expected. When Ke Li was figuring out the hospital transfer, the family was told there would be 2 hours left for grandfather.
The rescue work made it 8 hours.
8 hours ago, I called the airplane carrier about boarding with a patient. Now I am calling them about boarding with an urn. Said Ke Li in his blog.
He was stuck in the traffic when his father-in-law passed away in the hospital. Moving the body to the undertaker was another big task to complete. They chose cremation and brought the urn back to the deceased’s hometown.
The 29 days were like a nightmare. You can wake up from it, but can’t get rid of it. Said Ke Li in his blog.
Death came fast but left its shadow to fade away slowly.
His clothes were still in the closet. It just feels like, I can still see him in the living room. I can still hear his voice on Wechat. Ke Li wrote it on his blog.
At the end of the blog entry, Ke Li quoted the famous line from Forrest Gump:
Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
The blog entry was reposted many times after it was published and it soon became one of the hottest headlines of this winter. Many Chinese media reinforced people about flu prevention, on the other hand, Ke Li’s experience also reflected the current situation of medical services in China.