Surgery Called For

“When people ask if I have health insurance, I say, ‘Yes, a plane ticket back to China and pocket full of change.'”

“Bike Mike” Sutherland

Truer words hath never been spake.

Meniscus MRI

I went back to the hospital and spoke with the doctor. Turns out I’m going to need surgery on my knee, I suppose to remove some loose cartiledge or something. With not enough time to operate before my upcoming trip to the States, I’m probably going to have the surgery when I get back to China.

I called my dad to talk about options. He said the surgery would cost around $15,000 in the States! Meanwhile, here it costs RMB10,000 (about $1,250). Having no insurance, it’s well decided where I’ll have the operation.

Some have raised the issue of safety. The argument runs basically like this: how could you consider having surgery in China, a backwards, third-world nation? This argument doesn’t hold much water as far as I’m concerned, as the hospital I’m going to is one of the best in China and from everything I’ve seen, doesn’t differ much from my hometown hospital. The procedure, meanwhile, is minimally invasive and routine. It’s not like open-heart surgery, here. If I was going to do something serious, I’d want the best doctor in the world. But this thing is probably less dangerous than, say, getting your tonsils out.

The other option is to begin a physical therapy regimen, which may be able to “cure” me eventually. However, the amount of work and time involved is prohibitive, probably more so than just spending the money. Supposedly the healing time after the surgery is quick and relatively easy. So it’s just a matter of ponying up the cash, which hurts a lot more than my leg right now.


Although my knee has been slowly getting better over the last two weeks, and I’ve felt good enough to stop using the crutches, I still haven’t been able to completely straighten my leg without pain. So I decided to get an MRI. I figured I might as well do it here since it’s probably ten times cheaper. Some random web searches indicate that back home, without insurance, an MRI could cost a few hundred bucks. Here in Shanghai, I scanned my knee for RMB300 ($37.50). Oh, I also had to pay to see the doctor first. That cost RMB17 ($2.12).

The scan itself is a pain. You have to sit there with your leg stuck in this machine for about 40 minutes, and you’re not supposed to move. The machine makes all these whirring and buzzing noises, then it’s quiet, then it starts clicking and clucking, then it whirs again. I fell asleep and was awoken at least three times with a start – the kind where you jolt awake and your body tries to leap into action like there are commandos invading your bedroom. Each time I jerked my leg a bit and got worried they were going to have to start over again, but nobody said anything. In fact, most of the time I was alone. A doctor came in every 10-15 minutes to check on the computer and see that it was still working, then he’d leave again. I wondered why the computer still had a drive for a 3.5 inch disk – you know, the kind everyone stopped using about 3-4 years ago at the latest.

That was yesterday. Tomorrow they will have my results. Dr Zhai, who referred me to the MRI and was the type of person who immediately gains my trust (I don’t know, he just seemed to know what he was doing), gave me his cell number and told me to call to get his recommendation. Let’s hope I don’t need surgery. It costs about RMB10,000.

Laid Low

After our stunning victory in the immigration battles, I have now suffered a setback of the medical variety: I busted my knee up in a bad spill at the Shanghai Roller Revival.

Skatin' Alive
Skatin’ Alive

The party was going great until late in the evening, with no one skating anymore, when I challenged Coley to a friendly 3-lap race. At the first turn I came crashing down, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps there was some liquid on the course, or perhaps I just took the turn too hard in my vintage 4-wheel skates which are not really designed for speed or hard turns. Anyway, I wiped out bad, smashing my inner left knee on the floor and had one of those sucking-wind-through-the-teeth moments of excruciating pain before I managed to stand up and meekly complete the three laps. I wanted to finish the race.

After that I seemed to be relatively okay. We didn’t leave right away, and I continued skating around the place for a little while, though favoring my left leg. In retrospect, this probably made the injury worse. The next morning I couldn’t really move it at all. Perhaps the alcohol had dulled the pain. So we went to the hospital.

I can only say I am so lucky to have a beautiful wife who selflessly takes care of me when I most need it. Xianyi sat me down at the hospital’s front door and rented a wheelchair, then proceeded to cart me from one department to another as we had a consultation and took X-rays, then purchased some meds the doctor prescribed.

Laid Up
Laid Up

The X-rays showed no broken bones – that was good. But the doc wanted to schedule me for an MRI to see how much damage might otherwise be done. Worst case scenario is I might need some minor surgery – which only worries me insofar as I have no insurance and no idea what it might cost me. Some preliminary internet research indicates that if my problem can be solved by an arthrotomy (a surgery employing a few minor incisions and microscopic tools), I would be walking without crutches within a few days. Even better, I might not need surgery at all – perhaps just a couple of weeks rest and rehabilitation.

After getting this diagnosis from the doc, he sent us over to the pharmacy to purchase some ointment, made by the Novartis Corp, which is indicated to be used on areas with “moderate pain” – and this pain is anything but moderate. Most of the time it feels fine. It can even bear a little weight. But certain movements produce sharp pain that, at its worst, make me want to pass out. It’s not fun. So I’m hoping for the best, and meanwhile, enjoying the pampering of my lovely wife.