Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And Now, I See!

Yes, you guessed it: this title is derived from what could arguably be called the Grandmother of All Gospel Songs, the great and poignant Amazing Grace.

This has been a medically informative year for me. First I had to have my front tooth replaced. Fortunately it needed to be positioned into my denture, not into my face. I imagine I would not be so eager to recall or recount what must be a very painful procedure had I needed the implant directly into my gums.

And then came the bash on the noggin a few months back that resulted in intimate acquaintance with emergency medical procedure and the Chinese love affair with ‘injections’. After spending 7 (non-consecutive) hours in the Transfusion room of the local hospital I can assure you that the rumor of ‘injection love’ is actually true.

What astounded me about both of those forays into health/medical care was the cost. The facilities may not be top of the line and the amenities may be outdated by western standards but the systems are efficient and, most of all affordable.

Of course, I say ‘affordable’. The Chinese feel their healthcare costs are spiraling out of control. I suppose it is all relative. I’ve lived elsewhere in the world, where people are charged $10 for a bar of soap while in confinement and thousands of dollars for simple surgeries. Also, compared to many Chinese I earn much more money, especially for the paltry amount of work required of me. I see the Chinese healthcare system as more than affordable. I believe my actual phrase was ‘dirt cheap’.

And now I’ve had to explore the world of vision testing and corrective lens fabrication.

I’ve worn corrective lenses since I was eleven years old. Over time my eyes have gotten progressively worse. When Lasik surgery went mainstream I was seriously considering it because, as a former contact lens wearer who had to revert to glasses because of increasing astigmatism I was not enjoying sporting eyewear, no matter how fashionable or flattering. Ultimately I decided against Lasik because, as one honest doctor informed me, my eyes would continue their degenerative progression. Laser surgery would only detain for a while what was going to happen naturally.

I’ve had my current glasses for about 4 years. The optometrist that prescribed them for me was one surprised doctor, let me tell you. Prior to my visit with her I had been wearing trifocals. The reason I consulted with this eye doctor just a year after getting the trifocals was because I could not see out of any of the three ranges of my glasses.

The trifocals were too strong by far according to my eye exam, as compared to the lens test the doctor subjected my glasses to. Believing her scanning equipment to be faulty she sent her assistant next door with my trifocals, requesting that another doctor determine the prescription. Meanwhile she tested my eyes again.

Amazingly my vision had improved rather than deteriorated further! I went from a -3.75 (right eye)/-3.0 (left eye) to a milder myopia: -2.0/-2.5. I went from needing trifocals to single focus lenses in one year.

Ok, that’s interesting. Wonder how that happened?

And now it is 4 years later. Here I am, again unable to see through my glasses. More specifically: I see better without them than with them. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking them off when I get home, and I hardly ever wear them in the classroom. Time again for a visit to the eye doctor.

Visiting such a doctor here has its challenges. Well, not many of them, only 2. Language barrier and cost. How am I going to read the eye chart? How am I going to answer the doc when he/she asks me “Is this better or worse”? “Can you see better with this one or (flip of a lens) with this one?”

How am I going to know what she/he is even asking me?

I had to have someone along. Zhanny and Dash fit the bill admirably. We were out together anyway and, as an added bonus, Dash also wears glasses. As it turns out, I did not need them to interpret for me.

Reading a Chinese eye chart is ridiculously easy. It consists of progressively smaller capital E’s, turned different ways. All I had to do was point which direction the E was facing: up, down, left or right. After reading the eye chart, and taking the standard glaucoma test and retina scan I was prescribed glasses half the strength of those I’d been wearing.

I am now down into the -1 range on both eyes. Again in defiance of the predicted doom of my eyes getting worse.

Really: How is this happening? I’ve not worn such a weak prescription since I was a teenager. I think I’m getting younger instead of older. At least my eyes are.

Now for the next hurdle: cost. In America vision insurance is hard to come by. Comprehensive vision insurance is even harder to come by, so I’ve gotten used to shelling out anywhere between $300 and $500 for an eye exam complete with dilation, a prescription and a full pair of glasses – new frames, lenses… the works.

Sticker shock in reverse: total cost for eye exam and full pair of glasses: 300Yuan… about $50. Not El Cheapo, bargain bin frames but fashionable, half rimmed frames with UV protectant, polycarbonate coated lenses, made overnight. The whole thing comes with a year’s guarantee included in the price.

I’m whipping out my wallet, hoping I can pay that low price before the doctor realizes he’s made a mistake and doubles or triples the originally quoted amount. My friends, on the other hand, are arguing about how expensive the whole thing was. Oh, won’t they ever shut up! I don’t want Doc’s attention to focus on the price!

Their haggling won me another small reduction. Still with wallet in hand and doing my best to conceal my astonishment I pay 100Yuan, all that is required to get the process of making new glasses started. The doc then said I can pick my new glasses up around 11AM tomorrow.

After classes the next day I went back to the optical shop. There was that same grinning doctor, pleased that he had rendered a service to the foreigner. He let me try on my new glasses. They did not even need to be adjusted to fit. The frames seemed tailor-made for my face and the lenses… the lenses were…

I am stupefied. I can now see clearly what I was only able to view distorted before. Well, distorted if I wore my glasses and fuzzy if I didn’t. While I gazed out the shop’s window in wonder and awe the doc picked out an attractive hardshell case, packed it with a microfiber cleaning cloth and carefully set my old specs in. A few minutes later and 200Yuan lighter I left his establishment, muttering ‘I can’t believe it, I simply can’t believe it!’

Part of my surprise certainly comes from my eyesight regenerating instead of degenerating. But the bigger part is that, once again I got away with quality, affordable healthcare at a much lower than anticipated price.

Teeth, eyes and hair. Sounds like I treated myself to a Beauty Series Triumvirate but in fact I received needed medical services. While the thought of setting a tooth in a denture, getting my head stitched up and buying new glasses put me in a cringe of cost worry, the actual price tag was much lower than I though it would be. I can now say that I am no longer afraid of needing medical services while in China from a financial standpoint.

Just keep me out of that Transfusion Room. Please!               


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