Being Ill in China

When you’re ill in your home country, you know the drill. You know the medicines you need, where to get them and even if you need to get the doctor or hospital to check you out. You know the medicines that are a waste of time and money and you know how to get these same medicines free on the NHS (Scotland). You know how to take them over the recommended amount with overdosing and you know the ingredients. In China however, none of these things will help you.
I was ill about two weeks after I arrived but had a good supply of UK medicine with me so I was good to go. Then I got a nasty stomach bug that made me bed bound for four days and this was when I realised how different things are. I had my welfare officer take me to the hospital because they don’t have a GP office and the pharmacy was difficult because of the language barrier. It was an insane culture shock but the jam sandwich in the hospital shop kept me sane.

Before you come to China it helps to take your go-to medicine with you but if you’ve run out here are my tips to help you of you do get ill:

1. Befriend the local teachers – they can help translate and buy medicine with you.

2. Have a translator on your phone – if you’re in a pharmacy on your own you can type in your symptoms and the staff can help you if you don’t speak the language.

3. Don’t fear Chinese medicine. Some times it’s better for you because it’s natural so it won’t disrupt your body’s natural defences.

4. Antibiotics aren’t always the answer. Yes you can buy them over the counter but it doesn’t mean you won’t become immune. Also because they tend to be different than the one’s we’re used to you don’t know how you will react.

5. Remember, you can’t buy anything from supermarkets like you can back home.

6. Find comfort food. If you’re like me you will want to eat familiar foods when you’re ill. You may love the local food and eat it every day but a bit of home comforts goes a long way to helping you feel better.

7. Check out your closest pharmacies to home, work and anywhere else you frequently go, and take a note of business hours just in case.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask other foreigners for their medicine or advice – they may have a secret stash or know a great place to get exactly what you need.

9. Make sure you know who your welfare officer is and their days off in case you need translation or to be taken to hospital. They can make your trip a little less daunting and you’ll have someone to speak to while you wait.

10. There is always a courier service. If you have been ill and really didn’t like what you got, ask your family back home to send you everything you need. It may take a couple months to arrive but at least you’ll be prepared for the next time. Or use amazon.

I have only been in China a short while but have been ill a lot and am still trying to find my feet. These may seem obvious but some times when you’re ill you forget the simplest things. You’re body might still be adjusting to the time change, the different climate and food. You may not be in your regular healthy routine yet or you still might be enjoying the party. Whatever it is you are doing take care of your health the way you know how but don’t be afraid to ask for any advice on anything from your local and foreign friends to help ease your aches, pains and sniffles.

2 thoughts on “Being Ill in China

  1. I also have been feeling sick the past week. High fever and lost voice, and totally agree with your post.

    There are a few bugs making the rounds between the teachers right now – it’s unavoidable with such a social group.
    Shannon gave me some vitamins that really did the trick. With the difference in foods and water sources, the vitamins your body requires might not be all that complete. A good vitamin stash can help out when you’re feeling tired or feel the beginnings of a sore throat.

    My go-to: Ibuprofen which in Chinese is 布洛芬 and available at most pharmacies around town.

    • Thanks, Jimmy for the Chinese characters. A lot of the time I just show pharmacies my phone so it’s good to know the characters. I was told it takes the average body 3/4 months to adapt to a new situation, which is a long time when you’re feeling ill all the time. All you can do is hope that you get the medicine you need and maybe beg, borrow or steal off other teachers haha!

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