Doctor Xie

In China, Culture, Essay, Travel by Hao Wang


doctorShe is among the first going to medical school after the Cultural Revolution. At age 16, she passed the exams and went to one of the best medical schools in China, where she met her future husband. While many of her classmates eventually went abroad and pursued new lives in the Western world, earning good income as medical doctors, she accompanied her husband to Tibet because he got a job as a doctor in the Chinese military. They settled in Tibet since their graduation.

Dr. Xie mans a clinic mostly by herself in Lhasa Hotel, a five star hotels in Lhasa. She is available 24×7. She does everything, testing, diagnosis, treatment and therapy, etc. The government have not yet allowed her to provide services to community residences, a potentially good source of income for a highly qualified doctor. From her cheerful and optimistic nature, you can see she really enjoys taking care of people – the tourists residing in Lhasa hotel. She rents two hotel rooms, one for her own rest, another for patients. She indicated that her income does not allow hiring a nurse to help her. Only when things get quite busy, she has colleagues helping out on an adhoc basis.

My encounter with Dr. Xie came after I had a case of bad diarrhea. One day before I came to Lhasa, I went to taste the real Sichuan food in Chengdu. Among the exotic dishes were duck liver and conch. There must be something wrong with the food and me. I started having diarrhea during the night. The anti-diarrhea medicine I brought from New York seems useless. I barely made it to Lhasa hotel. To my delight, I learnt there is a clinic inside the hotel, treating tourist-patients for illness due to high altitude and infections. I called and Dr. Xie asked me to come down to see her.

In a typical Chinese manner of efficiency, Dr. Xie quickly come down to the diagnosis and treatment. She laid me down in her patient room and started I/V with two kinds of liquids, supplementing electrolytes that I had lost and providing antibiotics killing the germs in my stomach. Amazingly my diarrhea stopped. Dr. Xie also prescribed antibiotics and belladonna – a mainstream anti-diarrhea medicine used in china. My worries disappeared. I cannot thank her enough. My stay in Lhasa is limited to a few days and I have a long list of things to do. The last thing in my mind is resting in hotel nursing my stomach.

During our conversation, I learnt that Chinese doctors are not paid by their time spent with the patient. They are compensated by admission fees and selling drugs they prescribe. They are quick to testing and diagnosis. Imagining in the US, my doctor would do a number of tests before getting to the point then the treatment would be minor or none for a simple case of food poisoning like mine. It is hard to imagine I would be given I/V and quick recovery that would enable me to climb Potala the next morning.

Dr. Xie asked me how well Chinese medicine fares in US. I explained to her although Chinese medicine has genuine supporters in US consumers, US has yet to developed a way to train and certify doctors practicing Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is herb based, it is naturally wholistic, organic and non-chemical in nature. Practice like acupuncture has gained reputation because it worked for many people while western medicine could not. I explained to Xie how US Primary Care Physician works in conjunction with public and private health insurance. I also pointed out the potential collusion between the prescribing doctors and drug companies. She laughs and said it is similar in China since Doctors are not paid by their time, they are compensated by selling medicines. It is called “Tuo”. I told her that the latest US health reform would mandate doctors disclose their financial relationship with the pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Xie nodded her head in agreement.

I asked if the substance abuse is on the rise in Tibet, she confirmed. Folks here can be addicted to a kind of liquid cough medicine so they would need to drink about 10 bottles a day. Some cough pill containing opium is also addictive so the government started to regulate the prescription of these drugs. Xie also told me obesity and diabetes are on the rise too among Tibetans. Tibetan diet is heavy on meat with very little vegetables. They drink ShuYouCha, a kind of tea mixed with animal fat and cheese, which attributes to obesity.

Dr. Xie has a son in his 20s, still in school in Sichuan. Chinese government would pay all expenses for government personnel’s offspring to visit their parents in Tibet once a year. However her son lacks real interests in visiting Tibet. I regret the fact that a young man has all the opportunities to explore Tibet and climb Everest but chose not to take advantage of it. As I bid goodbye to Dr. Xie around 10:30 pm, knowing she would stay there all night on call to take care of patients like me, like the other gentleman needing I/V for his infection of respiratory system, and like five different people visiting her asking for different medicines during my 2-hour stay at her clinic, I felt a sense of admiration towards this thin middle aged woman who came to Tibet for love and stayed here all her life taking care of strangers in transit.