Milk in China: Try the Asahi Brand for Safe, Delicious Fresh Milk

Milk has been a problem for many people in China. Trust of Chinese dairies has been low after some past disasters. Large milk powder companies struggle tend to import the milk they use because of quality control problem among the numerous small dairies that provide milk to large providers. Foreigners who like to use milk tend to buy ultra-high-temperature (UHT) treated milk that does not require refrigeration until it is opened, but the flavor tends to be poor from the heat treatment and nutritional value may be lowered as well.

After struggling with various brands of UHT milk and shying away from Chinese dairies for fresh milk, I finally found a brand of fresh that impresses me: Asahi milk. This is a Japanese company using good Japanese dairy methods on their Chinese dairy. The flavor of the milk is better than anything I remember in the US and tastes like fresh milk I enjoyed in Switzerland long ago. Really delicious. A liter will cost slightly over 20 RMB, about the same price for good quality UHT cartons of milk. But so fresh and delicious. Also, I think, safe and consistent in quality.

Asahi brand whole milk: possibly China's best?v

Asahi brand whole milk: possibly China’s best?

By | 2017-10-24T06:52:38+00:00 January 21st, 2017|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Health, Safety, Shopping, Surviving|Tags: , , , |2 Comments

Funny Red Beef in China: Treated with Sodium Nitrite?

I’ve noticed that beef sold in small shops in China is often a bright red color as if very fresh, maybe too fresh. It may have been sitting out for hours or days, and it is still that bright red color, never turning brown as regular beef does. We were buying beef from a local market for quite a while before it hit me that there was something odd about the color. It never turned brown until you cooked it. Finally it hit me that this beef has been treated in some way, probably with sodium nitrite or other chemicals that prevent the normal browning that occurs when beef oxidizes over time.

Some people worry that nitrites might cause cancer, especially when present in meet that is grilled or cooked at high temperature. Whether nitrites are carcinogenic or not, I don’t want chemicals being added to my beef to disguise its age and let old beef look fresh. This might be a good topic for further investigation because I don’t know for sure what is being added and who is doing the treatments, or of they are safe or not. But in the absence of assuring data, the strange absence of browning in some of the been being sold here has given me one more thing to worry about when it comes to meat in China.

Eat meat sparingly. Make sure it’s fresh and from a trustworthy source. Pork and chicken, which are sold in large quantities with high turnover, may be freshest and safest, in my opinion.

By | 2017-01-06T21:12:08+00:00 January 6th, 2017|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Health, Restaurants, Safety, Shanghai, Shopping|Tags: , |Comments Off on Funny Red Beef in China: Treated with Sodium Nitrite?

Accident in Shanghai: The Ambulance Never Came

On my way to work each day, I usually walk or ride my bike, but on a rainy night recently, I tried taking a bus. The journey ended up taking longer than just walking. Part of the problem was a busy road (Gubei Road near Gubei’s elegant pedestrian street) was partly blocked by a traffic accident. As the bus drove by the scene, I saw a car and a little motorcycle-powered three-wheeled rig for a restaurant delivery service. There was a woman pacing next to the car talking to someone on a cell phone. And then I saw two feet pointed upwards on the ground. A man was lying on the asphalt near the car that had struck his little vehicle. Cars were passing near him. It was raining on him. Nobody seemed to be looking after the victim, with hundreds of cars steadily moving on both sides. Why was nobody helping?

It seemed beyond my ability to do anything about it, but I got off at the next stop and thought I should at least walk back to the accident site and see if things were OK. I debated internally as I pondered all the things I needed to do and the shear improbability of making a difference because things were probably under control by then. But I felt drawn and so I went back. As I approached the scene, I was relieved to see two police officers had shown up. Things were under control. Still, I crossed the street near them to get a peak at the victim, whom I assumed would now be receiving some kind of help. He was still lying in the same place, rain falling on him, with no protection. Then I realized that, perhaps for the first time ever, I had two umbrellas with me that day. I had grabbed one when I went to work, forgetting that I already had one in the bag I carry. I had two, and since the officers didn’t seem to have any, I could offer them one to help them at least keep the victim dry until an ambulance showed up.

The officer I spoke to recognized that an umbrella would be useful, but he was busy directing traffic and said if I wanted to, I could hold it for the victim. Well, OK, the ambulance would be here any minute and so sure, I could help out a bit. I recognized that people passing by might think that I had been the driver of the vehicle that struck the man, but hoped that I would be doing more good than harm by being the volunteer umbrella holder. The woman driver who had been standing around doing nothing said something like, “Oh, right, good idea” when I started trying to protect the victim. But she didn’t offer to take over that role. I was disappointed that the driver didn’t seem very worried about the delivery man she had struck. He was about 50 years old and had a lot to say about the allegedly reckless driver who struck him while he was driving properly and carefully. Proper driving isn’t all that common here, so I can’t judge who was at fault. He worked for one of Shanghai’s best and healthiest restaurants, Element Fresh, which I would learn provides good health care coverage for their employees.

The man was in pain but it didn’t appear critical, but I was worried about the possibility of internal bleeding and wanted the ambulance to get there ASAP. After about 10 minutes I asked if ambulance was coming. “Yes, I called for one.” After about 20 minutes I asked again and she then said that the ambulance service she called had said all the ambulances were busy and that they would call her when one became free. Huh? I talked to the police and suggested that we should give up on this no-show ambulance and take him to the hospital in a taxi. There were taxis coming by all the time. Why not use one of them?

The police reminded me that moving the man could be dangerous. By then, though, the man was sick of lying on the road and said he was going to sit up, and would we help him. So the police helped him to sit up. And then he said that this was a bad place to be waiting and that he wanted to talk over to the curb where it would be safer and more comfortable, and could we please help him walk over there? So the police helped him as I held my two umbrellas above us, and continued holding both for the man and me as we waited. And waited. I again raised the possibility of a taxi. After about 40 minutes of waiting, the police saw that as a good idea and agreed. So I waved down a taxi and wondered if I would be needed to take the man to the hospital, but was relieved to see that the police arranged for the woman to take the man there and that I would not be needed.

The ambulance never came. A poor man struck by a car laid on the road for perhaps an hour or so waiting for am ambulance that never came. A Taiwanese friend of mine later suggested that the woman may have lied and never called the ambulance because in China it is the person who calls the ambulance that pays for it. Perhaps. But later another friend at lunch shared an even more painful story of a stroke victim he was helping in Shanghai, where it took an hour to get an ambulance and then when they came, the team had rough street people who moved the victim like one moves a bag of potatoes. In any case, in this, one of the most advanced and modern cities in the world, when you need it, the ambulance might not come for a very long time. This is a problem that can happen anywhere, especially in times of crisis, not just in rush hour.

By the way, I was able to reach the man later to check up on him. He’s doing well and is taking a month off from work to recover from the injury to his side. No surgery needed. He was quite upbeat. Element Fresh provides good health care benefits it seems and the responsible driver paid for the medical care. I also was impressed that the leaders at the Element Fresh restaurant at Yili Road/Yanan Road were aware of the man’s situation and care about him and helped me contact him to check on his status. To thank Element Fresh (and more selfishly, to enjoy delicious, healthy dining), my wife and I dined there last night and had a wonderful meal.

More and more, it seems that we need to be increasingly prepared to take care of ourselves and reduce our dependency on others. When it comes to health, we need to be doing more to reduce our future reliance on services that might not be there or whose quality might be far below what we need. Now is the time to exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, eat wisely with plenty of plants in our diet, and to reduce behaviors that put us at risk.

In China, by the way, preparedness also means carrying cash or an ATM card with you so you can pay for medical services. You often won’t be treated until you or somebody pays first.

Another health care tip is to beware surgeons pushing for surgery when it might not be needed.

A couple years ago I had a near-miss with a bad surgeon at a good hospital here who was going to “fix” a knee problem (he said he would repair my meniscus), but after I had checked in for the surgery, a comment from one of the staff about “removing the meniscus” raised my suspicions and I decided to just get up and walk away. I’ve been walking ever since. Had I succumbed to the recommended surgery, I think my mobility might have been impaired.

After I walked away, I called a physical therapist I knew for a second opinion. He said the way to check to see if I really needed surgery would be to go to another reputable hospital and meet with a surgeon there and show them my MRI scan, but tell them that if I needed surgery, I would not do it there so they would have no profit motive to sell their surgery to me. Surgery is the solution for everything in China, he explained, because that’s where the profit is. Something like 70% of all babies born are delivered with C-section. And I suppose a lot of knees get repaired unnecessarily as well.

I took a taxi to another hospital and minutes later was meeting with a surgeon. He checked my knee, looked at the MRI, and said this was not a case where surgery was needed. “Try physical therapy.” I went to that physical therapist and after the first treatment, my problem was significantly reduced, and ten treatments later, I was pretty much back to normal. There is a damaged meniscus, but better damaged one than none at all. I came so close to reducing my long-term mobility, and I remain grateful every day that I can walk or ride. It’s exhilarating to move and to be independent. I will greatly miss this freedom when it is gone or limited someday. But for now, my mobility is one of my most cherished gifts, and I recognize it all the more as a gift since that near miss, and from some accidents that could easily have given me a broken bone or worse, where I am just so grateful to have been able to walk away.

Our health is so precious, and it is up to us to protect it. With the strains on the healthcare system and the increasing difficulty of paying for medical insurance, coupled with the decreasing quality of coverage in many places, it is imperative that we do more to preserve our health and to be able to cope with our problems on our own or with our own resources. We can’t always assume that the help we expect to get will be available. And when we do get it, even from good doctors at good clinics, things can go wrong. Prevention must be our first line of defense. Being prepared to render first aid and take care of basic problems is also vital. For more serious things, doing our own research so we understand the issues can make us less dependent on one person’s opinion and can often increase our ability to guide outcomes in the right direction.

By | 2016-11-25T16:54:36+00:00 November 25th, 2016|Categories: China, Health, Shanghai|Comments Off on Accident in Shanghai: The Ambulance Never Came

One Nutritional Supplement You Probably Need in China: Vitamin D3

The medical literature tends to suggest that people waste a lot of money on the vitamins and other nutritional supplements they buy. But here in China, there is a vitamin that I think you may need: D3. Vitamin D3 is normally created in our skin by sunlight, but sunlight is sadly lacking in typical Chinese cities because of the air pollution. Even when there is sunlight, there is not much UV light getting through the haze. In the US, people also get some Vitamin D in dairy products since it is routinely added to milk, but I haven’t seen evidence of that being standard in China and dairy products tend to be a much smaller part of one’s diet here.

Lots of people here have lingering colds and coughs. In a couple of cases I know, giving the sufferers regular vitamin D3 helped them get back to normal. D3 is said to play a role in strengthening the immune system and other systems. It’s something we really need in China. You can buy it here, but it’s much more expensive than in the U.S., so I recommend that if you are coming to China for a long time, bring a good supply of Vitamin D3 with you and stay healthy.

By | 2016-01-11T17:19:15+00:00 January 11th, 2016|Categories: China, Health|Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on One Nutritional Supplement You Probably Need in China: Vitamin D3

Food Poisoning: Beware of Hamburgers and Other High Risk Items

food poisoning shanghai burgers hospital preparation

Was it the meat? The mayo? the lettuce? Or maybe the shake? It’s hard to know with food poisoning.

I had a call at 2:15 AM this morning from a victim of food poisoning, a friend who had just been taken to one of Shanghai’s many hospitals with quaint names. This one was the Armed Police Hospital of Shanghai on Hongxu Road near Yan An Road in Hongqiao, not far from where we live. He had been out with some friends eating at Munchies, a popular joint serving basic Western food like hamburgers, shakes, and fries. I ate there once a few months ago and thought it was OK but not interesting, and avoided the hamburgers due to my concerns about the risks of food poisoning. Hamburgers are already a common source of food poisoning in the States, and I think the risks will be higher here.

My friend had eaten a hamburger, shake, and fries. He guessed that his food poisoning came from bad oil in the fries or bad cream in the shake. My guess is the hamburger was the culprit. Hamburger is so often contaminated with bacteria and is too easy to undercook or recontaminate with sloppy handling. But who knows, it could have been bacteria on dirty lettuce in the burger. I doubt that bad oil would give the violent food poisoning reaction he had, with hours of pain and loss of everything in his digestive tract.

He eventually became so dehydrated and weak and in so much pain that he realized he was in medical trouble, so he called for help and soon was being carried away in an ambulance. In his weakened state, he forget to bring a wad of cash with him. Mistake! Bring lots of cash when you go to the hospital. Bringing an ATM card can work, but if there is trouble, then what? He was so weak when he got to the hospital that his fingers kept slipping as he tried to enter the long password code for his bank card, and after 3 tries, his card was locked and unable to be used at all. He called the bank to clear it, but was told he had to come in personally when the bank opened again later. Not good at 2 AM when you need to pay now for urgent help.

In China, if you don’t pay upfront or have proof of adequate insurance (that may not work in many cases), you aren’t going to get treatment, as far as I know. Understand that and be prepared. The hospital staff suggested he call a friend. I normally put my phone in silent mode when I go to sleep to prevent unwanted calls in the middle of the night. Last night was an unusual exception, and I’m glad I didn’t. I was able to rush over and help out, handling the payment. 650 RMB is all it cost for him to get a lot of good attention (once payment was made), an IV with several bags of fluid, medication, etc. The kit of supplies I received for him after payment was really impressive. Treatment was good, the place was clean, and the staff were efficient and friendly. Pretty good for a public hospital in the middle of the night. Remarkably low cost. Not bad.

What is bad is food poisoning. It can really hurt and make life miserable. Staying hydrated when you are hit with it is a real challenge. Drink lots and lots of fluids, even though you might lost them swiftly. Gets some salts also. Gatorade might be a good beverage to keep on hand for such cases. But do your own research to prepare. Keep some cash in your wallet or in a handy place at home to take with you to the hospital, along with one or two bank cards, your cell phone, and a cell phone charger, etc. Be ready. And especially be careful about what you eat. It’s a key to surviving in Shanghai, China.

By | 2017-10-24T07:20:17+00:00 July 6th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Food, Health, Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Food Poisoning: Beware of Hamburgers and Other High Risk Items

American Beef and Chinese Standards: Got Ractopamine?

Americans coming to China often have the notion that American food is pure and high quality, while Chinese food is made with low standards. While there have been some highly publicized food scandals in China, the regulations for food can be quite high. So high, in fact, that some American foods are not allowed in the country. This is particularly the case with beef. The problem is not politics and petty officials seeking vengeance as part of some trade war, but a legitimate problem with American beef. Cattle in America are fed a chemical to make the beef more lean. This chemical is RACTOPAMINE (chemical structure shown to the right), and it appears to be a legitimate concern. It is not a growth hormone (though the widespread use of growth hormones is another concern many people have with American beef and dairy products). China, Europe, Russia, and many other nations have banned ractopamine. It’s used in the majority of beef in the US. I’m happy to avoid it over here in China.

Some people are concerned about beef in China as well. If so, the imported beef over here is very high in quality. Much of the butter and imported beef here comes from New Zealand, where a generally high-quality and safe dairy industry flourishes.

By | 2017-10-24T07:24:14+00:00 May 12th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Health|Comments Off on American Beef and Chinese Standards: Got Ractopamine?

Update on the Farmer’s Son, Recovering from Surgery #1

I’d like to introduce you to the most self-reliant people I have ever met. Noble people who have a message to some of my readers and friends: “Thank you for helping our son!” This is the family we met in Shanghai, where destiny and, in my opinion, the hand of the Lord brought us together. It is the family I previously discussed whose son has long been in need of surgery to correct a serious deformation of his leg (see the story here). We came to visit and see how their son is recuperating from a first flawed surgery. He is recovering well and is now able to stand, with the help of his friends. With a future surgery, we hope he will be able to walk more normally.

We left our comfortable, convenient city of Shanghai Friday night and flew out to Nanchang in Jiangxi Province, a smaller city with just 5 million people. From there we took a train to a much smaller town that many people here have never heard of, though it is about the same size as my hometown of Salt Lake City.  From there we took a car into farm territory and arrived at a tiny little farming village of just 180 people, with a handful of cement and brick buildings clustered together.

After living two years in one of the world’s largest cities, spending some time in a tiny farming village was a completely different experience, and probably our most magical time in China so far. Along with some gifts, we brought them some cash that some of you donated to help them pay the debt they have for the surgery their teenage son had in Shanghai. And now we are preparing for the next surgery that he going to need, this time the most important surgery, the operation to rebuild his knee that has been grossly deformed ever since a severe infection when he was a toddler.This family may be poor in monetary wealth but they are rich in the the things that matter most like love, integrity, and, as we also discovered, good food. Lots of good food that they planted and prepared themselves. The rice, the peanuts, the bitter melon, the various greens, the two kinds of herbal tea we tried, the beans, the chicken, the eggs, etc. I didn’t ask where they got the water snakes that turned out to be one of the especially delicious parts of our second meal in their home (I’m serious–I was really surprised), but I suppose they captured them out in their rice paddy. A small fraction of our feast had been purchased or traded with neighbors, but the vast majority was the work of their toil.

This rugged, self-sufficient family was impressed us with their love, goodness, and their competence in what they do. When we spent time with them in Shanghai, they seemed lost and confused, truly in need of someone to help look out for them, but on the farm, in their environment, they stood as masters, savvy, wise, competent, and fascinating. They were not the ones helping and lifting us.

They took us around to the various parts of their territory to show us the many crops they raised. We met relatives and friends with whom they share and cooperate, a wonderful example of what a community based on solid family values and love for one another can be. This was a happy place with the elderly and children spending time together, passing on values and principles. I saw no televisions. Water came from a well requiring a rope and a bucket. Luxuries were scarce. Chickens were abundant and roamed freely in some of the homes.

They were poor by our standards and by Shanghai standards, but they had everything they needed, with the obvious exception of competent health care for serious issues. Another child there was in need of surgery for a foot problem (I think it is clubfoot). With some additional help (use the PayPal button at the right if you wish), we can assist our family in getting the surgery they need for their son. If by chance we get more than is needed, I think this village will be a worthy target for ongoing external support. And perhaps some of you can join me one day in a future visit to this little piece of heaven on earth, hidden in the middle of China.

The foreign friends they wish to thank include some of you from the States and also some friends from Taiwan living here in China who have been wonderfully generous. Thank you!

A few photos follow. Note the fireworks exploding in the second picture: we got the fireworks treatment when we arrived and when we left. I think fireworks help drive away evil spirits. Did it work? You’ll have to be the judge. Maybe it takes two applications to be effective.

I should also mention the sweet woman in blue. She was so curious to meet us and so warm. After she met us, she went home and wrote a letter that she brought to us later in the day expressing her happiness to have us as new friends. It was such a kind letter. Really one of the sweetest, most gracious people I’ve met. She apologized that she only had two or three years of education and wasn’t cultured, but I wish everyone had that much culture.

13-06-21_72570

13-06-21_72584

13-06-21_72589

13-06-21_72592

13-06-21_72599

13-06-21_72601

13-06-21_72602

13-06-21_72606

13-06-21_72612

13-06-21_72629

13-06-22_72646

13-06-22_72657

13-06-22_72665

13-06-22_72690

13-06-22_72709

13-06-22_72763 13-06-22_72767

13-06-22_72781

13-06-22_72787

13-06-22_72804

13-06-22_72846

13-06-22_72874

13-06-22_72876

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:01+00:00 June 26th, 2013|Categories: China, Health, Photography|Comments Off on Update on the Farmer’s Son, Recovering from Surgery #1

Apparent Disaster: Heartbreak at Xinhua Hospital

I’m in shock after my visit to Xinhua Hospital tonight. Disaster. Heart break.

As I explained earlier in my posts on the case of the poor Chinese family who came to the big city of Shanghai to finally get surgery for their son’s deformed leg, I felt that my primary mission in being involved was to help them get the second and third opinions that were needed to dissuade them from unnecessary hip surgery and instead focus on the knee surgery that they boy really needed. So I was relieved when I got the text message saying that they had decided to get the knee surgery only. Whew, I thought, I made a difference. I was sad to see that they were going with the first hospital they had gone to instead of the high-quality one I had taken them to for their second opinion, but I couldn’t make all the decisions for them and didn’t want to challenge the father on everything. Maybe I should have. Why? Because my mission looks like a complete failure. I should have been a little more aggressive, a little more paranoid, a little more helpful in guiding the family toward different options.

Surgery was last Friday night. It took several hours and was more complicated than expected, but I was relieved that it seemed to have gone well. But what I didn’t understand until tonight is that the surgeon didn’t touch the knee at all. He operated on the hip. A hip operation–the unnecessary, costly thing that was my mission to prevent. The hip, not the knee. Contrary to what he told the father, contrary to what three difference doctors had recommended, it appears he decided that the hip was where he needed to operate. It makes no sense. I’m in shock. Maybe there were good reasons for that, and I’ll give him a chance to explain it to me tomorrow morning when I see him at last (I’ve seen almost no trace of doctors or nurses in the crowded room with 6 beds and a couple dozen people where the boy is recuperating). For now, though, I’m thinking it’s a huge mistake. Perhaps the knee surgery suddenly seemed way out of the surgeon’s league. I don’t know. The father was as surprised as I was to learn that it was hip surgery, not knee surgery given to his son.

Actually, the hip surgery didn’t go well, the doctor has told the family, and the son will need another operation next week, and another 40,000 or 50,000 RMB to pay for that one, and it still won’t address the real problem, in my opinion. And if they don’t want to pay up front for that surgery now, then it’s time to pack up and leave this weekend because other patients need the hospital bed being occupied by the boy. The family, out of money and hope, is planning to pack up and leave. The son’s knee is the same disaster, and I fear that the leg will be in worse shape because of the incomplete hip surgery which may take a long time to recover, just to get him back to his normal painful, partially crippled state of abnormality.

Also to my horror, I learned tonight that the father has already paid in full for the surgery by going heavily into debt with relatives who had put money on a card for him to borrow, if needed. The cousin who translated told me that only 10,000 had been paid as a down payment, and I expected to still have some bargaining power with the hospital. I’m not sure when that changed–maybe today? Instead of waiting to make sure the hospital has done their part, he apparently had to pay already. The money I’ve been collecting for him will reduce his debt, but it’s gone for the wrong operation. A disaster, I’m afraid. I’ll try to see if he has any legal recourse, but recourse for the peasants from distant provinces is often a challenge here. I fear he’s been taken advantage of. Maybe unintentionally, maybe in good faith, but the result looks ugly and unfair. But I need to give the surgeon and the hospital a chance. Maybe there’s a good reason for the change in plans and the apparent complete waste of a poor farmer’s money and the slicing up of a young boy’s hip for nothing, it seems.

I’m offering refunds to everyone who donated because I don’t want people paying for disaster, and I can’t ask for more because it’s such a lost cause right now. Is this the right approach? Your feedback is welcome. They still need help–they just took on hopeless debt to help their son and have used all their funds. But it seems like it’s a cause that loses its appeal given what has happened. We’ll try to understand their options and their needs and figure out what to do, but ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

What is the future for this boy? I don’t want to give up, though part of me does when I hit these kind of frustrations, these ugly surprises that this beautiful country sometimes offers. Eventually, I’d like to help the family come back to a good surgeon in a good hospital and reconstruct the knee. It’s not happening this week, though. Wish it were. Your advice is welcome. They are determined to leave this weekend. I think we’re going to have to take the long trip to Jiangxi Province and help prepare them to come back later and do things the right way. We may need your donations and prayers even more then. Please keep Zhiwei and his family in your prayers now as well.

By | 2013-03-28T06:12:14+00:00 March 28th, 2013|Categories: China, Health|1 Comment

Raising Money for Surgery for an Impoverished Chinese Teenager

Update, March 28 and 30, 2013: This effort has turned into heartbreak, but there’s still hope. The surgeon did things his way and didn’t operate on the knee at all. It was the wrong surgery, according to other experts who had insisted that knee surgery, not hip surgery was needed now. The family is out a ton of money and a load of time with the possibility that there son will be worse off than before. I was despondent initially, but am now moving forward. We still need to help the man pay off some of the debt he has for this surgery, while building funds to bring them back to a better hospital for the knee surgery that is needed. More details in the update section below. Also see my update on this blog or at Mormanity.

Part of the magic of China is expressed in the phrase yuan fen (缘分) which refers to seemingly accidental encounters that have destiny behind them. So many of the miracles I have experienced in China are tied to this concept. So many of the rich friendships I now enjoy here began as chance encounters.





One of these chance encounters happened a few weeks ago in Shanghai, leading me to become friends with a poor family of Chinese farmers from a distant province that I many never see. But on my way back to the office after lunch at a good Chinese restaurant, my eyes were drawn to a father and his little son whose leg was badly deformed. The boy could walk, but the way his leg curved outward to the side instead of going straight up and down made it look like it would snap under the weight of his thin body. Every time he stepped with his bad leg he had to stoop halfway to the ground in a difficult motion.

What a burden this must be, I thought, and wondered if they had seen a doctor. I couldn’t let that thought go, and spent several minutes trying to argue myself out of doing anything. But I ended up following them for about 100 yards. Do I dare approach them? They looked like they were from the countryside, and I worried that they wouldn’t speak Chinese that I could understand. Won’t I just embarrass them and make things work? I struggled to know if I really should step forward, and in fear and uncertainty wished not to, but try as I might to just turn around and go back to work, I felt I had to do something. So I finally approached them, and, as if it were somehow my business, asked the father about the boy’s leg. The father spoke too quickly and with what seemed like a difficult accent to me, and my Chinese is still often inadequate when people speak even it’s pronounced clearly in standard dialect, but to my delight, another person with them, a college student, the cousin of the young boy, spoke excellent English and was able to fill in the gaps.

It’s a long story, but the father and the boy were here in Shanghai to finally get medical help. The boy had a terrible infection as a baby that made his knee swell terribly, and after that, his leg was bent horribly. He had some kind of surgery at age 3 but it didn’t help much. Now the father was determined to get his son some help at a much better hospital than the countryside offered. He was acting on pure faith, in my opinion, determined to help his son, but had just gotten the bad news from the hospital that surgery would cost well over 100,000 RMB, but he was going to have it done and find some way to pay.

I think a big part of why I needed to get involved was to help them recognize the need for a second opinion. I helped them see an excellent and experienced physician at a leading hospital who explained what was wrong with the recommendation of the first doctor he had seen. The first doctor wanted to operate on the hip and the knee at the same time, but the hip surgery, including an artificial hip, should wait until the boy’s bones had quit growing. Doing that surgery now could greatly complicate recovery and make things worse.

The father wasn’t entirely convinced, but then I arranged for two very kind LDS doctors in the States to look at the x-rays and photos and offer their comments, and they gave further clarity into the problems with hip surgery now. Perhaps a result, the father made what I think and hope is the better decision. That may be the main purpose for my involvement in this case. But it may not be the only reason.

As I write, the boy is about to wake up from a several hours of complex surgery. This surgery costs 50,000 RMB, about $8,000. The father has been able to come up with 20% of that cost as a down payment. When the boy leaves in a couple of weeks, if all goes well, his father will need to make the rest of the payment. He isn’t sure how he will do that, but I admire his faith. I’m hoping, with the help of some of you, perhaps, to raise some funds to make that goal reality. If you are interested in helping this brave family get their son back on his feet, let me know at jeff at jefflindsay.com. Think of it as your chance to make a difference in China and help a boy with vast potential live a better life.

Here are some related photos, shared with permission.

2013-03-022

Zhiwei awaiting surgery, sitting on the bed in a crowded room of six beds at Shanghai hospital where he will spend the next two or three weeks recuperating, if all goes well. (Not the Children’s Medical Center.)

13-03-14_67390

The boy’s bad leg, photographed at Shanghai Children’s Medical Hospital, where the family got a second opinion on the originally recommended surgery.
13-03-14_67392

A recent x-ray taken at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center.

 

13-03-14_67402

Zhiwei walking before surgery.

13-03-14_67408

Walking before surgery. I’m praying that there will be a significant improvement after surgery!

Update, Sunday, March 24, 2013, 8 pm: Tonight my wife and I just visited Zhiwei and his father tonight at the hospital. The boy is in a lot of pain and has no desire to eat. The father is worried for him. The mom will be coming tomorrow and that should help. I think she’s never been to Shanghai and is worried about how to get to the hospital. The father didn’t know how to tell her to get hear and was planning on just using a taxi, I’m afraid, which would be too expensive for them. We showed the father how to use the subway system nearby so he could tell her exactly what to do, how to but a ticket and how to get to the station and what exit to take, etc. This must have looked really strange to the locals as they watched two foreigners using Chinese to explain to a native Chinese man how to get around town. We’re always providing entertainment here in China–perhaps that’s our real purpose here.

The father said that Zhiwei’s resistance was low, but didn’t have a bad fever. Not quite sure what he meant by resistance. The skin isn’t doing well either around the wound. That good man is worried for his son. He hasn’t slept since coming here on Thursday, having watched over his son constantly and now he says he needs to massage his son’s leg or something every little while. Saw no doctor or nurse while we were there, and got the feeling that the man was feeling pretty alone, in spite of a crowd in the same room.





Update, March 26, 2013: The boy’s mother came into town yesterday. I went by the hospital briefly on my lunch break and she saw me for the first time as I stood at the door of the little room with 6 hospital beds packed together. She instantly knew I must be the strange foreigner she had heard about and broke into a huge smile. It seemed like we had already been friends when we met. What a warm and sweet woman she is. Even more gladdening, little Zhiwei was smiling, too. He’s eating and smiling and making progress. What a difference a mother makes!

Thank you for the donations! We still need more, but are so grateful for the kindness we’ve seen from people close and far away recognizing the need to help.

Update, March 30, 2013: Disaster! When I finally looked at the leg under the blankets, to my horror I saw that the surgery was on the hip, not the knee. WHAT? I was outraged. The doctor was supposed to be in the next day at 6 pm, so I came then, but he didn’t show up. During all my visits, I’ve never seen a doctor come in and do anything with the patients and their families in the crowded little room, and only once saw a nurse come in to drain a catheter or something on another teenage boy, a procedure that involved exposing his genitals to everybody in the room and the hallway. No sense of privacy at all. Ugh. Anyway, the father called the hospital staff and arranged for us to see the surgeon the next morning when he came in at 7:45. I was there, with a translator to help, and the doctor came in and just walked by us, radiating wealth and importance, with no time to discuss his work with peons like us. We were told he needed to change and would be with us in a minute. Then he escaped out of his office and went into another office down the hall, and then we were told he’d be just a few minutes and we’d have to wait until 8:00 a.m. That time came and went. It was clear he wasn’t interested in meeting or talking. What was he worried about?

The father then showed me the x-rays. Major hip surgery, with pins and rods. Will it help? I don’t know. The surgeon, the head of the department here, told the family that the hip was where the real problem was and now it will let the knee heal naturally. I’m not sure about that. A US doctor who has seen the x-rays before and after has raised serious questions about this procedure. There have been many red flags, including the fact that the surgeon told the family that something was wrong with the placement of things in the hip and that a second expensive surgery was needed next week. When the family said they didn’t have the money for that, the doctor said it was time to back up and leave because the bed was needed for the next patient. And now he’s saying no problem, it will heal naturally. Wait, if there’s a problem in what he did with the hip that required expensive surgery, how can he send them away and say he can heal naturally? How can he send them away at all? China leaves many questions unanswered.

Plan B: I want to raise $13,000 to pay for the next surgery and help them pay down a major part of the debt they have from this apparently failed surgery. Thank you to all who have donated, and I hope you can keep the donations coming. All the donations I’ve received so far and then some have gone to the family to help them with their expenses here, and now I want to build a reserve to help for another surgery in a few months, if that is the right timing.

Update, March 31, 2013: Yesterday we visited the family at Xinhua hospital and learned that they still did not have their medical records, but Kendra my wife was able to go there today while I was in Hangzhou and get the records and see them before they took the train out of Shanghai. Mom, Dad, and a cousin will carry Zhiwei into a taxi and from there onto the train. Jolts and bumps are inevitable, and the risk of damage and pain over the long trip home terrifies me. It’s over a 10-hour train ride to get close to home, and then I guess they’ll take taxis again. Then Zhiwei is supposed to lie on a bed for 3 months while the hip heals. Can that work? Will he walk any better after all this suffering? Probably not until he gets knee surgery. I’m praying that he will be able to walk at all.

Several kind donations came in today to help us toward the goal of raising enough for the real surgery that will be needed. We’ve resolved to go out to Jiangxi provinces ourselves, at the invitation of the family, to meet them there and see how they are doing. I think it will be a humbling trip. Much about China is humbling.

Why wouldn’t the surgeon talk with us? Why did he do the hip surgery instead of the needed surgery on the knee? Some of the answers might become clear in the medical records I’ve just received from my wife. Stay tuned.

Update, April 1, 2013: Farewell for Now
My new friends from Jiangxi Province in China have left the hospital and gone home. The surgery that was provided to the surprise of the family and me, possibly an unnecessary surgery, requires the boy to remain lying down for the next 3 months, according to the surgeon. But to get home, he had to be moved in and out of taxis, through a train station, and onto a train, where the best the family could find was a “hard sleeper” seat where the boy can lie down, but it’s an elevated seat about 5 feet above the ground that people normally climb to reach. The parents were were hoping to lift up and place him there. I guess it worked out somehow. I’d probably cringe if I knew the details. He is home now, and from the father’s text message appears to be OK, but I’m sure there were some ugly jolts and terrible pain along the way. I hope nothing was damaged.

I saw the family last on Saturday, March 30th, the day before they took the long train (11 hours) back to their town in Jiangxi Province. Kendra, my wife, saw them the next day when I had to be in Hangzhou, and she brought them some pillows, another blanket, and some food that I purchased Saturday evening for them for the long journey home. It was be a painful ride, I’m afraid, for our little young man, Zhiwei, whose upper thigh bone was cut and bolted together in a surgery that may only delay the work needed on the knee. But perhaps it’s just what he needed most, I can only hope. There is a chance that the decision to operate that way was actually brilliant and perfect for him. Well, I’m hoping for a miracle. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to need to get that knee rebuilt. And that’s why I’m working to raise more money to be able to bring them back here and get things done right, if possible.

Here are some photos of our visit on Saturday, March 30. They have invited us to come visit them soon in Jiangxi, and we plan to do it. I think we’ll fly into Nanchang (very inexpensive!) and then take a train or taxi from there.

So strange, this chance encounter on the streets of Shanghai, and how it has changed me. It’s been quite an experience, this escalating drama and the process of learning to know, love, and mourn with a poor family family whose parents have a total of 3 years of education between them. Day after day, visiting, talking, experiencing the various cycles of relief and outrage, happiness and anger, resignation and resolve, well, I can feel that it’s changing me a little, changing the way I look at people, money, and society. Somehow, this random encounter has mattered deeply to me. It’s yuanfen, a touch of destiny I think. But perhaps much that actually is chance offers the opportunity to grow and learn and love in ways that will seem like destiny. Random or not, destiny or not, I feel my life is linked to some distant souls now that are part of who I am, and I must return and maintain this friendship and this responsibility. They are somehow like family how.

13-03-30_68314

13-03-30_68315

13-03-30_68316

13-03-30_68317

13-03-30_68320

13-03-30_68319

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:01+00:00 March 24th, 2013|Categories: China, Health, Photography|Comments Off on Raising Money for Surgery for an Impoverished Chinese Teenager

Experiencing Surgery in China: One Great Experience, One Near Miss

When I moved to China last year with my wife, I had a huge list of things that I wanted to see and experience. I had a much shorter list of things to avoid, with one thing in particular at the top: surgery. I had heard some frightening things about healthcare in China–though perhaps not as frightening as what the Chinese hear about the American system. Many advised me to avoid hospitalization and surgery at all costs.

That healthy goal became a bit impractical after an unpleasant fall while foolishly running across a wet Shanghai street recently and hitting a slick glossy zebra stripe. The sprawling, body-slamming collision not just with the ground but with a projecting curb did more than just impart some painful bruises. I later discovered a surprise hernia that would require laparoscopic surgery. After exploring many options, I found a highly skilled Chinese surgeon that a US physician had recommended, and he helped me become comfortable with the options and the system here. Chen Bingguan is the name of the specialist and he operates at China East International Medical Clinic, a very expensive private clinic for foreigners and rich people. But he also operates at China East Hospital (Dong Fang), a public hospital that is much less expensive. And Dong Fang has a great “VIP Clinic” that caters to foreigners and Chinese VIPs (i.e., people willing to pay extra) that is still far below the cost of private hospitals.

Since my insurance here is rather limited, in spite of buying a second policy to supplement the one I have from work, I wanted to keep costs low. Fortunately, I found that I could have Dr. Chen do the surgery in the “VIP Clinic” of the public hospital for about 1/5 the cost of the private hospitals that cater to foreigners. The experience I had at Shanghai East far exceeded my expectations, with care that seemed better than what I would have expected in the U.S. I had a private room and a group of fun, responsive, and kind nurses who treated me like a celebrity. I guess they don’t get many Americans there. I also had good contact and help from my surgeon. I was on my feet right away and got excellent follow-up care with a full recovery and no pain. Fabulous. I can’t imagine how my care could have been any better.

Shortly after that, I had an MRI done at the same hospital to examine a knee that I had injured earlier. Again, I was delighted with the experience. Getting the MRI was quick, easy, and much cheaper than in the U.S., and I was able to see an knee specialist right away who quickly pointed out the problem: a torn meniscus. Knee surgery was needed to repair it. Let’s schedule it for next week. Simple minimally invasive surgery. No problem.

After the positive experience I had with the hernia repair, I was ready for round two at that hospital. I scheduled the surgery and made arrangements with my employer to miss a few days for the procedure. Would be in the hospital 4 days, then on crutches for a few weeks. And my knee trouble would be gone. Easy. And inexpensive enough that my limited insurance would cover most of it.

As surgery day neared, though, I began to feel like I was missing something. I didn’t really know what procedure was going to be used and what the odds of success were. There had been no discussion of these important details. I called and wanted to speak with the surgeon, but was told I could get all my answers when I checked in to the hospital . When I got there, I was soon greeted by a team of assistants who discussed the procedure. They would remove part or perhaps all of my meniscus, the important shock absorbing pad in the knee joint. But the surgeon has only spoken of “repair” and I assumed that mean suturing the torn section together again–why had the removal not been discussed with me? Now several negative aspects of this second brush with surgery came to my mind–the brusque manner of the surgeon, his visual difficulty in reading the MRI chart, his apparent forgetting of who I was when I saw him on my second visit following initial consultation the previous week. The emotional brain had come up with an answer before the logical brain did and was already telling me to walk away, while I still could. Part of what helped me make the decision to walk were some of the secondary issues after check-in. Instead of the lovely private room I had in my first surgery with my own air conditioning remote control unit, I would be put in a much less attractive, older room shared with a grumpy looking patient and his wife, with several other disappointments compared to my first experience. They contributed to the willingness to flee, as did the unavailability of the surgeon himself to discuss my case.

After punting on the planned surgery, I made a couple of phone calls to get more information and second opinions from other doctors. I learned from a physical therapist that in many parts of the healthcare system here, there is a tendency to turn to surgery as a first option instead of as a last resort. Just two days before we had visited a Chinese friend of ours, a vendor struggling to make a living in a little market near our home, in a local hospital. She had just delivered a baby and was sharing a tiny room with three other new mothers. She had been given a C-section. She wasn’t sure that it was necessary. Apparently C-sections are far more common here than in the United States, and there may be a general problem with unnecessary surgery of other kinds. There are remarkably skilled surgeons here and some outstanding hospitals, but it’s important to make sure that the surgery is really needed.

I took my MRI chart and went to get second opinions, first visiting a surgeon at another hospital and then a physical therapist. Both of them explained to me that my knee trouble was still minor enough that surgery would be ill-advised right now. Better to rely on exercises and other steps to strengthen and protect the knee rather than jump to surgery. This made sense and I’ve began a program with the physical therapist that appears to be restoring my range of motion. Maybe I’ll need it later, but I’m glad to explore other options first. I feel that I came within inches of surgery that may have left me in a worse condition and with high expenses, some risk, and high inconvenience. If it weren’t for some confidence shaking experiences after checking into the hospital, I could have had unnecessary surgery. I’m relieved and even elated that I avoided the knife the second time.

At the same hospital, I had two encounters with the world of surgery, one a glorious success that made me whole again and one a near miss where I’m grateful to have escaped intact rather than have an unnecessary procedure that might have damaged me. Two similar events with trained, experienced men but with different sets of facts.

I was very lucky to have such a good experience with surgery, and perhaps even luckier to walk away from what might have been an unnecessary surgery on an overly trusting patient.

Do more homework, get second opinions, and for goodness sake, be careful when you cross the street over here!

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:01+00:00 August 9th, 2012|Categories: China, Health|Comments Off on Experiencing Surgery in China: One Great Experience, One Near Miss

Doritos Superbowl Commercial: Vandalism is Cute?!

The Doritos Superbowl commercial features a guy staring into his “crystal ball” and asking if there will be Doritos for him that day. Then he throws the ball into the glass front of the nearby vending machine stocked with nothing bus Doritos products, shattering it wide open for easy looting. “I think that’s a YES!” Ha ha. How many copycat pranks will we see this week?

I love the company, but hated the commercial.

By | 2009-02-01T16:53:52+00:00 February 1st, 2009|Categories: Health, Products|Comments Off on Doritos Superbowl Commercial: Vandalism is Cute?!

Alum in Potato Salad? Check the Ingredients!

My wife recently has purchased potato salads from Wal-Mart, Aldis, and Woodmans in Appleton, Wisconsin. The potato salad from Woodmans made by Garden Fresh Foods of Milwaukee had a peculiar flavor, my family noted. There was an unpleasant feeling in the throat similar to the irritation that sodium benzoate, a preservative, causes in some fruit punch drinks like Sunny Delight. Sure enough, sodium benzoate was an ingredient in the potato salad. But even more disturbing was the inclusion of alum. Hey, there is no need to dump alum into food. Alum contains aluminum ions, and higher aluminum levels have been found in the brains of Alzheimers patients. No, we don’t know if they are part of the problem or just a symptom, but while that remains unknown, I think we should be deliberately avoiding aluminum in our diet.

For information on the issue of aluminum and human health, see the objective page from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

By | 2017-12-05T06:14:52+00:00 July 14th, 2007|Categories: Consumers, Health, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Alum in Potato Salad? Check the Ingredients!