When the Ambulance Doesn’t Come

Sunday, April 21, 2013 22:52

When reading the article Ambulance never came for boy struck by screen in Shanghai, I thought it important to write up a quick post on what to do when a medical emergency happens in Shanghai (and I hope someone in Beijing will insert their thoughts in the comments below) because I know many people really don’t know.

The passage of the article that I feel is the most important is the following:

The boy, his mother, and the restaurant’s owner first went to Shuguang Hospital by taxi, where they were told there was no emergency room.

They were then rushed by car to the nearest hospital with an emergency room, Huangpu District Central Hospital.

There, doctors informed the parents that “they also didn’t have the necessary equipment or medicine to treat the boy”. They suggested they take him to another hospital.

A nurse called for an ambulance at 8:20 pm, but none had come by 9 pm, when the boy was pronounced dead.

With 10+ years in Shanghai now, and an 18 month old son of my own, my heart really turns on this one, as does my blood pressure, because fully staffed ERs that are either specialized in child care or able to take children were within 15 minutes… and regardless of whether or not the ambulance came, or the hospital staff from either hospital was aware of it, it is important that all parents in Shanghai know where to go when things go wrong.

So, before I get into the hospitals themselves, a few points to make clear is that not every hospital is Shanghai is specialized in children, and even those that are, they often specialize in a different condition. So, while getting to an ER that has pediatric care is of tantamount importance, it is also important to know (and research) the fact that you may be driected to another hospital who can give the specialize care.

Another point that should be made clear is that within the expat community there is the belief that Shanghai United and Parkway have the “best” quality of service, but these are not necessarily options depending on the emergency. In fact, as I posted earlier, they are not legally allowed to treat anyone with a fever, and in many cases their pediatric staff is not working evening shifts. So, if you are fortunate enough to be a regular at either of these facilities, then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you speak with your pediatric about emergency care. Get them, or the nurses, to give you their thoughts on where you should take your child. particularly if your child has a chronic condition (asthma)

So, with that, here is a list of Shanghai’s children’s hospitals, and my suggestion is that each of you take the time to click through to the hospitals to see where they are in town (so you know which is closest), get a feel for which offer specialized services, and then take the time to write down on a piece of paper the addresses for each so that if you are in an emergency situation you can hand a piece of paper to the cabbie.

  • Shanghai Children’s Medical Center (SCMC) – This is Shanghai’s premier facility, and is the hospital that I would recommend over the others. It’s staff are viewed as the most highly trained in China, their equipment is SIEMENS, GE, etc, and a number of their directors have spent time abroad as part of the study/ career
  • Children’s Hospital of Shanghai – Shanghai’s oldest children’s facility, this is perhaps the most convenient when you are unable to reach other hospitals as it is only 2-3 minutes by taxi from Jingan temple/ Portman. The facility itself is old, and is certainly at the bottom end of the options, but they have been making investments to the building recently and their staff are friendly.
  • Fudan University children’s Hospital – this is the newest of the three facilities, and would be the best for any families living in South Shanghai as it is located in Minhang District. Quality of care would be similar to that found at SCMC
  • Xinhua Children’s Hospital – It has been several years since I have been to this facility, and at that time it was in need of investment. BUT, they do have a full (and large) facility with everything from prenatal ICU to cancer/ leukemia wards where early teens are treated. I do not know if they offer VIP style service, but for those in the north of Shanghai, they will be your best bet for emergency care

You can download the map above in PDF form here

A final word of advice.. If something happens, don’t wait. Just get in a cab and go. Ambulances here are little more than glorified (and expensive) cabs that expect to be paid upfront, and given the fact that many of them can do little more than take vitals and offer a cot to lay down on while they fight traffic, my recommendation is to grab the first cab you see and pay the cabbie 500RMB to jump on the sidewalk if necessary.

Again, I would really appreciate it if readers from other cities would add their thoughts about the hospitals in their own cities (Beijing, Chengdu, etc) as this is relatively important information.   The story above is one that should not be repeated for any reason, and for me, the best way to prevent another family from having to experience the same pain is to make sure the information is available and basic preparations can be made.

UPDATE: Was told by my wife that there is actually a free app available called Baby 120 that will map you to the nearest ER in Shanghai.  It connects tot he mapping function of the phone, and has a few basic tags that are useful for selecting which hospital you’d like to send the driver to.  Click here to go to the App store

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7 Responses to “When the Ambulance Doesn’t Come”

  1. David Wolf says:

    April 21st, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    One thing we have understood here in Beijing since before becoming parents is that emergency medical services are largely DIY. We have had occasion to use Beijing United’s emergency ward during the wee small hours of the morning, and have always found their emergency pediatric care to be outstanding.

    That said – and we live in Shunyi – that means a minimum 20 minute drive to the hospital even in no traffic. To address this we did the following:

    1. We bought a car and we both got drivers’ licenses. Rousing your driver from sleep and getting him to come to your house in the middle of the night is a guaranteed delay. Don’t risk it, and don’t gamble on finding a taxi, either. Have transportation ready, and hopefully transportation suitable for a recumbent patient.

    2. We took emergency first responder courses, first a general course and then one specific to children. I even took an AED and oxygen-administration course.

    3. We built a serious first-aid kit for the house, one that has just about everything you would need for most emergencies short of surgical tools and an airway. We made sure we knew how to use everything in the box, and so did any other adult who stayed with us.

    4. We insured ourselves out the kazoo, so that payment no matter how serious the issue was never going to be a deterrent to heading to the hospital.

    5. We keep the phone numbers of our primary and secondary hospitals on all of our mobiles, so we can be in touch with the emergency room EN ROUTE, rather than get hit by any “can’t handle here” news when we get there. The other upside (which I learned from watching “EMERGENCY!” as a kid) is that especially in the case of a professional hospital like BJU, if they know what’s coming, they can often have more resources ready to receive you.

  2. Randy says:

    April 21st, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Anyone with kids in Shanghai should read this, print, and put on the fridge.  Well done.  I would also add the Putou Children’s hospital on Putou and Jinagning, very well run place visited many times…  Just don’t rush to IV as they so commonly do in China.  

  3. Ryan says:

    April 22nd, 2013 at 12:43 am

    Good post Rich, and important information. Easily one of the downsides of living in a non-1st Tier city is the lack of access to premium health care facilities. That said, the up-side is that smaller cities generally mean you don’t have to go as far to get to the right hospital (assuming a “right” hospital exists).

    I think you’re bang on with your suggestion to just get in a taxi and go. It’s also the moment to redeem every foreigner card you happen to be carrying. In my experience, there is a certain level of meekness that is fine when dealing with Western hospitals, but if you bring that to the situation in China, you’ll very definitely be ignored. Most the time I am encouraging people to do the opposite, but in a situation like the above, I think full on obnoxious entitlement would be the thing to best serve your needs in the situation.

  4. Alex says:

    April 22nd, 2013 at 4:12 am

    Good advice Rich. For your call of what to do in other cities, here’s my take on Dalian:

    Best hospitals are affiliated with the Dalian Medical University: Number 1, Number 2 and the Railway Hospital downtown, Central mid Shahekou District, and the Medical University itself towards Lvshun in the West.

    The maternity hospital will redirect one to the above outside of office hours.

    I’ve never seen a doctor smile as much as when, with a fractured collar bone, I mentioned to him the reason I went to a hospital affiliated with a medical university as that’s what I’d do in the UK also: in the UK they tend to have better trained staff and wider range of equipment. He agreed and expressed frustration with ‘specialist’ hospitals that were, in his opinion, sub par. His adviser and my surgeon turned out to have an article pending with The Lancet on pin-hole collar bone surgery.

    Second tier city hospitals tend to lack in niceties: individual rooms, an unclear division of roles and responsibilities of nurses vs. family / friends. They can offer decent care.

    David’s advice on medical insurance is an absolute. Getting a friend in a decent hospital who knows who’s who is unfortunately also a good idea.

  5. Do you know what to do when emergencies happen? - Lost Laowai says:

    April 25th, 2013 at 8:27 am

    […] Brubaker recently wrote a poignant piece at All Roads Lead to China called “When the Ambulance Doesn’t Come“, in which he talks about the recent heart-breaking story of a 3-year-old British boy in […]

  6. Carrie says:

    April 25th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    I also suggest buying an International SOS membership.  They have emergency physicians on staff 24 hours/day to handle calls, and will direct you to the nearest appropriate hospital in an emergency situation.  And they will help with translation or bureaucracy issues once you get there.  They will even arrange for an airlift to a more modern city/country if necessary.  

  7. justinchina says:

    April 26th, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    To echo what David said above for PEK, BJU is very good about getting who you need, when you need it. if you bring a child in with special medical needs at whatever time at night, they will find who they need, and get them there relatively quickly. Many of the international doctors live in the immediate neighborhood, and I’ve had them bring in local specialists for things like CAT scans at 2 AM.
    Also, even if you just have a car, and not a license…just drive, you can’t reliably expect to catch a cab anywhere, at anytime in PEK. And Ambulances are a joke. BJU’s is good, high tech, etc. but nobody gets out of the way for ambulances in China. you are better of in a private car, imho. I agree with the original author…this story was heartbreaking as a parent. the feeling of helplessness this mother must have felt is indescribable.