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Quality of mercy

By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

09:24, August 30, 2012

Serious illness in the family is always disturbing, and when you are in a foreign country with a totally unfamiliar healthcare system, it can get downright traumatic - especially when the treatment and diagnosis seem to be based on factors other than the Hippocratic Oath of doing what is best for the patient.

Two months ago, I was called back from an overseas assignment. My father had suffered a coronary and had been hospitalized.

The journey back was a test and a race against time, but even that did not prepare me for the ordeal that was yet to come.

The hospital he was admitted to is a semi-private establishment in Beijing and my father had been placed in the special cardiac intensive care unit.

The first thing we were told to do was to make a deposit and make sure there was enough money to cover his stay.

The second thing we had to do was to employ a care-giver, someone who would sit by him and ensure his needs were met. Aren't nurses supposed to do that? Apparently not.

We were next summoned to the department head's office. With a grim face, he informed us that my dad's arteries were 90 percent blocked, and his heart and kidney functions were very weak.

He told us that open-heart surgery for a by-pass had a 50-50 chance of recovery. Even so, it may only help him live another year.

The other usual option was to put in coronary stents. But my father is 80 years old and had been diabetic for more than half his life. His vessels were fragile and that is not the best option.

After that, it seemed to us that the only choice that was not immediately life-threatening was to resort to medication.

As I waited for advice - we have about six medical specialists in the family ranging from pediatricians to pathologists - I was wracked with indecision.

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