A personal story (in Chinese) detailing the last 29 days of a 60-year-old Chinese man who was died after contracting influenza has gone viral on the Chinese internet.
Titled “A middle-aged man in Beijing’s flu season,” the story was posted by a Beijing resident, Li Ke 李可, the patient’s son-in-law, on his WeChat public account on February 10. It has so far been viewed more than 100,000 times on WeChat and sparked heated discussions on Chinese social media. And it has resonated with people who have experienced pain and frustration from losing their loved ones.
If you lack stamina to read this lengthy article (it’s over 20,000 characters long), here are some highlights summarized by the writer in chronological order.
- Early flu symptoms start to appear, such as sneezing and a runny nose.
- The patient’s symptoms worsen even after taking medicine for colds. A CT scan shows his lung is largely infected by the influenza. The writer wants to find a place for his father-in-law in a hospital, but he is told that all medical facilities in Beijing are having a shortage of beds. “After making a few phone calls with friends, I realize that hospitals are not like hotels. Sometimes you can’t get a bed even though you have money.”
- The patient starts to use clinical oxygen assistance. The writer finds a place in a hospital where doctors suggest that his father-in-law be sent to an intensive care unit (ICU) due to the rapid spread of the infection in his body.
- The hospital asks the writer to transfer the patient to another hospital with better medical facilities. He agrees and finds a bed in the ICU of another hospital through personal connections. “The cost of ICU is around 8,000 ($1,262) to 20,000 yuan ($3,155) per day. I need to earn more money.”
- The doctor asks the writer to find volunteers to donate blood for his father-in-law. The writer finds there are people making shady profits by selling blood, who charge 1,500 yuan ($237) for 400 cc’s of blood.
- The patient is placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, also known as extracorporeal life support. “The cost of treatments surged remarkably after the use of intubation. The initiation fee for ECMO is 60,000 yuan ($9,467) and it will cost 20,000 yuan ($3,155) per day after. According to our estimation, the money we have with all of our financial products and my parents-in-laws’ pension combined, we can support another 30 to 40 days of treatments in an ideal situation.”
- The patient’s family is told by the doctor that there is no need to continue the treatments. After the writer’s suggestion of a lung transplant is declined, the patient’s family decides to transfer him to a small hospital in his hometown. “We know he doesn’t like Beijing, so we want him to end his life where he was born.”
- The patient dies in the hospital before the planned transfer is executed.
- The family brings the patient’s ashes back to his hometown.
The story comes off as a cruel reminder of how powerless people are while witnessing their loved ones gradually lose their lives, and it also sheds light on the complexity of the Chinese healthcare system. Based on the writer’s experience, seeking adequate treatment for serious illness is not only an immense financial burden for a typical middle-class family in China, it also serves as a test of the robustness of one’s social connections, known as guanxi.
The writer’s father-in-law’s death comes as one of the worst flu seasons in years is sweeping across China. Latest data provided by the National Health Commission of China suggests that in January, more than 273,949 people were hospitalized and 56 of them died of influenza and related complications, compared with six this time last year. The death toll in January this year has already exceeded that of the whole year of 2017.