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 |March 28th, 2013|Categories: China, Health||1 Comment

Dining in Shanghai: Xintiandi’s 1930 Offers Inexpensive Chinese in a Prime Location

The main restaurant stretch along Xintiandi’s pedestrian street offers numerous great places to eat, but they are typically quite expensive. Polauner’s, the German restaurant, is surprisingly good with prices around 150 RMB per person, making it a relatively affordable option with fast service. But our biggest surprise in finding affordable food in that area was the Chinese restaurant very close to the cinema, 1930. The restaurant 1930 offers live entertainment in the form of jazz, I understand–wasn’t there when we ate around 6 pm on a weeknight, but it looked like some performers were preparing to play later when we left. What surprised me was that the Chinese food offered there came with price tags fairly typical for higher-end Chinese establishments in more ordinary parts of town. My wife and I ordered 4 items, two main courses, a veggie side dish and some dumplings, and the cost was a little under 200 RMB total. Not bad at all, though still twice what we would have paid in an ordinary corner shop in many parts of town–but the quality was excellent and everything tasted great. The menu is rather limited, though, and the fare is pretty simple. My twice cooked pork was flavorful but not extraordinary. The dumplings were nicely done. The garlic kale was tender and tasty. Service was meticulous and friendly, and they do speak English. A pleasant place with nice ambience, popular Western oldies being played, good food and fast service, and fresh air (at least when we were there). Now we need to try it when there is jazz being played.

By |March 26th, 2013|Categories: Restaurants, Shanghai||Comments Off

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.

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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.)

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The boy’s bad leg, photographed at Shanghai Children’s Medical Hospital, where the family got a second opinion on the originally recommended surgery.
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A recent x-ray taken at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center.

 

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Zhiwei walking before surgery.

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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.

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By |March 24th, 2013|Categories: China, Health, Photography||Comments Off

Photo Galleries for New Zealand Added

My Collection of Photo Galleries now includes two from New Zealand, a first set heavy on the North Island with emphasis on the Rotorua area, and a second set with emphasis on the South Island, though there is a mix in both. Here are a few samples:

river by Leamington, New Zealand.

A river by Leamington, New Zealand. There is a beautiful walking trail along this river. Thank you, people of Leamington!

New Zealand: near Mount Cook
A mountain valley approaching Mount Cook.

New Zealand: fern trees
Fern trees near the Redwood Forest of Rotorua.

By |March 17th, 2013|Categories: Photography, Travel tips||Comments Off