Sunday, January 3, 2010

Home for the Holidays

I have pictures to go with this post, but my internet connection is not cooperating. Maybe tomorrow or in the still of the night...
Not long after I learned that I had a joyous flu, little Love got really sick. She had the real flu, and it was the first of many. The pediatrician said that it was common with twins that one would have a weaker immune system than the other. So Love caught every cold and flu that came around at least once. And when she got sick, she would get a high fever with convulsions and basically scare the living daylights out of all the adults in the household. About once every six weeks or so, we made late night visits to the emergency room because her fevers always seemed to spike the highest around 3 or 4 in the morning.

Taiwanese hospitals outside Taipei were not bad, considering that Taiwan was till a developing country, but they lacked a lot of amenities. Despite her frequent illnesses, Love was “well-nourished” with muscles like her dad’s. The doctors and nurses could not find veins to insert the IV needles any place except into the top of her forehead. So they would put the two of us into a chair. I would hold Love on my lap while the magic medicine trickled into her system through the IV needle. We were not curtained off, and neither were any of the other patients. As her fever came down, she became interested in the world. We watched a person getting his hand reattached. We watched several people die and their families start wailing and mourning. We watched people coming in covered with blood from being in motorcycle accidents. And to this day, we both have a healthy fear of hospitals and doctors in white coats. Usually the fever would break around 6, and we would go home with a raft of medicines for Ma to give Love throughout the day. Yuni and I would just go on to work. By the time we got home in the evening, Love would be fine.

And so summer turned to autumn, and autumn turned to winter. It was Christmas in America. By this time, many people in Taipei celebrated Christmas, and department stores would put up Christmas decorations. But in the Liu family’s circle of acquaintances, Christmas was not a big thing. My dad did not want the girls to miss out on the American side of their heritage, so he sent a huge box containing Christmas. It had a little 18 inch fake tree, ornaments, presents, and even boxed and canned food for a Christmas feast. Christmas Day was a holiday because it was the day that Sun Yat-sen’s constitution went into effect in 1911. So we set up the tree on the living room cabinets beside the TV, and I made the dishes from the boxes and things. I couldn’t always find exactly the right ingredients to put with the boxed things. For example, at that time in Taiwan, the butter outside the “foreigners’ district” in Taipei was usually sweetened with sugar and used only on toast. Both our boxes of mashed potatoes and of stuffing called for butter or margarine. I could not find margarine anywhere in Chungli, and the only butter to be had was sweetened. So we ate very sweet mashed potatoes and stuffing. I couldn’t get a turkey, so I bought a roasted duck, but as it was a family favorite, no one objected. There was also a canned ham, and we stir-fried up local vegetables. Everyone felt the dinner was delicious, although Pa proclaimed that Americans had a terrible sweet tooth since even the potatoes were sweet. He has a sweet-tooth himself, so he was gobbling them down, and I didn’t disabuse him of his notions. After dinner we opened presents and took pictures to send back to my family. Pa had bought a big bag of candy because to his mind, you can’t celebrate a holiday without candy. So we had a quasi-American style Christmas.

Of course, the family’s big focus was Chinese New Year. Two weeks before the Chinese New Year, Love got a chest cold. We did the usual emergency room run, but this time she didn’t get better as fast. Several days later, her temperature was up again, and she was having convulsions. This time the doctors said it was pneumonia and checked us directly into the hospital. We were put in the pediatric ward. Yuni went home to work and to tell the English school to find a substitute for my classes. Fortunately, the university was already on winter break. He returned at night to spend the night in the hospital with us. In Taiwan, each patient’s bed has a cot or a couch under it or beside it for a family member to spend the night. A baby had died in the crib next to Love’s, and no one wanted to put their baby in that crib or use its cot in case the bad luck rubbed off on them. We were not so superstitious, and we each took a cot.

Love was seriously ill and almost comatose for three days. Finally, the doctors changed her medicine, and she began standing up in the crib and moving around. Now my life was really difficult. She did not like being hampered by the tube in her head, so she would pull out her IV every chance she got. She would even pull it out in her sleep. It was nice to see her with energy, but it was a definite challenge. Some one had to hold her hands pretty much every minute of the day. I was already five months pregnant, but at night I would climb into the crib with her and sleep with her hands held firmly in mine. She slept very well; I slept very little. Three or four times a day, I had to take her to the special room where they gave her medicine through an atomizer. Then I had to pound her back for ten minutes and let the nurse suck the fluids out of her lungs. Ma and Pa would bring Truth to visit almost every day after Love’s fever broke. They were very worried that the family would not be all together on the twins’ first Chinese New Year. We spoke with the doctor, but he refused to promise anything because Love had been so sick when they checked her in.

Finally, at one in the afternoon of Chinese New Year’s eve, the doctor determined that Love’s lungs were clear enough and that she could go home for the traditional New Year’s Eve family dinner. We went home with packets and packets of medicines and instructions to bring her to the emergency room if her fever went back up or if her chest sounded congested. Ma did not allow the twins to go out on any of the family trips that vacation, but they had their grandchildren home for the family celebrations. Everyone had a good time.

After the holiday, Ma and Pa asked around to find the best pediatric Chinese medicine doctor. We started taking Love to get medicine to boost her immune system. It was nasty, bitter stuff, and even after boiling and straining it, there were still bits of bark in it that she was supposed to ingest. It usually took three or four adults to get it down her, but Pa and Ma were determined that she would not go back to the hospital again. We persevered with the regimen, and her fevers decreased. When she did get sick, she did not need to go to the emergency room. A couple of Panadol or Tylenol were usually enough to break her fevers.


murat11 said...

Nothing floors me more than Walden's being sick, so I can only imagine how you felt in all those ordeals. I'm guessing that, after her "training" as a babe, Love is the healthiest of all of you, but that just may be wishful thinking on my part - the Hollywood ending to all those difficult times. I would have been flayed, as I'm sure you were.

The stories of all that you and Love saw were fascinating, and definitely something to be included in the screenplay. Have we decided who will be playing you?

Of course, Pa is absolutely right: you can't celebrate a holiday without candy!

Cloudia said...

Ah, traditional Chinese medicine, of course!

Thanks for inspiring and instructing with your true tale...

Warmly, with Aloha, F

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Hi Murat, Unfortunately, Love is still not as healthy as her two sisters. Truth was the scrawny twin, but she got all the immunities. Love has done better, but she got pneumonia again when she was 16, and that really did her in for a couple of years. We have had her treated with more herbs and some acupuncture by a world-class expert from mainland China, and now, at last she is managing better. (Both of the twins caught H1N1 this past year from other college kids, and both got over it fine without needing hospitalization. And they are in the dangerous age bracket.) I think the healthiest of the lot is the youngest sister, Peace.

As far as who should play me in the screenplay, I guess it would be Truth. She looks a lot like I did at that age, and she is a terrific mimic. If anyone can capture me, it is she. We'll have to find little "halfie" kids to play the girls.

Hi Cloudia, thanks for stopping by. I am a big fan of traditional Chinese medicine!! And a warm Xin Nian Kuai Le to you! (Happy New Year in Mandarin)

sanjeet said...

I would have been flayed, as I'm sure you were.
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