Sunday, May 2, 2010

Recovering from Five Hours under the Knife

The day of my surgery, I was taken down to the OR very early. The anesthesiologist Dr. Ma did his thing, and I was feeling no pain. Eventually, I came to in the recovery room, and finally they wheeled me up to my room. It was late afternoon before I got to my room. My teeth were chattering and I was shivering. The nurses had to bring hot water bottles, hot towels, and heating pads and pack me in them to get me warm. I had been in surgery for a little more than five hours. The OR is kept cool to slow blood loss, and I was just very, very cold.

Dr. Hsu came to see me later when he made his evening rounds. He told me that it was a very good thing I had been breastfeeding Peace regularly during the two months between my accident and the surgery. He said that all the calcium in my body had gone to producing milk, and the break in my bones was very fresh. He warned me NOT to breastfeed after I got out of the hospital, or the bone graft would not take. My leg was immobilized on a kind of half cast, and there were some pins sticking out of my knee. But my incision was neat, and the stitches were the kind that dissolves automatically. The woman in the bed next to me was not a cash-paying American. She had had the same procedure, but they used black nylon thread on her. She had what looked like a centipede growing up her leg. She also had a rack of metal pins holding her leg in place. When I asked Dr. Hsu about the difference, he said that the woman was using the national health insurance which paid the hospital less than 60% of its costs. I was paying cash, so I got what I paid for. And another thing… I was American, and one day my scar would be inspected by doctors in America. It was a matter of national pride that Taiwan get it right on my leg, especially after the debacle with Peace.

The twenty-one days in the hospital went pretty quickly. My mom made friends all over the place as she went to get food or dump the bed pan or do all the myriad chores that family members do in Taiwanese hospitals. My incision healed well. I was taught to do leg lifts for physical therapy, and soon I was sent home to finish off my five and a quarter months of not putting weight on my left knee. Pa had called all his unmarried daughters to come home and help. Yuni and I slept downstairs in Yuntian’s bedroom for the first month or so because I was so sore, I could barely move even on crutches. The bone for the bone graft had been taken from my right hip, so I was sore on both sides. Pa and Ma each took one of the twins to care for. Pa took Truth and Ma took Love. Fourth Sister took Peace, and Second Sister did the laundry, cooking, and other housework. When Pa and Yuni were at work, Second Sister helped with Love and me.

Soon I was able to crutch around the ground floor and sit on the couch with my leg up. My dad and his wife came for a visit around Christmas time. We still had the fake tree that he had sent the year before, so they set it up, and we had gifts and a “Yule log” cake. The Liu family loved it. Peace spent much of the day in a walker chasing after her sisters. She was teething, and during the festivities, she noticed my toes hanging out of my cast. Her gums were particularly itchy, so she trundled on over and started gnawing on them. It tickled, but I couldn’t bend the leg or move it because of the heavy cast and the angle at which I was sitting. I started screaming, and everyone began laughing. Instead of rescuing me from my vampire baby, they ran for the video camera and made a tape of it. Everyone had a great time laughing. Unfortunately, we taped over that scene before we learned about the show America’s Funniest Home Videos. We probably could have won at least $5,000.

Within three months, my cast came off. I had to wear a soft splint and walk on crutches, but I was pretty mobile. I went back to work as a trainer of teachers at the Gloria English School, and I went back to teaching my university classes. At home, I would put Peace on my back in the carrier and crutch up three flights of stairs with the twins running up ahead of me. When we came down, the twins would hold onto part of the crutch as I hopped down. Somehow we all made it without tumbling down the stairs. I was quite happy, and I enjoyed going back to work. I was blithely unaware of currents among the Liu and Chu family clans that were only voiced in Hakka.

My Chinese literature professor this semester started several of her lectures with the statement: “America is a guilt-based society, but China is a shame-based society. You must understand this principle to understand what motivates the characters in Chinese literature.” This statement means that in America, we have a very legalistic view of things. When something goes wrong, we can assign blame for the mishap to various people based on their percentage of culpability. We also look at intent, and if a person caused a mishap unintentionally, we give them a lot of leeway. So when I look at the motorcycle accident, the most I will say is that Yuni was guilty of laziness. He did not cause the accident, and to my mind he is barely at fault for my mishap. In a shame-based society, it is all a matter of appearances. Everything is determined by what other people think about you. If something happens to someone related to you, and you had the slightest possibility of preventing the mishap, then you will be shamed for life, sometimes for not living up to your familial obligations.

After three years of marriage, I was very popular in both the Liu and Chu clans. My presence brought the family much face. My injury was a loss of face to the entire clan because it appeared to society at large that they could not take care of me properly. And since Yuni could have prevented this loss of face by rising early and driving me that day, the whispers began to shame him. The whispering did not bother me because I did not understand Hakka. When I was informed of the whispering, it didn’t matter to me because I did not think he was at fault. But then, I had not been brought up with his set of values. I had noticed that Ma’s worst threat to the children was: “Everyone will say you are bad. You will never be able to hold your head up. Shame, shame, shame.” I did not understand the repercussions of this threat.

Ma later told me that the whispering had reached a crescendo that neither Pa nor Yuni could tolerate. Yuni informed me that we would be moving to America, and I needed to apply for his green card. I asked if we could wait a year until I had healed more. The adamant answer was, “No!” Something in his tone of voice expressed almost panicked desperation, so I asked some of my American colleagues with foreign spouses about the procedures for making spousal green card applications. They told me horror stories about the interviews. One woman had been asked if her husband wore boxers or briefs, the size of his underwear, and the measurements of what was under the boxers. One man had almost failed because he did not know his wife’s bra size. I was told that we would be separated and asked questions about the most personal aspects of our lives, and if we gave different answers, the petition would fail. One man told me that it would be best if we took the children, so based on that advice, the five of us piled into the van and headed for Taipei.

I filled out the paperwork and asked for a same day interview due to my leg. The people at American Institute in Taiwan were quite accommodating. We were told to go out for lunch and return at 1 pm. When we got back, I was called to a window behind a screen. There were people at windows on either side of me conducting their business at AIT. The examiner went over the names, dates of birth, and other personal information. Then he turned beet red. He said that he had to ask us about our life together as husband and wife. His first question was how many times a week we had sex. Before I could open my mouth to answer, Love came running in calling, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” I picked her up and began to answer. The examiner stopped me before I could embarrass myself. He asked, “Do you have children?” I said, “Yes, three.” So we brought the children and stood as a family before the window. I showed the examiner their birth certificates to prove that the twins were just barely two. The examiner asked them to point to Mommy. Both twins solemnly pointed at me. Then the examiner asked me if they called Yuni “Daddy” or “Baba.” As soon as they heard the word “Baba,” Truth and Love started pointing at Yuni and screaming “Baba, Baba.” The examiner wiped his hand across his forehead and then asked me to take Peace from Yuni and hold her. After she responded to me familiarly, he wrote on the application: “Two year old mixed race twins identified applicant and respondent as Mommy and Baba, mixed race baby was comfortable in both parents’ arms. This is obviously a true marriage. No further questions were needed. Application approved.” He then told me it would take about six months for all the paperwork to be processed, and then we could move to the United States of America.


Cloudia said...

Obviously a great true family!

You are one tough biker chick!

Aloha from Hawaii

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Hi Cloudia,

Thanks for your kind words. I didn't think of myself as tough when I was going through it. You just do what you have to do. I think that all humans have a tough inner core. We just don't always tap into it.

murat11 said...

Good morning, Teresa:

I'm glad the immigration process was relatively easy: again, the blessings of your babies coming through.

Guilt-based and shame-based are both flawed systems, but if forced to choose, I'll take the guilt. Of course, I'd rather take the dark chocolate. Now, there's an idea: chocolate-based societies. Or even baba ghanoush. I'm totally down with those. Vamos a babar!

Teresa said...

Hi Murat,

I believe Larry Wilmore from The Daily Show beat you to the idea of chocolate-based societies, although not quite in the way you are envisioning them. If we consider all skin to be shades of chocolate, then everyone will love everyone else.

And I am with you on the dark chocolate. :)

Tomorrow I hope to write more on guilt-based versus shame-based societies and things that Chinese babies learn as their diapers are being changed. I've been mulling this over for more than a month now. Hopefully, I will be able to express what I want to say.