As I mentioned in the last post, the monetary gifts we got from Chinese friends at church gave us enough money to take Ma and Pa on a short road trip to the Olympic Peninsula before they left to return to Taiwan. Yuni was not really better, but he wanted to show his parents something in America that they hadn’t seen before. So we all piled into our huge station wagon. We had to put up the seats in the back cargo area, but there was still a little room for our overnight bags. Pa and one of the twins sat in the rear seats. Ma sat in the regular back seat with the other twin and Peace. Yuni and I were in front.
Yuni drove at the beginning. We went down to the Seattle waterfront and caught a ferry to Port Angeles. From there we went into the Olympic Mountains and took a short hike along an alpine meadow. The kids fed their snacks to the chipmunks. We could not go far because of my bad knee, Yuni’s health, and the kids’ young age, but we did have a lot of fun. When we came down from the mountains, we went to a wild animal park. It was similar to the one in Taiwan. You drove your car through, and the animals were just roaming. But all these animals were North American animals. There were bison, elk, and deer. The cougars and pumas were in cages that you walked past like a regular zoo. When you drove into the compound with the deer and bison, you were given a loaf of whole wheat bread to feed the animals. Pa and Love were in the back, and they kept throwing bits of bread out as we drove, until we were surrounded by a whole herd of bison, elk, and deer. One bison even stuck his head in the front window looking for more food. I quickly tried to put the window up, and I almost caught his black tongue as he was trying to lick the loaf of bread out of my lap. It was quite exciting. We were glad to have such a large, sturdy car.
We stayed in a motel along the Pacific Ocean. It was one of those old hotels from the forties or fifties. Each unit was a little cabin overlooking the beach. After unloading the car, we went and played on the beach for awhile. The next day we drove into the rain forest and took another short hike. Yuni had been doing all the driving, and of course, he had been walking along like nothing was wrong. After a day and a half of steady activity, pain hit. He could no longer drive, and we had to get back because Pa and Ma were leaving the next afternoon. Yuni slumped in the passenger side of the front seat, and I drove home down around the end of Puget Sound so that we could just keep moving. It was a two or three hour drive, and we made it home fine. But by the time we got everything upstairs from the car, my right knee (the one with bone scraping bone) was three times its usual size. I couldn’t put any weight on it. I had to sit on the living room couch with an ice bag, while Ma tried to figure out how to cook with an electric frying pan instead of a wok. I couldn’t walk for another two days. I missed seeing Pa and Ma off at the airport. Yuni took them, since it was late at night, and I stayed home with the girls. My knees were considered pre-existing conditions when we got our insurance, and so they would not be covered for another 21 months. We did not have enough money for me to see a doctor, so I just sat with my leg elevated, alternating hot and cold packs.
Later, a friend from church, who was mainland Chinese and doing post-doctoral studies at the University of Washington’s medical school, found me another mainland Chinese friend who was an orthopedist. I bartered editing services on the orthopedist’s research paper in return for a knee examination, but we couldn’t afford an x-ray. The doctor said that my bones must have scraped each other as I was pressing the accelerator and the brake, and after several hours, the nerves inside the bones had become inflamed. He offered me pain killers that he had brought from China. I did not take him up on that, but I did take a supply of sulfa antibiotics that I could use to self-medicate when my post-Peace infections flared up. I kept myself supplied with antibiotics from mainland China for several years as word went around among the mainland Chinese students that I would edit their papers for a combination of cash and barter, depending on our needs and their resources. It seemed like a good idea at the time because we didn’t need to worry about having Yuni miss work to get me to the doctor. We didn’t have to scrape together cash for the deductible, either. Later, I had a physical with a blood test, and the doctor told me that my liver function was low for a woman of my age. We went through the list of things I might have done to damage my liver, and I learned to my chagrin that there is a limit to how much sulfa you can take in your life time. Fortunately, my Chinese connections were able to recommend a good herbalist, who was also open to barter, so I began taking herbs for those complaints.
This is a very common pattern among working-class Chinese families. The husband and children go to the doctor whenever they get sick, but the mother is expected to make do with home remedies, especially when the children are small. Mothers are also expected to eat mainly leftovers and even partially spoiled food. Yet, the women work hard from dawn to well past dark doing both work for income and all the housework. My sisters-in-law and several of my friends all ruined their health this way. It didn’t work out too well for me, either.