Saturday, September 8, 2012

Coping with Tragedy (2)

Elder Sister’s x-ray came back with good results. The orthopedic surgeon came in the next morning and told her that it was okay for her to learn to stand. Elder Sister was so excited that she didn’t want to wait for the physical therapist or crutches. Instead, she told me that she would walk with me supporting her. She scooted over to the edge of the bed, put her feet onto the floor, pushed herself up from the edge of the bed, and promptly collapsed into my arms. She could not stand. She was so disappointed that she cried bitterly for a good five minutes. Then, all we could do was exclaim about how lucky it is that she is barely 5’ tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. I had no trouble lifting her back into bed.

When the physical therapist came, he told her that she had been lying down too long and needed to slowly regain her strength, working through a stage with crutches until she could finally walk again. Elder Sister was not happy at the idea of crutches, but she also wanted to get out of bed and start moving around. She was ready to be done with sponge baths and bed pans. And so, she learned to walk with crutches. She pushed herself ruthlessly because she did not want to show any weakness, which might give people an excuse to take her children from her.

By the end of the week, she was putting weight on both legs, but still there was something wrong. She could not stand up straight. No matter how hard she tried, she could not move her legs without holding her body upright on crutches. The orthopedist had no answer. He said that she should be glad to be alive and mobile, as few people survived being buried in a landslide. Pa told Elder Sister that she should do her best to get released from the hospital. Once outside the hospital, she could find a good Chinese medicine doctor specializing in kung fu injuries. Such doctors frequently do better with spinal or joint injuries than orthopedic surgeons in Taiwan. Pa and the maternal uncles got busy looking for (and interviewing) such doctors, so that they would have things all ready for the next stage of Elder Sister’s convalescence.

Elder Sister had already been in the hospital for more than five weeks. Her elder two daughters were in junior high, and they moved back to her home from their family farm because their month-long bereavement leave after their dad’s funeral was over. They had to go back to school. It was a short bus trip for them to come see Elder Sister on the weekends, and they came for visits most Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Elder Sister’s second daughter, Monkey, was the only one of her five children who had not attended the picnic that fateful day. She was in her first year of junior high and had been separated from some of her elementary school friends who had gone to a different secondary school. Those friends were competing in the final round of a traditional dance competition, and Monkey refused to go on the picnic/fishing expedition so that she could see her friends compete. She learned of her father and uncle’s death sitting home alone watching the news and wondering why the family had not returned from their day in the mountains. Monkey was having trouble focusing on school work because of her deep grief. Her teachers suggested that since she had an uncle living in America, she should go to live with us. Monkey was so distraught every time she went home, remembering how she had seen her father’s name flashed on the scene as one of the deceased while the news cameras showed footage of the ambulance carrying her mother to the hospital on the night of the accident, that she could not even begin her homework at night in that house. She and her older sister, Sheep, asked Elder Sister and me what she should do.

I called the American Institute in Taiwan, and they informed me that I could take any or all of the children back to the States with me and adopt them, since Elder Sister was unable to walk. But when Sheep and Monkey realized that their mother might never walk without crutches again, they refused to leave her. Elder Sister had worked so hard to keep her children that she could not bear to let even one go to America. Monkey promised to be strong and help her mother hold the family together. She really fought her attacks of grief and made some progress with her homework.

Finally, the doctors said that Elder Sister could go home in three more days. Ma and the other sisters all went down to Elder Sister’s house in Toufen to set up a room for her on the first floor since it was hard for her to climb stairs with her crutches. Sheep and Monkey helped their grandmother and aunts clean everything from top to bottom. The three younger children came back home from the family farm, and on December 28, Elder Sister was released from the hospital. I had planned to stay with her and help with the cooking for another month, but Pa came down with my children, who told me that my relatives in America had called with a message. My own paternal grandmother had just passed away. My daughters and I had to rush home to attend yet another funeral.

I went back to Chungli with Pa, Ma, and my daughters. I called my dad and confirmed the news. Then I got busy calling the airlines. I didn’t even have time to wash my clothes from having been in the hospital. I just dumped my dirty laundry into one of our suitcases to wash when we got back to the US. Late that night, we got an excited call from Elder Sister in Toufen. One of the maternal uncles had brought a kung fu medicine doctor to see her on a house call. He had found a dislocation in her spine, which he had popped back into place. She was walking without crutches, and all she needed was an elastic back brace for the next few months. She and her children were ecstatic!

The next day my daughters and I boarded a plane bound for Seattle. Yuni was returning home from California to attend the funeral, too. He and my dad worked out the arrangements for picking us all up at the airport.

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