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On the day the man in blue was released from the hospital, for the third time, I watched him as he and his two daughters walked out, hand in hand. The soft and tender little hands were tightly clasped around his rough and calloused hands; his dragged paces are followed by light, hollow skips. But these things blend when they arrive home to start over.
As I stride through the room, past the operation desk, the green curtains, the identical beds, I wonder why the bed sheets are white, especially in a country that is heavily rooted in Chinese culture. White is the traditional funeral color here, and so by doing so, isn’t this a bad omen?
My experience in the emergency room – which also happens to be the busiest one on the island – was so unpredictable that all the little tidbits of the room gradually merged into a condensed solution packed with concision and mathematical signs. Paradoxical? I suppose. The formula (unbelievably, there is one) for a successful assistant is, surprisingly, quite easy to learn:
Uniform + Familiarity + Volume
A uniform is a must, and by all means, being familiar with the environment is necessary because the last thing an assistant wants to do is sending a patient - whether groaning in pain or giving dazed glances - down the wrong aisle. The consequences are not pretty.
Ironically, unlike the “Ssshh” or the “Please Be Quiet” signs that are hung around the white plastered walls, an assistant needs to be loud. Really loud. This is the time and place where breaking rules tends to yield better results, for everyone. Certainly, the assistants are not the stars – only the chief doctor is.
Yet to be successful emotionally is a completely different story. The emotions that follow, that come and go, are sometimes, so complex that they can be quite incomprehensible. And as you see and feel so much, you begin to wonder…about life and its relation to the specific individual…
I remember a rather peculiar patient – personal yet distinctive – that I saw for weeks. His skin was dark, very dark, and he had a newly done buzzcut that was slightly tainted with several white hairs. His cuticles were rough and when he talked, a faint odor of beetlenut juice would seep through the air. He had a son, who was a younger version of him, with more polished features. I never knew them well, but from their records, I was aware that the father was diabetic and had other complications. He was re-admitted in the emergency room several times, and every time he was admitted, the doctor had the exact same comments and diagnosis.
“Diabetes. And Diabetic Complications.”
And as the chief doctor would insert these mundane tidbits into his 21st- century-techno portable computer, the new residents would hastily mumble, perhaps with their best sincerity and enthusiasm,
“Now Mister, remember: eat more vegetables and cut back on the sweet and oily food. It’s the best for you!”
It certainly is.
I like to think that the father-son duo took that as a ticket to home because they put on their best smile, nodded their heads, gratefully.
As I got ready to leave, I followed a trial of distinctive aroma that filtered itself through the heavy antisceptic smell in the emergency room. The aroma led me to the father-son duo and there the father was, eating the traditional and tasty, but oily-high-in-cholesterol Taiwanese lunch boxes. With meat. Meat embedded by a translucent layer, smoked with soy sauce.
I left, thinking how the smiles on their faces were perhaps just temporary. Because I was sure that it was this special lunchbox, bought by the father’s own hands, that would eventually bring him back, every single time. I was sure that the smiles on their faces would rise and fade with time.
And so when the man in blue left, I was sure, because of his experiences he knew what would happen with time. But his daughters didn’t know, and their hollow skips echoed throughout the hall.