Sunday, September 28, 2008

Miracles of Modern Medicine

Ruby's sister Jie is getting an operation at the Women's Hospital. I'm not sure exactly what the problem is but Ruby drew me a picture and I'm guessing there's some sort of blockage in the fallopian tubes. Either that or she's got something stuck in her antlers.

When I go to visit she's sleeping. The operation was a success, and her mother is sitting by her bedside. She has a container of rice porridge or "jook", which is much admired around here both as a delicious meal and as a sort of cure-all for minor ailments. She talks to the nurse and the nurse gives her a lemon which I gather is to be held under Jie's nose to help combat nausea.

I feel sorry for Jie's mother. Not just because her daughter is in the hospital, but because everything around her is conforming less and less to her worldview. This hospital, for instance. Almost everything you see here is exactly what you'd see in the US. It's modern medical equipment, syringes, plasma drips. No herbal remedies, no weird massages, no incense. The only things here she can really understand are the jook and that lemon, and she holds onto both fiercely.

When Jie wakes up her mother begins furiously shoveling jook into her mouth. Jie hasn't eaten in a couple of days and I suggest that perhaps she shouldn't try to ingest too much food at once, but what does a silly foreigner know about the restorative powers of jook?

Sure enough, after a few minutes Jie starts to vomit and her horrified mother grabs Jie's head and starts screaming for the nurse. She's holding Jie's head up and Jie is choking on her own vomit, so I push the mother away and turn Jie onto her side so that her mouth and throat can clear. In the meantime Jie's mother has forced her way back between us and is shoving the lemon into her daughter's nose. After the nurse shows up and Jie seems to be breathing normally again I go to wash up.

When I get back the nurse is gone and Jie's mother is spooning jook into Jie's mouth, although less rapidly this time so hopefully it will be ok. She casts a few guilty looks in my direction, but doesn't stop feeding her. I tell them I'll be back later and walk out. As I leave I see Jie's mother reaching for the lemon again.

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