Perhaps they had the wrong number.
I was a little suspicious that it was Li Chuan, so I held the cell phone in my hand, waiting. After a whole hour, the phone never rang again.
I didn’t know why, but my heart started beating faster. Even though it was most likely Li Chuan’s number, I told myself not to pick up.
I had already given him 3 months. We were already over. Li Chuan, do you know how hard it was for me to end everything? Don’t tell me that everything will start over just for one phone call. After ten more minutes, there was still nothing. I got up anxiously for some reason. My heart was beating fast. I was fidgety and restless. Finally, I couldn’t restrain myself any longer and dialed the number back. Li Chuan, I’m giving you a very last chance. The very last! As long as you want me back, even if it’s just through your eyes, I will come back.
The phone rang three times. No one picked up. I got angry thinking that it was someone maliciously disturbing me. But right after, the call went to voicemail saying the same thing in Chinese, English, French, and German: “Hi, I am Li Chuan. I can’t pick up the phone right now. If you need anything, please leave a message.” His magnetic, charismatic voice. So, it was him.
I hung up and dialed again. I called ten times before finally getting through.
The other end was very noisy. A coarse male voice loudly said on the other end, “Who are you?”
“I’m looking for Mr. Wang Li Chuan! May I ask who you are?”
“I don’t know who Wang Li Chuan is.” That person said, “I only know that there is a drunken person here whose phone keeps ringing nonstop. He must be your friend?!”
“Dru…nk?” My head exploded, “May I ask where you are? That person is my friend, a very important friend! Please tell me your location!”
“Lang Huan Bar, on H street. Do you know it?”
How could I not know it? It was next to the cafe where I first met Li Chuan. Ji Chuan was a frequent visitor of it. Li Chuan would also frequent it before.
“I know it!”
“Come and quickly pick him it. It looks like he’s pretty drunk.”
Li Chuan could definitely not drink, not even a drop. Otherwise, his life would be in danger. This was something Rene and Li Chuan told me repeatedly. I was already scared out of my wits. I immediately grabbed my purse and rushed out, forgetting to bring my crutches and nearly falling head first. I got to the street and stopped a taxi. As soon as I got in the taxi, I gave him RMB200 and told him to wait outside of Lang Huan for me.
Under my incessant urging, the driver got to Lang Huan within fifteen minutes.
The bar wasn’t too large. The lights were dim and lots of people mingled along with muffled conversations. It was all men, there were old and young. Even the servers were men. The drum beats from the band on stage blanketed everything. There was a singer who looked like a student, using a pure baritone voice to sing an old, sad, English song. Many people were surrounding him on the side, clapping for him.
The server brought me to a corner to find Li Chuan. He was sprawled across the table. A small cup of alcohol was next to him with an olive in it.
I asked the server, “How much alcohol was in this cup? Did he drink it all?”
The server shook his head, “It’s a martini. There’s not much alcohol content in it, and there wasn’t much of it. There was about as much when it was delivered to him. At most, he’s taken a sip.”
Li Chuan didn’t have a low alcohol tolerance. He definitely couldn’t be drunk after one sip of alcohol. Yet, he was sprawled on the table, not moving, as if he was really drunk.
I lightly pushed him, calling in his ear, Li Chuan, Li Chuan!
He didn’t awake.
I pushed him again with more force. He suddenly raised his head with a disordered gaze.
He opened his eyes slightly, looking at me blurrily as if he didn’t recognize me.
I patted his face, and then felt his forehead. It was a bit hot but not as if he had a fever, “Li Chuan, Li Chuan, what’s wrong?”
Li Chuan ignored me and sprawled on the table again. The server on the side said, “Any drunken person is like this. Take him home. He should be fine after drinking some concentrated tea to sober up.”
“This isn’t right. He didn’t even finish a cup. How can he be drunk?”
“He was probably here to look for his friends. He didn’t necessarily drink from his own drink…he must be drunk. I’m 99% sure.”
I brought over the candle on the table and shined it on Li Chuan’s face. He was sweating and was covered with it. I held his hand. Even his palm was moist. I held him and went to push him. He suddenly started speaking in his sleep. It switched from French to German…there was a couple things in Mandarin, but everything was jumbled.
“Didn’t I say he was drunk? He’s already drunk talking.” The server said on the side.
At the very least, I had to take him away. I said, “I’ve already gotten a taxi. Can I ask you to help me bring him to the car?”
“He…hasn’t paid yet.”
“How much is it? I’ll pay.”
“I’ll go calculate it.”
After a minute, he came over and said, “Sorry, he is a VIP guest and used his annual membership card. You don’t need to pay for him.” When he finished saying that, he called over two huge security guards who supported Li Chuan into the taxi.
“Miss, where are we going?” The driver asked.
“Gang Ao Center, Swiss Hotel.”
The car drove steadily, but Li Chuan started looking worse and worse. He had originally been babbling nonsense, but started breathing quickly and gradually couldn’t even speak. Only heavy and difficult breathing remained.
I pounded on the back of the driver’s seat as if my life depended on it and said to him loudly, “Mister, don’t head to the hotel. He…he’s nearly dying. Head to the hospital immediately. As fast as possible!”
“The closest hospital is Xie He.” The driver turned and looked at me, also seeing the critical situation. “Hopefully it’s not alcohol poisoning, one can die from it!”
My heart beat like crazy. I held onto Li Chuan tightly. I called out his name over and over again, “Li Chuan, Li Chuan, Li Chuan…”
His entire body was weak, leaning against me like an infant.
I felt out his breathing by my hand, it was very rapid and very strenuous.
At that moment, I thought of a person and immediately took out my phone to find Rene.
The phone rang once before it was picked up.
“Rene, Li Chuan’s in trouble. He doesn’t have any strength. I’m taking him to the hospital to get emergency treatment. Hurry over. Come quickly.”
“Where is Li Chuan? I’ve been looking all over for him. Which hospital?”
“Annie, keep calm. I’ll be there immediately.”
When we reached the hospital, Li Chuan had already lost consciousness. A group of people brought him into the ER. The head doctor was middle aged and was very capable and experienced. He quickly inspected his body and instructed those under him, “It’s acute respiratory failure. Hook up the respiratory machine and put him on it.”
After saying this, a nurse took me out of the room and asked me about Li Chuan’s medical history. I told her everything I knew. Acute pneumonia, severe anemia, blood type, vomiting…she gave me a form to fill out.
Both my legs were trembling. My whole body started shuddering involuntarily. The scene of my father when he was sick a few years ago floated through my mind. I held onto my crutches and leaned against the wall, breathing deeply. I had a doubtful expression. The ER door suddenly opened and the middle aged doctor called out, “Who is Miss Xie?”
I rushed over and said, “I…I am…”
“I am Doctor Ni. May I ask what your relationship with the patient is?”
“It’s like this, we just put the patient on the respiratory machine. When we took a look at his chest x-ray image, we discovered that there is a central venous catheter implanted within and there are abnormalities on one side of his lungs. None of this was in his medical history. How much do you know of his illness?”
I was dumbfounded and asked stammering, “What planted…central venous line? I…I don’t know his medical history. He wouldn’t tell me.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have time to explain. Does he have other family members?”
“Yes, yes there is a foreigner. He’s rushing here now. I’ll go call him.”
I took out my phone and was about to dial the number when I saw Rene rush in covered in sweat. I waved and called out to him, “Rene, come quickly! This doctor needs to know Li Chuan’s medical history.”
Rene impatiently asked me in English, “Does the doctor understand English?”
“I’m an interpreter. Speak and I’ll translate.”
“Right, right, silly me.”
“Alex has second stage [English] osteosarcoma.”
My god. What was that. I had actually memorized medical terms many years ago, but after getting into CGP, my mind became filled with architectural terms and couldn’t turn the corner right now. Good thing I still know how to break down the word.
Ostero was bone. Sarcoma was malignant growth. When they were placed together, what was it. I didn’t know the terminology for it.
Rene saw my hesitation and added a supplement, “[English] Bone cancer.”
My body froze and my crutches fell to the floor. He immediately supported me, “Are you alright?”
I shook my head. Rene underestimated me. How could I dare to faint at this time?
I composed myself and translated, “The patient suffers from bone cancer, second stage Osteosarcoma.” I repeated the English again. Xie He was the best hospital in Beijing. The doctors here weren’t unfamiliar with English.
“Alex was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was 17. He underwent amputation and chemotherapy. When he was 25, he was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and underwent surgery for it to be cut out.” Rene continued.
I numbingly translated as if I was waiting for my death sentence.
“After three years of chemotherapy, his cancer was temporarily controlled without relapse.” He paused, glanced at me, and said, “But, during chemotherapy, the doctors found that he had low white blood cell count which meant he had a lowered immune system. Later on, his red blood cell count also gradually decreased, as evident by his anemia.”
Once I translated to that part, the doctor already understood most of it and asked, “Is it MDS?”
I didn’t know what MDS was. I looked at Rene. Rene actually did know that word. He nodded and said, “Yes.”
The doctor solemnly pulled me to the side, handed me a piece of paper, and said, “The patient’s situation is quite grave. You guys must be prepared. This is a notice for the terminally ill. Please sign it.” After saying this, he returned to the ER.
I held the piece of paper, my mind in complete chaos. For a long time, I couldn’t read the words on the page. I rubbed my eyes and forced myself to sit down.
Notice for terminally ill.
Diagnosis: Shock from infection, acute respiratory failure.
To the respected family members of the patient:
Hello, your family member is currently receiving treatment in my hospital. The patient’s condition is currently critical and could worsen at any time, endangering the patient’s life. Hence, this notice. Please understand and cooperate with the hospital’s treatment. Despite the situation, we will continue to actively carry out the most effective action. If you have any other requirements, please inform the doctor immediately after receiving this notice.
Signature of patient or family member:
Signature of doctor debriefing patient’s condition: Ni Yongkang.
I interpreted the notice word by word for Rene. Rene laughed bitterly and said that this wasn’t the first time Li Chuan has been sick like this. The mental state of his family and friends, besides the elderly, had already been toughened.
I collapsed onto the chair in the waiting room. My body trembled in shock and couldn’t say anything for quite a while.
Rene tightly hugged me the entire time and used his disjointed Chinese to comfort me, “Nothing will happen to Alex. Alex is very lucky, and nothing will happen to him.”
I gazed at the faint shadows in the emergency room, praying silently in my heart. In any case, this type of waiting was too scary. Any noise that came from inside alarmed me. The moving hand of the silent wall clock was like a needle piercing towards me.
After seemly waiting a long time, nearly half a century, the hand on the wall told me that it had only been ten minutes.
Realizing that my body was still continuously shaking, Rene purchased a bottle of juice for me and told me to drink a mouthful, saying that this would ease the pressure.
I glanced at him, forehead covered in cold sweat. My nerves were stretched so much that they were about to snap. I shook my head and said that I didn’t want to drink anything. Even my stomach was continuously churning as if I wanted to vomit.
In order to shift my attention, I took a deep breath and nudged Rene, who was incomprehensibly saying a scripture in French, “Hey, Rene, can you tell me in detail about Li Chuan’s illness”
He returned from his thoughts and asked me, “You didn’t hear enough earlier? You’re still not scared?”
“It wasn’t enough. You said a heap of terminology, I could only understand about half of it.” I said, “Does this mean that LI Chuan’s leg wasn’t due to a car accident?”
“It was discovered due to the car accident.” Rene said, “That year Li Chuan’s mom was driving the car to take him to buy something and got into an accident halfway through. His mom died and his thigh suffered minor injuries. But it didn’t seem to heal after a long time and was getting worse. That was how the bone cancer was discovered — the malignant type. At the time the doctor said that the situation was very critical. The chances of survival through chemotherapy or amputation were both very small, and only conservative treatment could be used.”
“At that time, everyone thought that Alex had only a few months to live. The whole family was devastated. Surprisingly, after the radiotherapy, with luck, Alex’s condition rapidly improved. Thus, his father took him to the US to see a famous doctor. That famous doctor felt that there was an opportunity to attempt a more daring operation. So Alex went through an upper limb amputation. After the surgery, he continued chemotherapy and recovered nicely. He had no relapse for an entire 8 years. During these years, even the doctor told us that Alex’s cancer had been brought under permanent control. Even though it was inconvenient for him to walk, he could live like a normal person and didn’t have to worry, everyday, about when death would arrive.”
Instantaneously, the links of the story came together in my mind, “Six years ago, did Li Chuan leave me so suddenly because his health was in question?”
Rene nodded, “Every half year, Li Chuan would return to the hospital for a routine checkup. When he returned to Switzerland, his cancer was found to have shifted to his lungs. You know that the survival rate for when cancer switches from the bone to the lung is very low. This meant that a death penalty was pronounced for him. He said you were head over heels in love, was only 17 and he didn’t have the heart to tell you for fear of breaking your heart. Even more so, he didn’t want you to see his suffering appearance. He would rather you hate him for a lifetime. So, he made a firm resolution to leave you.”
I gritted my teeth and didn’t allow myself to sob, “Then he…those five years…did he live in a lot of pain?”
Rene sighed and nodded, “A specialized doctor excised the part of the lung disease. Afterwards, he went through a whole three years of chemotherapy. He was so skinny, his formed changed. His hair also completely fell out. He was extremely weak. He didn’t even have the strength to stand up. Honestly, he changed completely. Even if you saw him, you wouldn’t have recognized him. The side effects of chemotherapy are quite awful. Besides, he still had bone aches. Several times, it was so painful that the wanted to die instead. But he was afraid that he would cause his father and grandparents to be broken hearted. In short…in those three years, if it wasn’t because of your emails, I really don’t know how he could have endured it.”
Unknowingly, my face was covered in tears, “Then why didn’t he reply to me? At least, I could have tried to persuade him, converse with him, and comfort him!”
“Whatever Alex makes up his mind about, he won’t change it.” Rene sighed again, “Alex’s willpower is extremely strong, otherwise he would have not been able to battle with cancer for so many years, and still have had you leave.”
I looked at Rene, sighed and continued to ask, “Rene, what is mds?”
“Abnormal bone marrow growth syndrome,” he said, “it is a type of abnormal blood cell growth that causes blood functions to be hindered. I don’t know how to translate it into Chinese.”
“Hinder blood functions?” I still didn’t understand.
“To put it simply, this is a very hard type of anemia to treat. It could have been caused by the long term chemotherapy that Alex had to go through. There is a 30% probability that this type of disease would turn into acute leukemia. As a result Alex’s immune system is extremely low and needs to be very careful during his daily activities. Any infection or bleeding could result in death.”
I thought about that time Li Chuan jumped into the trash bin and his arm started bleeding. When his older brother found out, he yelled at him like he had gone mad.
“That’s why Li Chuan has to take meds every day? Take those medication that makes him throw up?”
“That’s right, every morning he has to take a type of medicine to prevent osteoporosis. Since bone cancer and chemotherapy causes the quality of the bone to change, it was easy for him to fracture a bone. Everyday, thirty minutes before meals, he has to take a type of medicine on an empty stomach, to reduce iron.”
I felt that Rene’s understanding of these terminologies would put medical school students to shame.
“Reduce iron? Why does iron need to be reduced?”
“In order to treat mds, Alex needs to get blood transfusion done regularly. Long term blood transfusion leads to excess iron in the body. In order to prevent iron poisoning, Alex needs to take a dose of medicine for reducing iron. This type of medicine is called deferasirox. It upsets the stomach and digestive tract greatly. After he takes it, he is likely to vomit.” He sighed again, “Alex, especially, didn’t want you to know that he has mds because you have blood phobia. Yet, he often needs to get blood tests and get blood transfusion done. At its worst, it was once a week.”
“There isn’t a way to completely cure this?” I asked, anxiously, thinking about all the different types of melodramas I had watched before, “For example bone marrow transplant or what not? Doesn’t he have a brother?”
“The important aspect of bone marrow transplant is that the hla location has to match the type. Ji Chuan is willing to donate bone marrow, but his bone marrow is unsuitable. Even if it was transplanted, the chances of success are very low. Alex has already applied for bone marrow transplant. But, until now, no ideal match has been found.” Perhaps he had been tired out by my questions as he continuously stared down at his thumb.