I signed the critical condition notice letter. I saw a man in a white coat with a full head of grey hair in his sixties rushing over to the emergency room. Rene stood up and called, “(English) Dr. Gong!”
The man looked familiar; once I took a good look at him, I immediately remembered that he was the old man who drank coffee with Li Chuan at the coffee shop a couple of years ago. I remembered Li Chuan called him Mr. Gong.
The man stopped in front of us, nodded at me, and spoke directly to Rene in English, “How is he? Is he in the emergency room?”
“Mm,” Rene said, “It’s infectious shock and acute respiratory failure.”
“Is it due to a respiratory infection?”
“Maybe. He has been coughing a lot lately. I told him to go to the hospital, but he refused and even got angry at me. He was probably not in a good mood.”
“Let me go take a look at him first.” He left and went into the emergency room.
I asked Rene who he was.
“Oh, he is Professor Gong of Peking Union Medical College Hospital, the director of the intensive care unit, and Li Chuan’s primary doctor in Beijing. When Li Chuan’s dad had a heart attack in China, it was Professor Gong who saved his life, which is why they became close friends. When you called me just now, I immediately called him and asked him to come. He is very familiar with Li Chuan’s illness—”
Just as he was talking, the emergency room doors suddenly opened, and Gong Qi Xian came out.
Rene and I both jumped up from our seats, “How is he?”
“His condition is stable for now. He has been sent to ICU for further observation. Li Chuan is currently relying on a breathing machine to breathe and vasopressors to sustain his blood pressure. In order to hook up the breathing machine, we used tranquilizer, so he is still unconscious…It’s good that he came to the hospital in time.”
Rene and I got changed, put on our masks, followed the strict disinfection procedure, and entered the ICU ward. It was just like my dream; Li Chuan was half lying down, his face was pale, his eyes were closed, and tubes were inserted into his body from head to toe.
“You guys can accompany him on the side, but don’t touch him. There will be specialized nurses taking care of him. I suggest you guys not to stay too long, and come back tomorrow. He won’t wake up anyway since he has a breathing machine hooked up, and you guys won’t be much help.” He pointed at the sofas on the side, gesturing for us to take a seat, “I still have a patient to tend to on the second floor. I’ll come back in a bit. Just give me a call for emergencies.”
All of us sighed in relief. Rene looked at my leg and asked, “Annie, what happened to your leg?”
“I was in a car accident…and fractured my leg. Li Chuan didn’t tell you?”
“No.” Rene said, “No wonder he has been in a bad mood lately, like he has swallowed gunpowder. He drags me to the pub every night, but since he can’t drink, he sits and stares off to space, and won’t say a word. I then became busy with reading some research information and couldn’t accompany him, so he often went alone.”
“I know,” I sighed, “his heart aches… He’s really hard on himself.” The ICU ward only allowed one visitor at a time, so Rene said, “You haven’t completely recovered from your injury yet, so why don’t we go home first, and come back to visit him tomorrow?”
Li Chuan lay in the ICU ward for seven days. His blood pressure became stable on the third day, so he was off the vasopressors. His breathing finally got better on the seventh day, which was when they took out the breathing machine. Once they stopped using tranquilizer, Li Chuan woke up soon after, but he was unable to speak. He looked at me, and his fingers twitched, so I grabbed his hand and held it tightly.
I accompanied Li Chuan for seven days and seven nights. Other than eating and going to the washroom, I didn’t leave the ICU ward; I only took naps on the couch and slept less than three hours a day. Rene visited me in the morning, but felt that I was being irrational. He said that Li Chuan had nurses to take care of everything back in Switzerland, so friends and family only needed to take turns to see him and chat with him; everyone was busy and Li Chuan often stayed in the hospital, so everyone got on with their lives after visiting him. He said no one would be like me and stay by his bedside day and night. He said I was worried for nothing and was wasting my time.
But this was how Chinese people showed their care and affection, did you not understand? I scolded him back.
“This is why I come to visit you every day. I don’t think Alex needs me to visit him, I think you need my visit more,” Rene teased.
I asked Rene, “Does Ji Chuan know that Li Chuan is sick again?” Rene shook his head, “I didn’t dare to tell Ji Chuan, that tyrant. If he finds out that Alex is in the ICU ward again, he’ll definitely escort him back to Zurich and lock him up for good. These two brothers will quarrel at each other again. Everyone took Li Chuan’s side in the past, but they definitely won’t this time. The whole family is against Li Chuan.”
I was puzzled, “Why?”
“You two silly couple…For you, Alex told his whole family that he would not go back to Switzerland. He said he didn’t have many days left, and wanted to die in China and be buried in Beijing. He has already chosen the cemetery and picked out the words to put on his headstone.” Rene closed his eyes as if a coffin was lying in front of him. He then said in a priest’s voice, “Here lies Wang Li Chuan, who was born in Switzerland, schooled in America, and fell in love with a Chinese girl. Therefore, he will now rest in China. Amen.”
As if he was reflecting exactly what Rene had said, Li Chuan lay on his bed quietly and peacefully with his eyes closed. My heart felt sour.
Li Chuan was very weak when he woke up, and he couldn’t talk. Although he no longer needed to rely on the breathing machine, he still needed it to inhale oxygen. The nurses worked busily around him while I dozed off on the couch with my legs crossed and feet tucked under my thighs. About an hour later, another patient came into the ICU ward groaning in pain, which woke me up. When I opened my eyes, I saw the nurse helping Li Chuan turn his body. He looked pale and lifeless, with all kinds of tubes tangled over his body. After he turned over, the nurse used some alcohol to wipe the part of his body that he was lying on. I went over to smooth out his bed sheets and helped the nurse place a few pillows under Li Chuan’s back.
“Rene, why don’t you go back first? I want to stay for a while longer. Every time I visited Li Chuan, he always asked me to leave. Please let me accompany him this time round.”
I sat beside Li Chuan until the sun rose. There wasn’t really anything for me to worry about; they adjusted his vasopressor dosage according to his blood pressure every fifteen minutes, monitored his urine output every hour, and turned his body every two hours. Li Chuan’s mouth was slightly opened to allow a forty centimeter tube down his throat. His chest moved up and down slowly but strongly with the support of the breathing machine. A nurse came in to check up on him and inserted another tube down his throat to perform air suctioning. Despite it being a painful process, Li Chuan looked as if he didn’t feel anything; he lay on his bed quietly, while his skin looked colorless like it was transparent and in a faint blue.
It was later that I realized that the faint blue glow was coming from the breathing machine’s display with numbers changing constantly, vibrantly, and cheerfully like an animation film. That night, I stared at Li Chuan without blinking my eyes; he lay lifeless like a wax figure. I couldn’t help but caress his hair and face once every hour with my hand in a plastic glove, continued believing that he was alive and well.
Doctor Gong came 5am in the morning. He said to me, “It’s better for you to go home and rest, or at least go eat something. The cafeteria is on the second floor.” I smiled at him, “It’s okay, I’m not hungry.”
I never trusted much in machines since I was little. I listened carefully to the breathing machine and suspected that it may be malfunctioning and not giving oxygen to Li Chuan; I started to worry that the forty centimeter tube would block his breathing and cause him to suffocate. I observed the intravenous drip and was afraid that it was going too fast or too slow. Every time the machine made a beep sound, I would rush to a nurse immediately, which made them feel annoyed.
Li Chuan suddenly opened his mouth and whispered into a nurse’s ear. The nurse couldn’t hear him well, so he repeated himself and then the nurse left. We looked at each other for a moment, and didn’t have anything to say.
After a while, he said, “(English) So, you’re my, family,” he spoke softly, his voice was raspy, and he had to use a lot of effort to say every word, “(English) since when?”
I never thought that he would be so hostile just after waking up, so I was completely speechless.
“Didn’t you say, you, were going to leave Beijing?” he said while catching his breath, “Why, haven’t you left?”
“Can you not talk for now?” I was neither in the mood nor had the guts to talk back to a patient who had just been in the emergency room.
The head nurse came and said awkwardly, “Sorry, Miss Xie. The patient says that you are not his family member, and requested that you leave the ICU ward immediately.”
I stood up in anger, and almost wanted to strangle him. But my vision suddenly went black, and my body swayed.
The nurse held onto me and handed me a cane that was lying on the side. I was furious; I picked up my purse from the couch, and stuffed my watch, cell phone, keys, and cup that were on the bedside table into it.
The nurse couldn’t help but help me explain, “Mr. Wang, you probably don’t know. It was this young lady who brought you into the emergency room. She has stayed here watching over you for seven days and nights, and hasn’t had much sleep. Yet you say that she is not your family member.” She pointed at an old man who was lying in the room across, and said while getting a bit emotional, “Do you see that grandpa over there? His three sons came and fought about who should pay the hospital fees in front of him. In the end, they wiped their hands clean and left in a second. They sure were related by blood, but would you consider them as family members?”
Li Chuan stared straight up into the ceiling without any expression and said while panting heavily, “I want her……to leave immediately.”