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Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Failed Mission: Painful News from the Hospital

I'm in shock after my visit to Xinhua Hospital tonight. Disaster. Heart break.

As I explained earlier in my posts on the case of the poor Chinese family who came to the big city of Shanghai to finally get surgery for their son's deformed leg, I felt that my primary mission in being involved was to help them get the second and third opinions that were needed to dissuade them from unnecessary hip surgery and instead focus on the knee surgery that they boy really needed. So I was relieved when I got the text message saying that they had decided to get the knee surgery only. Whew, I thought, I made a difference. I was sad to see that they were going with the first hospital they had gone to instead of the high-quality one I had taken them to for their second opinion, but I couldn't make all the decisions for them and didn't want to challenge the father on everything. Maybe I should have. Why? Because my mission looks like a complete failure. I should have been a little more aggressive, a little more paranoid, a little more helpful in guiding the family toward different options.

Surgery was last Friday night. It took several hours and was more complicated than expected, but I was relieved that it seemed to have gone well. But what I didn't understand until tonight is that the surgeon didn't touch the knee at all. He operated on the hip. A hip operation--the unnecessary, costly thing that was my mission to prevent. The hip, not the knee. Contrary to what he told the father, contrary to what three difference doctors had recommended, it appears he decided that the hip was where he needed to operate. It makes no sense. I'm in shock. Maybe there were good reasons for that, and I'll give him a chance to explain it to me tomorrow morning when I see him at last (I've seen almost no trace of doctors or nurses in the crowded room with 6 beds and a couple dozen people where the boy is recuperating). For now, though, I'm thinking it's a huge mistake. Perhaps the knee surgery suddenly seemed way out of the surgeon's league. I don't know. The father was as surprised as I was to learn that it was hip surgery, not knee surgery given to his son.

Actually, the hip surgery didn't go well, the doctor has told the family, and the son will need another operation next week, and another 40,000 or 50,000 RMB to pay for that one, and it still won't address the real problem, in my opinion. And if they don't want to pay up front for that surgery now, then it's time to pack up and leave this weekend because other patients need the hospital bed being occupied by the boy. The family, out of money and hope, is planning to pack up and leave. The son's knee is the same disaster, and I fear that the leg will be in worse shape because of the incomplete hip surgery which may take a long time to recover, just to get him back to his normal painful, partially crippled state of abnormality.

Also to my horror, I learned tonight that the father has already paid in full for the surgery by going heavily into debt with relatives who had put money on a card for him to borrow, if needed. The cousin who translated told me that only 10,000 had been paid as a down payment, and I expected to still have some bargaining power with the hospital. I'm not sure when that changed--maybe today? Instead of waiting to make sure the hospital has done their part, he apparently had to pay already. The money I've been collecting for him will reduce his debt, but it's gone for the wrong operation. A disaster, I'm afraid. I'll try to see if he has any legal recourse, but recourse for the peasants from distant provinces is often a challenge here. I fear he's been taken advantage of. Maybe unintentionally, maybe in good faith, but the result looks ugly and unfair. But I need to give the surgeon and the hospital a chance. Maybe there's a good reason for the change in plans and the apparent complete waste of a poor farmer's money and the slicing up of a young boy's hip for nothing, it seems.

I'm offering refunds to everyone who donated because I don't want people paying for disaster, and I can't ask for more because it's such a lost cause right now. Is this the right approach? Your feedback is welcome. They still need help--they just took on hopeless debt to help their son and have used all their funds. But it seems like it's a cause that loses its appeal given what has happened. We'll try to understand their options and their needs and figure out what to do, but ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

What is the future for this boy? I don't want to give up, though part of me does when I hit these kind of frustrations, these ugly surprises that this beautiful country sometimes offers. Eventually, I'd like to help the family come back to a good surgeon in a good hospital and reconstruct the knee. It's not happening this week, though. Wish it were. Your advice is welcome. They are determined to leave this weekend. I think we're going to have to take the long trip to Jiangxi Province and help prepare them to come back later and do things the right way. We may need your donations and prayers even more then. Please keep Zhiwei and his family in your prayers now as well.

4 comments:

Paul said...

Jeff, so sorry to read this. Having had a similar experience in Latin America a number of years ago, I feel your pain.

M said...

Hi Jeff,

I just read about this and I would be willing to donate a little to help make things right. I think that if this story got enough coverage and people knew how to donate, people would chip in.

Anonymous said...

How do we contribute???

Anonymous said...

Sorry it did not go well. Poor kid. Keep the money and keep working on donations. It was not your fault. Will spread the word.