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The Value of Presence in Medicine

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She took me to a guesthouse once used by the cadres for meetings. We left my luggage and headed to her house. I met her mother in their one-room apartment, one of several apartments on one floor in a several floor house that originally housed a French family. Now, each room housed one family—in this case, Zhuo, her mother, one of her sisters, and a third person who helped the family.

I walked to the porch just off the room, where her mother was bedridden. Her fingers were bent where the fingers branched from the hand, one of the signs of arthritis. I gave her mother my gifts—a purse and some chocolates. She gave me an Asian teapot of brick colored fired clay. She asked for us to be photographed together. I posed for portraits of Zhuo’s mother with me, her sister with me, and Zhuo with me. Her mother had long forgotten any English, so Zhuo translated. I felt honored.

Zhuo returned me to my room, where I slept.

About 5AM, the telephone rang.

My mother is being taken to the hospital,” Zhuo said. “I am on my way in a taxi to take you to see her.”

I started off as a practicing physician, transitioning to administrative medicine several years previously. Friends still relied on me for help with their medical care.

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