When I was in the process of moving to a private hospital, I reconnected with Tzu Chi at a Jing Si Books & Café store. Volunteer Lee Mun Yeng knew that I was a physician, so she invited me to volunteer at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic. I started there in early 2013.
Soon I found that many patients with chronic conditions would forget to come back for follow-up visits. Therefore, I initiated a change. Now such patients leave our clinic only after the appointments for their next visits have been made. This has improved the situation. As follow-ups improve, so does their health.
The clinic does not have a regular physician staff. Instead, doctors from the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) fill its schedule slots. I started with one day a week, which gradually crept up to two days and then three days. Now I come here four days a week. My job at the private hospital seems more like a part-time thing now.
I have tried to stand in refugees’ shoes. I think, “What would I do if, like a refugee, I didn’t have a legal identity, couldn’t work legally, and couldn’t go to school? Would I be able to carry on?” I don’t dare to think very far down that line, nor do I have an answer to that question.
I have been with the clinic for more than two years now. During this time, I have often thought not of what I’ve given to my patients but of what they have taught me. A young woman once brought two elderly people to the clinic. I referred them to a public hospital because their conditions were quite serious. A couple of weeks later, she returned with two more sick persons. For the same reason I referred those patients, but this time she cried.
It turned out that none of those people were related to her. She had picked them up in a marketplace or on the roadside because they were from Burma, her own homeland. They were all infirm, and they had nowhere to live. She took them home and sheltered them.
The six people in her own family lived with close to 20 such fellow Burmese. They all lived on one salary, the 900 ringgits that her husband brought home every month. Refugees had to pay their own way at public hospitals, so she cried when she saw the referrals again in my hand.
After learning her story, I asked myself: If I were in her place, would I do the same thing? Would I take an unknown countryman home because he or she was sick on the roadside? I didn’t have an answer.
Whenever I feel agitated or tired, I recall this story, and it keeps me going. I admire the woman’s spirit: Even though she can barely scrape along, she shares what little she has with other needy people. I tell myself that if I help a patient regain his or her health, I can perhaps help a family get a chance to survive in a foreign land.
Extracted from the Tzu Chi Quarterly, Fall 2015 (Taiwan)