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Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital - The company of volunteers

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The company of volunteers
The volunteers supplement the medical staff at Xindian Tzu Chi Hospital. The doctors and nurses treat the patients' physical ailments while the volunteers provide a comforting and warm atmosphere.

Everyone is welcome at the Tzu Chi hospital. Smiling volunteers greet patients as they enter the hospital. Across the foyer, a large mosaic mural entitled "The Buddha Cares for the Sick" calms patients and inspires a sense of awe. On the escalator, soft melodies play and scenes of the night sky created by fiber optics further soothe each patient.

On May 1, the first day of the free clinic, people started pouring in at 8 a.m. Many of the doctors who served at the free clinic came from the Tzu Chi hospitals in Hualien in eastern Taiwan and Dalin in the south. Yen Hui-mei, a senior Tzu Chi volunteer who established the volunteer service team for the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center, instructed the other volunteers as she provided assistance to the patients.

Chang Hsiao-ping and her husband came by bus from Hsinchu, over an hour away. A loyal Tzu Chi TV viewer, she learned about the free clinic and came to seek treatment. She said excitedly, "I recognize many doctors here because I've seen them on the Tzu Chi TV channel before."

Chang and her husband, Tsai Li-chun, each sought treatment in different hospital departments, she in cardiology and he in neurology. Chang, 71, suffers from hypertension and takes medicine regularly to keep her blood pressure under control. The doctor who treated her found her systolic blood pressure to be over 200. "It's probably because I'm too happy. My visit to the hospital today excited me so much that I couldn't sleep last night." Despite Chang's lack of sleep, she was in very good spirits and chatted happily with the volunteers.

However, her husband, Tsai, endured a long wait and was beginning to feel impatient. Two volunteers noticed his edginess and chatted with the couple to relieve them of their boredom. Chang told the volunteers, "My husband used to be an English teacher at a junior high school, and I was an elementary school teacher. We've both been retired for nearly 20 years now. After retiring from our respective jobs, we taught at a college for the elderly until last year when my husband had a minor stroke."

Lin Shinn-zong, superintendent of the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center, examined Tsai and determined that he might be suffering from hydrocephalus. "Don't worry about it too much. If it is only a slight case, the surgeon will perform a relatively simple procedure, inserting a catheter into the ventricles of your brain and allowing the cerebrospinal fluid to flow out and relieve the symptoms." Lin explained that Tsai's hydrocephalus had temporarily affected his memory, but that treatment should reverse much of that effect. Lin's explanation greatly relieved Chang, who had been worried that her husband might have been suffering from Alzheimer's.

After making an appointment with the doctor, the couple left with contented smiles on their faces. "The doctors here were very friendly," Chang commented, "and the volunteers that kept us company were so nice. At our age, going to a hospital can be a nerve-wracking experience, so this environment was especially comforting. There wasn't even that distinct smell of medicine that makes most hospitals so intimidating. We plan on coming back often in the future. Even if we are not here for medical reasons, we would like to serve as volunteers."

A peaceful mind is good for treatment
Two patients and their families were chatting away comfortably on a roof garden outside the inpatient rooms. Lin Yi-chin, 70, lives in Xindian. He collects and sells recyclable goods for a living. When he was riding his pedicart uphill one day, he accidentally broke a bone in his foot, and he was sent to the Xindian Tzu Chi Hospital for treatment.

The other patient was Chang Hsin-min from Yungho. He was admitted for treatment after a consultation with Dr. Yang Hsu-li, the head of the urology department.

A light drizzle was falling, but it didn't dampen these patients' spirits as they strolled in the garden. Chang told a volunteer next to him, "This is my first time in the hospital, and I'm so fortunate to have a room with a roof garden. Even though two other patients share my room, I still feel as if I were living in first-class accommodations!"

Chang continued: "Tzu Chi has really put in a lot of effort to ensure that patients are put at ease in a comfortable environment while receiving medical care. The natural lighting in my room is so good that I don't need to turn on the light during the day. It's also wonderful to have a roof garden so we can walk around outdoors and enjoy the fresh air."

Lin, who was sitting in a wheelchair pushed by his son, also said casually, "I injured my foot, so now I can take the opportunity to rest. The surroundings are so good that I feel like I'm on a vacation!"

More words, more warmth
As part of its goal of improving the relationships between patients and their caregivers, Xindian Tzu Chi Hospital makes efforts to provide education in many areas affecting quality of life. For instance, the department of metabolism has nutritionists who give nutritional advice, and the department of thoracic medicine has a hygienic education room where patients can acquire knowledge about the right way to use medicine.

Mr. Lo, 70, suffered from asthma and a chronic cough, so he came to the department of thoracic medicine for help. Dr. Tsao Chang-yao, deputy superintendent of the hospital, ordered an x-ray and an ultrasound examination and then prescribed some medicine for him. The doctor asked a respiration therapist to explain the use of the medicine to Mr. Lo in the hygienic education room.

Therapist Li Ying-min first took out an inhaler and told Lo that it should only be used in case of emergency. "When you feel your chest is tight, or you can't breathe, or you are gasping for air, you can use this inhaler. Simply inhale once and that should relieve the symptoms right away." Li pressed on the inhaler once to make sure the device was working. Then she showed Lo the manual and demonstrated the correct procedure for using the inhaler. Lo learned to exhale completely, put the inhaler into his mouth, inhale slowly until he couldn't take in any more, hold his breath for 10 seconds, and finally exhale.

Li reminded the old man to keep the inhaler by his side at all times in case of emergency. She also cautioned him that if he used it three times in one hour but still felt tight in his chest or had to gasp for air, he should come to the hospital right away.

About the other medicine the doctor prescribed, Li explained, "This one is to protect your trachea and reduce inflammation. Use it once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and it will relieve your cough."

Li explained the use of the medicine in great detail, including when to use it and what side effects to expect. Li added, "If you use the medicine correctly, your problems should disappear within three to six months."

The old man's son was very satisfied with the treatment. He said, "If we didn't know the details, we wouldn't know how to help my father with his illness. We are very touched by the sincere care of the hospital staff."