Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Jun 06th
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Home Feature Stories Great Love After Asia Tsunami More Than a Doctor - Susilawathi

More Than a Doctor - Susilawathi

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More Than a Doctor
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Since December 29 of last year, one Tzu Chi group after another has arrived in Sri Lanka. Tzu Chi's Medical Disaster Survey and Assessment Teams have been made up of members of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association and volunteers from Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the United States, and Canada. This unceasing relay has carried out its daunting mission without interruptions, and as of February 3, 2005, a total of five teams had helped more than 27,000 patients during 35 days of free medical clinics.

At the medical stations set up by Tzu Chi, volunteers meticulously listened to and documented the damage situation and needs of each of the visiting tsunami victims. Afterwards, they extended their continuing care through home visits to the elderly or needy people living on their own.

Medical team volunteers also went on foot, carrying what medical supplies they could, to the homes of tsunami victims. They not only treated victims' physical wounds, but also listened patiently and let them pour out their tormented stories, as well as trying their best to understand their patients' needs. Furthermore, the volunteers comforted and consoled the victims, helping them regain some strength and courage to get back on track with their lives again.

Susilawathi, 60, had lost her husband in the tsunami and had been consumed by grief ever since. Her son pleaded with Tzu Chi volunteers to help her. He explained that his mother wouldn't even go outside the house anymore, she had stopped eating or drinking, and she couldn't sleep throughout the night at all.

Following the son's instructions, volunteers walked through the narrow corridor of the family's sundry shop and into the living room in the back of the building. There sat Susilawathi, her head sunk in despondency, by her side a picture of her late husband, whom she could see with her eyes but could never touch again.

After asking Susilawathi about her health, Dr. Chang Yin-shou, a pediatrician from Hualien Tzu Chi General Hospital, gently picked up her hand and asked, "Can you stand up?" The old woman stood slowly. Dr. Chang then asked again, "Can you take a few steps forward?" One small step after another, Dr. Chang tactfully persuaded and led Susilawathi out of the house and into the warmth of the sunshine, hoping that the familiar sounds of cars and people coming and going would help open her weary heart.

Several curious children gathered in front of the sundry shop. On an impulse, Dr. Chang said to the children, "Where are your friends? Go fetch them, quick! This nice granny has candy for all of you!"

Being a pediatrician herself, Dr. Chang knew all too well the magical power that candy has on children, and in turn the wonderful effect that children's smiles have on herself, so she was confident that the same magic would work on Susilawathi. She quickly rounded up the candy brought by the volunteers and handed them to Susilawathi to give to the children. Sure enough, seeing the expectant joy on the children's faces, the stiffened lines on the old woman's face began to break open in gentle kindness.

Losing her lifelong partner and friend had left Susilawathi in the depths of inconsolable grief. Her son, worried for her well-being, had asked Tzu Chi volunteers for their help. Dr. Chang's "candy magic" worked wonders on Susilawathi and opened her heart.

Dr. Chang told Susilawathi that it was customary in Taiwan to seal a pact with a friend by locking each other's pinky fingers together. "We have a pact to meet tomorrow at the Tzu Chi medical station, OK?" Susilawathi locked her little finger with Dr. Chang's.

The next morning, the old woman, accompanied by her son, arrived at the Tzu Chi medical station, just as she had promised. Her gloom from the day before had been replaced with a polite smile. Dr. Chang walked up and gave her a hug, as did Tzu Chi volunteer Lin Tsui-lian, and they both showered Susilawathi with encouraging words. "Your son was really worried about you. You must try not to sink further. You wouldn't want your husband, who is resting in peace, to worry, would you?"

It is never easy consoling someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one. With Susilawathi's reserved and unexpressive nature, it was hard to imagine how much torment she had suppressed inside of her heart. Even so, she still had room for the volunteers' caring words, even though tears welled up in her eyes from moment to moment and many greetings were answered with only a faint smile, as if she were constantly trying to adjust her state of mind.

Then suddenly, Susilawathi opened up and let out the anguish that she had kept inside. She was not alone with her tears, as a local volunteer serving as an interpreter was also visibly moved and had to pause before continuing again.

Susilawathi had also been suffering from insomnia and some other problems, so Dr. Chang referred her to Dr. Lin Shinn-zong, the superintendent of Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center, who always has a big smile plastered on his face. Dr. Chang hoped that Dr. Lin's amicable and positive personality would bring some sunshine into Susilawathi's heart.

Dr. Lin introduced Susilawathi to a local volunteer interpreter who was serving in the medical examination room. He explained that the interpreter had also lost members of his family in the tsunami, but he had chosen to emerge from his own suffering and help his fellow countrymen in need. Other than giving Susilawathi a prescription, Dr. Lin also offered her a blessing for a quick recovery from her physical pain and emotional suffering, plus an invitation: "Come on, let's help those in need... together."


" Abide by your principles in everything you do. Never do things just to satisfy others. For rather than satisfying them, you may be in over your head. "
Jing-Si Aphorism

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