Love Traveling around the World

----A Story of a Disabled Chinese Surgeon

Dear Friends,

It's my honor to attend this conference and share my story with you. I'd like to give my sincere thanks to all friends who have made my presence possible. My gratitude extends especially to Dr. Shinozuka, the Executive Director of Japan Society for Travel Medicine, for he gave me this precious opportunity to meet you all.

Through my story, I hope you could see clearly the overwhelming power of great love and determination of human beings. I hope you will see a quadriplegic surgeon standing up before you spiritually because of the great love.

To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings right now: sorry, sentimental, happy, and excited! Why is that? In fact, this is my second trip to Japan. Ten years ago, I participated in a training program of JICA, or Japan International Cooperation Agency. My first impression of Japan was that of a clean and beautiful country, with warm, polite, and gracious people. I love Japan very much! I still remember that when the plane took off from Narita airport, I told myself that I must visit this wonderful country again. But I have never thought that my second Japan trip would be in a wheelchair with a quadriplegic body.

From the views of almost all people know me, impossible things keep happening in my life over the past several years. Today wonderful things happened and I am in Tokyo again! I feel proud of myself, but I am even more grateful for the love, help, and support I have received and experienced.

OK! I should not carry too far away from the topic. Let me introduce myself now! My name is Zhang Xu, from Anshan, Northeast of China. I graduated from medical school in 1987, and became an orthopedic surgeon in my hometown of Anshan (in Northeast China) in the same year. I love my work and always worked very hard. At that time, it seemed that my career was very promising.

In 1997, I was assigned by the Chinese Health Ministry to work in the Republic of Yemen. Maybe I could have been called a "traveling doctor" then. Unfortunately, I had a diving accident there, which left me quadriplegic. I think I did need travel medicine care at that time, but I don't believe we had such a service in China.

But I really have a great story to tell regarding international travel---the traveling love around the world. In fact, I'm living in international love, and it is that love which gives me strength to go on every day of my life.

You may wonder why I needed to work in Yemen. That program is a part of Chinese diplomacy. Each year, the Chinese government sends many medical teams to some developing countries in Asia and Africa to help meet the medical needs of their people.

To my knowledge, the Chinese Medical Team has been working in Yemen for more than 30 years. Chinese doctors work very hard there, together with the local medical staff. The medical conditions in most part of Yemen are very poor. They don't have enough well trained doctors and nurses to meet the medical needs of the country. For example, in the city of Ibb where I was working, I was the only orthopedic surgeon. So you can easily imagine my workload. I must work very hard to satisfy each of my patient.

My accident was devastating. Following an emergency operation, I got a severe subdural infection: high temperature, unconsciousness, and bedsore came one by one. I was dying! I really wish I had you travel medicine guys there. With my guarded condition, my colleagues had no idea how they could further help me. They thought that I would die within a few days, so they informed the Chinese Government of my situation.

At that time, we had such a regulation: If a Chinese citizen working abroad died, who is sent by the government, he or she would be buried in the country, regardless of the reason of the death. Right after our arrival in the country I had visited a Chinese cemetery in Sana, the Capital of Yemen, to honor the dead. I counted the tombs and there were more than 30. They belong to doctors, engineers, workers -- but I did not imagine at the time that I was almost to become one of them.

Since I was dying and no further treatment was available, the government needed to decide whether I should be sent back to China, or left there in Yemen to die. When my parents knew the situation, they insisted that I should be sent back to China immediately since I was still alive. The most important thing for them was that they needed their son to go back home, no matter whether he was dead or alive!

At this point I must introduce my Yemeni friend to you. His name is Albudu, meaning (in Arabic) "God's servant." He had a beef store in a big market of Ibb. He is a thin, old man, with grey beard and a gentle smile on his face all the time. Several months earlier, I treated his neck problem and we became very good friends. After my accident, he closed his store and came to see me in the hospital everyday from another part of the city.

He was so scared to know that I was dying, that he rushed into the office of Chinese Medical Team with tears in his eyes. He told my colleagues that they must send me to the U.S. for the best treatment available, and he would pay all the expense for the treatment. All of my colleagues were deeply touched by his sincere love.

Of course, my dear friend Albudu never had any idea how much money would be needed if I were to receive such treatment in the U.S. Though he was "rich" in Ibb, he had no way to afford such expensive medical care. On the day when I was sent back to China, he hired a taxi to escort me to Sana Airport, five hours from Ibb. I will never forget his gentle smile and true love

Sending me back to China was great challenge, for I could have died at any moment of the trip. Of course, it was impossible for the government to assign a special plane for me. Also, there were no direct flights between Sana and Beijing. We had to fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then transferred to another flight for Beijing.

I was lying in a stretcher, dying, unconscious, being put on tracheostomy tube, urinary catheter, intravenous tube, and a manual ventilator. Four of my colleagues escorted me throughout the long trip. Thanks to God! We made it!

I was hospitalized in CRRC, or China Rehabilitation Research Center. During the first month, I received intensive care in the ICU ward. Then I was transferred to the regular rehabilitation ward. As I gradually regained consciousness , I began to consider my future, even though there was no a future at all. No! I really could not see any meaning of my broken life, needless to say any value! As an orthopedic surgeon, I knew exactly what had happened to me at the very moment of the accident -- and I knew the prognosis of the injury quite well.

I was overwhelmed by despair and depression. In a second, I changed from being an ambitious and promising surgeon to a useless cripple. Useless! I'm absolutely useless! In those days I was grief-stricken when thinking about my responsibility as a son, husband, and father. What could I do for those I loved so much! --- I could never play a role as an obedient son, a good husband, and a loving father again. Seeing drops of sweat falling down from my mother's face when she was taking care of me, my strong sense of guilty and shame was unspeakable. From the moral perspective of our Oriental Culture, sons should take care of their parents when they are getting old. But what can I do for them now? I was totally despaired and suicidal thoughts came to me, but my paralyzed hands prevented me from taking the action.
Just at that most difficult moment, God sent His first angle into my life. In the therapy room of CRRC, I met Ms. Rachei Reiko Yatani, a Japanese OT specialist who was on a teaching mission there. Until today, I still cannot figure out why I could have her attention from about 30 patients in the room. She directly came to me and showed me the right way to exercise my flaccid arms. I identified that she was not a Chinese, so I tried to respond her in English. Just like that, we began our conversation. With a sad, hoarse voice, I told her that I was a useless disabled surgeon, hopeless! -- and I would never be able to work with my scalpel again.

I must say that day was the turning point of my life. It was also the day that symbolized my new life. Prof. Yatani listened to my despaired voice patiently with a warm, gentle smile. Then she began to encourage me with the examples of many successful quadriplegic people in the world. For the first time since my fatal accident, my frozen heart became to feel a bit of warmness. I wished I could have more time to talk with her, to warm my dead heart. Unfortunately, it was her last day teaching in CRRC during that mission. She left for Japan two days after we met.

Prof. Yatani wrote:

Dear Dr. Zhang, This little tired looking book was given to me by my friend Lillian years ago. Now I'll pass it to you. Hope your mother will help you to turn the pages and eventually you can do it by yourself with a device.
December 26th, 1997 Yatani.

The title of the book is JONI. It is the autobiography of Ms. Joni Eareckson, an American quadriplegic girl. Just like me, she broke her neck in a diving accident when she was only 17 years old. But with the unconditional love and tremendous support from her family and Christian friends, she got to know Jesus and gained a spiritual rebirth from the devastating accident and depression. And with her unremitting efforts and practice, she finally became an eminent artist, author and speaker in the U.S.

From her story I got the enlightenment and saw the twilight of my own hope. It seemed that, like Joni, I might not be necessarily "totally disabled" if I do something for myself. With great effort, I probably could find my position in the society and the value for my existence. The book is really encouraging!

The doctor, who saved my life in CRRC, noticed me reading the book and he also noticed that my attitude was changing. He suggested that I translate the book into Chinese, so that it could benefit more disabled people in China. Miraculously, I took his advice without any hesitation, though I was still physically very weak. After that, every night in my hospital bed, with my mom's help, I began the translating work. During the work, I first encountered Christianity. After only six weeks, my first manuscript was finished. Obviously, it was a miracle.

In order to publish the book, I needed to contact Joni for copyright permission. I tried to contact Joni several times, but all failed. So my doctor introduced me to Dr. John Aldis, who was working in American Embassy, hoping he could help me. (My doctor had met Dr. Aldis 4 or 5 years earlier when they worked together on a patient.) Dr. Aldis and his wife were touched by my story and they agreed to help. In only one week he found and contacted Joni through the Internet.

Dr. Aldis became my best friend since then. Realizing my poor health situation, he believed that I need further rehabilitation in the US. In order to raise money for the US trip, he even asked his friend to establish a website for me. While giving me tremendous love and encouragement, Dr. Aldis also considered how to give me more and better help. Later, he bought me an advanced computer from the US, for he believed that, for a severely disabled person like me, only such a high-tech instrument could give me the help I needed to make the best use of my potential.

Dr. Aldis is my precious friend and mentor. During the past several years, he has experienced with me my tears, joys and each step of growth. He never missed any opportunity to help me. Because of my sake, he took an assignment in the US Embassy in Yemen after his retirement from the State Deparatment. He visited Albudu and other Yemeni friends of mine in Ibb. He even visited the valley where I had my diving accident - and met one of the young men who helped pull me from the water! In 2002, invited by Dr. Shinozuka, he came to Tokyo, to make a speech on JSTM conference. During that trip, he helped me to find Prof. Yatani, with whom I lost contact for over two years, and he introduced me to Dr. Shinozuka. To some extent, he helped to make my presence here today possible.

Dr. Aldis never hedges his love and help whenever I am in need. Many people in China asked him why he was so eager to help me. He has never found a "reasonable" answer to satisfy their curiosity. But clearly there is an inner power in his heart, driving him to do all of these tirelessly. My explanation now is the Holy Spirit. I often feel that I owe him too much, though he thinks that he also has got something back from the process of helping me. But one thing is for sure! His spiritual faith grew stronger because of the tremendous love I have received from different angels that were sent into my life after the trauma.

It is almost a miracle that I could meet Prof. Yatani again. We lost contact after she sent me JONI book. On the day when the book was published, how I wish I could share my joy with her, but I was not able to contact her at that time. On March 9th, 2002, Dr. Aldis came to Tokyo to attend the annual conference of JSTM. He understood my anxious heart to contact Prof. Yatani then. So with the help of Dr. Shinozuka, he found Prof. Yatani and we're reconnected again.

In September of 2002, Professor Yatani visited me in my hospital room in Anshan. She also invited her friends to join her on this trip. Before coming to China, they made detailed plans for my arm rehabilitation. Mr. Hara, a senior orthotic specialist, even made a special arm-supporting device to help feed myself. They are extremely busy people as they all have heavy workloads in Japan. But the great love drove the four to make the long trip together to visit me.

Ms. Joni Eareckson is another important person in my life who I must appreciate. She is a good model for me, and a good teacher for my spiritual growth. We became good friends after I translated the book JONI. She is an active disability advocate in the US. In 1979, she founded her organization "Joni and Friends", which serves people with disabilities. Her outstanding contribution affects the lives of hundreds and thousands of disabled people and their families throughout the world.

Both of us are quadriplegic, so we have many things in common. We can easily communicate and share each other's joy and tears when facing our daily life in wheelchairs. Beyond that, her faith in God and her success in disability ministry are always a great encouragement to me. She helps me see more clearly that God is working!

In October of 2000, Joni made her first visit to Beijing. It also was our first time to meet personally. You can imagine how excited we were. Though we could not shake hands or gave hugs, both of us could feel our fast-beating and thankful hearts. To my surprise, she even suggested that we go to the Great Wall, and we really made the trip! Through that adventure, she taught me a great lesson: With great faith and determination, quadriplegic people can fulfill missions that seem impossible to others.

My first work after the fatal accident, Chinese JONI, was well received and won a National Award. Thereafter, I translated more medical texts and articles. As a quadriplegic, I cannot control my body effectively, but my physical disability cannot stop me from dreaming. My dream is that I could lead an independent and self-sufficient life. I hope I can plan for my own life. Beyond that, I dream of that I could lead a meaningful life. That means I can contribute something to others, giving instead of only taking. As a disabled doctor, a sense of responsibility to work with disabled people became to set in.

I began to ponder how I could start making my dreams come true. Through the Internet, I communicate with friends throughout the world everyday. And through those friends, I began to realize that disability is viewed abroad in ways very different from in China. I realized that my former training in orthopedics did not prepare me for the sort of work I want to do with disabled people.

As a Chinese doctor, I know that rehabilitation is still not well developed in China, and most people (patients and doctors alike) do not appreciate its importance. The main reason is that physical and occupational rehabilitation programs are simply not available to most patients. I realized that having some training in the field of rehabilitation might be my first step toward dedicating myself to disabled people in China.

I told my idea to all my friends and hoped to have their help and support. And my friends both heard and responded to my petition. In 2003, I participated in rehabilitation training in Hong Kong for one year. After that, I visited several rehabilitation centers in the United States during a three-month, cross-country trip to North America. I also enrolled a distance learning course of Rehabilitation Counseling from San Diego State University, USA. Today, I have the precious opportunity to come here in Tokyo. After this conference, I will have chance to visit some advanced rehabilitation facilities in Tokyo and Yamagata.

As for my current life, I am now living in a hospital room in my hometown Anshan. Everyday, I spend most of time studying my distance learning course, exchanging e-mails with my friends throughout the world, doing some translation work, etc. My wife left me soon after accident, taking my daughter away from me. My loving mother spends all her time with me now, taking care of all my activities of daily living. Usually, I have little chance going out of the hospital, for the transportation and streets are not accessible for my wheelchair. You may imagine that my daily life is a bit boring and dull. This is true to certain extent, but I prefer to believe that God works for the god of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Looking back, I cannot help but have a grateful heart. Of course, I don't mean that I prefer to go through that painful trauma if I could switch backward the time machine, relive my life or rewrite my life script. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that my paralysis has taught me many things that I would never have learned if I were on my feet. The disaster helped me realize how wonderful and valuable human life is, no matter whether it belongs to an able-bodied or disabled person. The disaster presents the beauty of human love vividly in front of me, while most people are suspicious of its existence in the current times. The great love I have experienced has proven to me that I should live meaningfully even though many people will continue to think I am a useless cripple.

I do not know exactly where God is leading me to. I am not sure what is going to happen tomorrow. Not long ago, when I was wondering if I really had made any fulfillment, my dear friend Dr. Aldis told me: "I am in no place to say that what you have should make you feel fulfilled. But I would never have DREAMED when I first met you that we would be having this conversation, have the memories we have now, and the plans for a future."

He is absolutely right! It is a miracle that I survived the disaster and lead such a life today. I should be (and am!) grateful for what I have experienced, achieved, and fulfilled over the past seven years. I believe that more miracles will happen tomorrow. I must have the determination to live every day to the full with meaning. I believe that God is in charge of my future and He has a plan for me. What I need to do now is to equip myself by studying hard and working hard, to make me well prepared, and wait patiently for His call.

Thank you for your attention!

Zhang Xu

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