One fall I was in a serious one-vehicle accident. The university Foreign Affairs Office (FAO) had taken all their foreign teachers and foreign students on a weekend trip to a poverty-stricken area where the local authorities wanted to develop tourism. As is the manner in China, the van we were riding in was grossly overcrowded and the driver lost control on a curve. We rolled down a shallow embankment, coming to rest on the side of the van where I was sitting. When I came to I was the only person inside; so, I thought lazily that I should get out too, or “they” would worry about me. I knocked the glass out of the cracked window, crawled up a slight incline, and sat down heavily on a mound of mud to survey everybody. The others had been pulled out and were lying on the ground, shoes and socks scattered about. A Japanese student was on hands and knees, vomiting. Probably a concussion, I thought dimly. Another Japanese student had only one shoe on.
When people saw me they gasped and started to run toward me, but I waved them away. Having had a little medical training, I knew I had spinal injuries and was having difficulty holding my head up. As I looked around I began to pray for those lying stretched out. A peasant lady offered me some pink crepe paper, toilet paper, but I refused, so she slipped around behind me and slapped it in my hand then plopped my hand on my head. After a long while I realized that I was supposed to hold the paper to my head to stop the bleeding, but the motion hurt, so I stopped after a few moments. My jacket, shoes, pants were covered with blood but I was unconcerned.
The peasants only had bicycles and tricycle-trucks with which they carried vegetables, etc. and they offered these to take us to the ferry to go to the nearest hospital. While making arrangements to get us to the hospital they took us to the island infirmary to wash off the blood and make a more accurate assessment of injuries. I sat quietly and looked around to make my own evaluation of needs and prayed God’s mercy on those with obvious injuries. In fact, I also felt nauseous but braced myself in the straight-back chair and continued to pray for us all. At last vans came and we boarded in pairs so that each foreign student had someone to translate, but I was the only English speaker and was overlooked in the confusion.
As shock began to wear off at the hospital I put someone’s great coat over my trembling shoulders to keep warm. (A great coat, which the Chinese wear in the winter, is like a very thick army blanket cut as a coat.) Possibly an hour later when everyone had been attended to, I was noticed. I was lifted up on a gurney and taken to an operating theater. My eyes widened at the sight of needles and other equipment. What did they intend to do? What did they think was wrong with me?
“No, no, no,” I repeated over and over.
They tried to explain that I needed help but I wanted to know exactly what kind of help they proposed! At last someone was found who could speak a little English and I asked him to show me that their instruments were sterile since it was common practice to use and reuse needles, for example. They thought, and at last someone ran to get some autoclaved instruments still wrapped in sterile towels, so I reluctantly agreed to their stitching up the obvious lacerations in my scalp and neck.
Several men carried me on a stretcher up three flights of stairs to a room where I was transferred to a bed. Four or five men dressed in suits stood looking very grave. The nurses tried to get me to lie down but the pain in my legs, neck and back was so sharp my head was silent by comparison. When I tried to pull a folded quilt to the head of the bed where I could lean back on it, they helped me, but then I continued to writhe and sob quietly.
A nurse took my blood pressure and when I saw the reading I knew I’d better make an effort to calm down since there were no medications for that purpose. Somebody brought warm water and I drank eagerly. Somebody else brought antibiotics and pain pills. Relief! The watching officials would occasionally try to offer condolences and I tried to say in my limited Chinese that I would be all right. Later, our FAO (Foreign Affairs Office) Director told me they thought I was dying.
Mrs. Zhu, the university FAO Director, arrived at last and I asked to return to the hotel where the group was staying for the night. My Japanese roommate could get my supper and see that there was enough water in the thermoses to drink. The lady doctor insisted that I prove that I could walk and manage the squat toilets. It took some effort but I was determined, so at last she allowed me to go back to the hotel.
Peasants in the countryside are very poor and the hospitals don’t have adequate medicines to treat the most basic needs, such as local anesthetics for sewing up wounds, or even general anesthetics for surgeries. They gave me their best, however – a local anesthetic for the scalp. And they were as careful as they knew how to be. In fact, I marveled at their gentleness and caution. Much later when our FAO Director arrived, they asked through her if I could accept a penicillin injection and I said I could. The “barefoot doctor”, a minimally trained peasant, decided to be cautious and scratched my skin as a test. Immediately I broke out in a rash, probably because I was emotionally overwrought. The next morning I still reacted to the penicillin scratch test but told the doctor not to worry because I had had a tetanus injection in the States before coming to China, the American tetanus being good for ten years. She was incredulous although respectful.
I awoke early and went outside in the brisk autumn air to walk so that I wouldn’t get stiff from bouncing around in the van the day before. As others woke they found me outside and asked what I thought I was doing. Mrs. Zhu was pleased to see me exercising. She said a Chinese would do the same thing.
To my delight the three Japanese students who had been so seriously injured were able to travel and were in good spirits. One of the boys had been hallucinating after the accident but now he was stable. The journey back to our university was more than six hours long and our driver who had back injuries from the wreck was braving his pain to continue as our driver. We trusted his driving and clapped and cheered that he drove even though a substitute had been found. In keeping with Chinese hospitality, we were met by our university authorities and given a dinner with speeches of apology. We were too exhausted to appreciate the food or speeches, though. It had been a long weekend.
The following Monday I had no classes but got no rest because delegations of officials came with fruit, and students came to offer to do my vegetable shopping and cooking. Everyone brought medicines to help me recover quickly. The FAO Director was very caring of me and tried to persuade me to take x-rays. I refused so they offered an MRI, which I knew they really couldn’t afford, so I steadfastly refused any medical examination. I knew I had spinal injuries and possibly some broken ribs, but the general policy of that university was to send foreigners home if their injuries were extensive and I had no intention of going home.
Lying down at night was pure torture but the injuries eventually healed. Meantime, I told the FAO Director, who translated for the city doctor now tending me, that the students with concussions recovered so quickly because I prayed for them. She had been to America as a visiting scholar, so she understood when I explained that God loves us all, even those who don’t believe in Him. My 17 huge stitches came out easily within seven days and the doctor was impressed with my rapid recovery. He commented that I had recovered more quickly than a young man who practiced qi gong, explaining that qi gong was the power he used when people needed more than what medicine could do for them.
In the week immediately following the accident there were many opportunities to tell what happened and why my recovery was so rapid. Students listened with rapt attention and privately asked for Bibles. Long term teachers in China don’t usually keep such items but I was able to obtain Bibles for those who asked. I was invited to an English Corner (a weekly informal outdoor meeting to practice English conversation with native speakers) where a student asked how I could be so well educated and still believe in the superstition of God and Jesus.
I answered with the analogy of the cosmos being more complex than a watch. If a watch were taken apart to make six pieces, and the six pieces were shaken in a box, how long would it take for the watch to be reassembled?
“Well, never!” was the indignant answer.
“Then how can one think that a living cell, which is far more complex than a watch, could be formed in any unit of time?”
Some students gasped as they understood what I was asking. But apparently the university officials were displeased because English Corner was suspended with no reason given for the remainder of the semester. The accident, my injuries and rapid recovery was a springboard to discussions about Jesus that I could never have had otherwise.
“Herald and preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency….
whether the opportunity seems to be favorable or unfavorable,
whether it is convenient or inconvenient,
whether it be welcome or unwelcome….
being unflagging and inexhaustible
in patience and teaching (II Tim. 4:2).”