In between our two visits to Beijing several things had changed. The weather was noticeably colder although it never snowed and rarely rained. Even on days when the tops of buildings were not enveloped in smog, many people wore surgical masks. Something had been changing in me, too: my strength and stamina had noticeably lessened. Walking even a short distance along a familiar route required more effort than three months earlier. On one of our rare trips downtown as we walked along a major thoroughfare—separated by the usual distance between us—the thought came to me: What if someone had shouted, “Run for your life!” I couldn’t have done it. If it meant ending my life flat on a Beijing sidewalk, so be it.
My initial meeting with Wong took place a few days before the device designed to deliver chemotherapy directly into my spinal fluid was to be inserted. This never took place, for he immediately made clear that his herbs and chemo were incompatible. “While the substances I’ll prescribe are not dangerous they’re very potent. Our bodies cannot handle both the herbs and chemo. You’ll have to choose.” At that very moment in what amounted to a leap of faith I decided to take the “Eastern route,” and place myself in his hands. I canceled the hospital admission. At a time when my life appeared to be nearing its end—I didn’t realize it until much later—he had just thrown me a lifeline.
Two women in white coats approached. Dr. Tse looked to be in her thirties, wore glasses and had a warm smile. Dr. Hu, probably in her forties was polite but less than friendly. As Dr. Tse excused herself her colleague ushered us into a cluttered examining room and began leafing through reports that I’d brought along. From across the room I tried to decipher her body language. She immediately looked displeased and constantly took issue with what George was saying. “Bushi! Bushi! Bushi!” (No! No! No!), she exclaimed. Given my history she was appalled that a recent bone scan hadn’t been done, which months later proved prescient.
“She wants to do an ultrasound on your abdomen. Can you climb onto the table?” George said. As instructed I opened my pants and slipped the top of my tights down a couple of inches. This done, a nurse applied a glob of jelly to my abdomen. Glancing at the screen, Dr. Hu immediately pointed out my prostate gland, inside which lay an irregular, 2.5 × 3cm mass. “How long has he had that cancer?” she asked. “Nine years.” George replied. “That’s biologically impossible!” she exclaimed angrily. Contempt for “Traditional Chinese Medicine” and its herbs was written all over her face. Beyond this she did not see any scar tissue, and pronounced my vessels “normal.” The nurse handed me some paper towels. As I wiped off the jelly and got dressed she asked, “Do you need help?” “No thanks,” I replied, surprised by her English. She was attractive, unusually tall, wore her hair short and had strikingly high cheekbones. Her name was “Crystal”.
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