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Zhou Lin's Week Before Surgery
June 20, 2006
Brecken Swartz
We finally have an admission date scheduled for Zhou Lin's first surgery -- next Tuesday, June 27th. (Just about 3 weeks after her arrival here.) Two surgeons, our burn specialist from Shriners, Dr. Rob Sheridan, and our orthopedic specialist from Mass General Hospital, Dr. Brian Grottkau, will collaborate on the surgery. They will amputate the front parts of both of Zhou Lin's feet and use her natural sole skin to seal over the stumps. She'll be off her feet for several weeks after the surgery while the skin heals, so we're trying to get in all of the fun activities now that we can.

Zhou Lin has been assigned a rehabilitation therapist at Shriners, who has given her exercises to do each day to strengthen her arms and trunk to prepare to bear her weight as she starts to use a walker later on. Zhou Lin likes to get up and around by herself as much as possible, and she is now using the wheelchair like a pro. Today when we were waiting for our therapist in the rehabilitation room at the hospital, I stepped out for a second to ask a nurse a question, and by the time I got back in the room, Zhou Lin had wheeled herself over to the parallel bars, stood up, and walked the entire way down to the end. She is definitely trying to prepare her arms for the work ahead.

The local gym here at the apartment complex has reduced their rates so that we can take Zhou Lin there for strengthening exercises. She enjoys their arm machines, although her mom and Xu Lan are a bit mystified by all the high-tech cardiovascular equipment there. There is a lovely pool with a handicapped seat that goes into the water, which we hope to get Zhou Lin to try out at least once before she gets admitted to the hospital. She picked out a swimsuit at Old Navy over the weekend, but she's still getting up her nerve to get in the water.

We've been spending increasing amounts of time at Shriners Hospital, to help Zhou Lin get used to the environment there (particularly the air conditioning, which is tough for her). She shudders every time I mention the hospital cafeteria, since she's definitely not a fan of American food. (When I asked Zhou Lin what the most surprising thing about America was, she told me that she had no idea we eat different food here.) Today, though, I managed to take her to the cafeteria to teach her how to use a fork and knife, and she did brilliantly, managing to cut up her pork chops, potato patty, and boiled carrots like a pro.

As we sat there, we even got a visit from two Shriners, who were delighted to meet her, and a surprise visit from her new Dominican friend Vladimir. When Vladimir approached Zhou Lin from behind and covered her eyes with his hands, I thought she would be terrified, but she just gave him her classic charming smile. Even though Vladimir and Zhou Lin can't speak a word of each other's languages, they are clearly happy to be friends who can commiserate while they are in the hospital.

Speaking of charming smiles, we got a weekend visit from Zhou Lin's new friend Jimmy (a college student from Georgia who is teaching tennis at a Harvard tennis camp); he accompanied us on a visit to the Boston Museum of Science on Saturday. We enjoyed the museum's live butterfly garden, checked out a 3-D movie about elephants and rhinos, and saw an IMAX movie on dolphins (which made Zhou Lin quite dizzy). Zhou Lin and her mom were a bit overwhelmed by the Museum of Science -- especially the huge Van de Graaf electric generators with their noisy bursts of electricity -- so we had to head home in the middle of the day to rest. (Luckily, the museum was nice enough to stamp our tickets so that we can return again another time.) Jimmy came home with us and did puzzles and played a math game with Zhou Lin in the afternoon. She is very stoic around him (won't smile much), but I think she does enjoy his company.

Zhou Lin's mother has been having an interesting time getting used to things here, too -- the dryers in the basement laundry room, the strange food we eat. During a picnic at the hospital, Zhou Lin's mom tried to eat her hamburger bun plain, and when I encouraged her to put something on it, she plopped a brownie on it. The evening after we went to the Science Museum, we decided to chill out and watch TV in the evening, so Zhou Lin's mom disappeared into her room to retrieve her 3-D glasses. Xu Lan and I told her that the TV and the 3-D movies were different, and we all enjoyed a good laugh together. We all laugh at ourselves a lot these days.

We're trying to get out of the apartment at least once each day, so I've taken Zhou Lin, her mom, and her teacher Xu Lan around Boston as much as they are able to handle. (They all tend to get tired and overwhelmed fairly quickly in this new environment.) One evening, we walked over to the bustling Quincy Market area, where the only food we could find that they were willing to eat was hot dogs, which they choked down stoically while they watched a group of boisterous African-American graduates dancing in the streets with great amusement. Once they got home, they had to eat some boiled turnips, which was what they really wanted all along. (No worries about blowing our budget on lobster tail or anything, thankfully.)

While we were at Quincy Market, we let Zhou Lin make a teddy bear in the Build-a-Bear store for her younger sister back in China. Zhou Lin laughed hysterically the entire time in the store, just blown away by the extent of the clothes and accessories available to dress her new bear. She finally selected a retro pink poodle skirt outfit and made a birth certificate for her bear, whom she named "Zhou Yan." After I told the ladies at the cashier counter that Zhou Lin would be going in the hospital soon, they gave her a lovely "Hello Kitty" pajama outfit for Zhou Yan to sleep in while she accompanies Zhou Lin through her surgery.

We've also received a warm welcome to Boston from the local fire department. A couple of firemen met Zhou Lin at the Shriners picnic and invited her to come over to the firehouse one day to check out the big fire truck, which should be fun. Zhou Lin is not at all squeamish about fire, and the last time I saw her turn on the television, she flipped through the channels until she found an action movie about firemen trapped in a burning building, which she watched with great interest. I asked her if she was scared by the rather intense scenes in the movie, and she said no, definitely not.

Today when Zhou Lin and I were at the hospital, she asked me if we could someday open a free hospital in China for burned kids there who aren't able to get help. She wants to open it in Chengdu, the capital of her province. I told her that opening a hospital like Shriners would take a lot of work, and might take a long time. But she was not discouraged. Zhou Lin is doing all she can right now -- exercising, studying, and painting a colorful painting every single day now in hopes that somehow it might make a difference for someone else.

We will definitely hold an auction of Zhou Lin's paintings, so please stay tuned!

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