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Zhou Lin's Dire Days
June 27, 2006 (Zhou Lin's 14th birthday)
Brecken Swartz
Zhou Lin had her foot amputation surgery for about 5-6 hours this morning, and her recovery so far today is turning out to be more difficult than the doctors expected. Apparently the quality of Zhou Lin's foot and ankle bones is pretty bad (one of the surgeons told me that her bones "could be cut with a butter knife" because of the poor post-burn treatment and three years of non-use), so they had to do a fair amount of scraping and chiseling away at the bones to get a sufficient place to suture the stump tissue. I never knew that tissue could be sutured to bones, but apparently so, and it's especially important in this case to get her stumps as strong and resilient as humanly possible.

Zhou Lin is in a great deal of pain -- "about the worst join pain possible," one doctor commented -- so the decision was made to put her on a lower-body epidural for 24 hours (the same kind a woman in labor would get), complemented by stiff doses of morphine every two hours. She has been vomiting and unable to keep down any fluids, and her fever has been over 101 degrees throughout the afternoon, so she is very uncomfortable whenever she wakes from the sedation. Because the nurses will need to communicate with Zhou Lin on and off throughout the night to check her pain level and make sure the epidural is okay, they've asked me to stay with Zhou Lin and her mom overnight. I'm grateful that Xu Lan is here also, so that she can take over for us tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow is expected to be the worst of Zhou Lin's recovery, because the epidural will be removed, and then she'll just have to tough out the foot pain (which is expected to be severe) between doses of morphine. The intensive care wing of the hospital, where we are now, is full of recently burned kids who cry out frequently in pain, so it's a bit of an intense atmosphere that makes it tough to rest. If Zhou Lin can make it through tomorrow without the epidural, she can hopefully be released on Thursday to the recovery wing of the hospital and settle down into a routine.

If any of you would like to send cards or mail for Zhou Lin, or Chinese magazines for Zhou Lin's mom to look at while she sits in the hospital, you can mail them to:

Zhou Lin
c/o Brecken Chinn Swartz
10 Emerson Place
Apartment 5B
Boston, MA 02114

Thanks so much for the prayers -- please keep them coming!

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Update -- Morning of June 28th.

It was a very rough night with Zhou Lin in the hospital overnight. Her epidural was apparently not working well, and the nurses were not authorized to increase her morphine dosage, so poor Zhou Lin wound up in lots of unexpected pain. (The morphine regime had been devised to supplement the epidural and it turned out not to be enough.) Her tears were so intense at times that I had to fight hard not to cry myself.

Zhou Lin's mom and I were given cots and tried to sleep for an hour or so here and there, but the incessant beeping of various machines and the constant activity of the nurses made it tough to sleep. When Zhou Lin's mom finally did get to sleep around 3:00am, I was asked to wake her so that I could interpret to have her sign a consent form to give Zhou Lin some blood because her hematocrit was getting dangerously low. Because of the big differences in American and Chinese legal cultures, I was worried that the littany of excessive legal disclosures given by the doctor (including the risk of AIDS) would overwhelm Zhou Lin's mom, particularly in her sleep-deprived fog of the wee hours. She has been concerned about Zhou Lin's fever, although the hospital staff say it is normal after such a big surgery, and she is especially eager to get her to eat something today.

The anesthetist is back this morning, trying to figure out what to do about Zhou Lin's epidural and pain regime in general. We are hoping that she can make it more smoothly through today so that she can be released to the recovery wing tomorrow. The nurses have been asking me to teach them some simple Chinese to help in their interactions with Zhou Lin (phrases like, "Does it hurt?," "Do you want your legs raised?," etc.), but they still want me to stay close by for translation support. So it will likely be another long day, and all your support and prayers are very much appreciated!

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