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Zhou Lin's Autumn in Boston
November 25, 2006
Brecken Swartz
After Zhou Lin completed her eight surgeries at Shriners in Boston over the summer, she was released from the hospital on October 1st, placed in my care 24 hours a day -- a bit of an overwhelming responsibility. Shriners provided a room for us at the local YMCA in Charlestown, and we've been doing our best to keep up with all the medical care, physical therapy, washing, creaming, splinting, exercising, education, and nutrition that staff at the hospital recommend for her. We've also been taking as many chances as we can to get out and enjoy the Boston area. We were invited to Zhou Lin's first football game at Harvard, which was fun but left Zhou Lin completely confused about American football (which, alas, I am totally unable to explain to her).

Medically, Zhou Lin is doing wonderfully. After a summer of rather distressing weight loss, Zhou Lin is finally starting to put on a bit of weight, due largely to her increasing taste for American food. When she arrived in the US at the beginning of June, she weighed in at about 72 pounds, but a few months later the hospital was dismayed to discover her weight at 62 pounds, which at first caused tremendous concern until we all realized that some of that decreased weight had been due the loss of her feet. Amputation notwithstanding, Zhou Lin was indeed a very reluctant eater throughout the summer, which surprised no one because of the general foreignness of food offerings here and the blah-ness of hospital food in particular, but she has come a long way now that she is out of the hospital. She is now a big fan of both pizza and ice cream, which is a relief because she is finally starting to get more of the calcium in her diet that she so desperately needs to strengthen her osteoporitic bones. When she weighed in at the hospital in Springfield in early November, she was up to 67 pounds, which looks great on her but now makes her worry about getting too "fat." We tell her she's got a long way to go before she's even up to a normal weight, much less fat, and with all the increased exercise she is doing now, she seems to be gaining both muscle mass and bone density and looking healthier than ever.

Soon after she became an outpatient, Zhou Lin and I were both delighted in early October to have a visit from my father, whom Zhou Lin right away started affectionately calling "Grampa." Different languages aside, the two of them hit it off marvelously, and spent lots of time together reading books, taking walks around the city, shopping, and stringing tiny beads in the hospital playroom (which my Dad was humbled to discover came easier to Zhou Lin, even without fingers, than it did for him). With my Dad in town, we had more excuses to eat out than we normally do, and Zhou Lin discovered that American restaurants really aren't all that bad -- especially the ones with cool kids menus.

Although she had spent most of the summer months in the hospital, Zhou Lin was happy while it was still warm to be invited to visit a beach for the first time, in Marblehead just north of Boston. Since her mother had already returned to China and Zhou Lin really wanted her mom to be able to see the ocean, Zhou Lin took along a small videocamera loaned to her by a nice independent filmmaker at Cambridge Community Television, the local public-access channel, and did some filming to take back to her family in China. We were amazed to find how remarkably at ease Zhou Lin is, both behind and in front of the camera. She has even started contemplating a career in film someday.

As Zhou Lin has turned into more of a "girl about town," the very exposed nature of her little foot stumps (which we simply call "feet") was becoming increasingly obvious. After noting the size of the shoes on her teddy bear, we decided to visit the Build-a-Bear store in Quincy Market, just to see if the shoes sold for teddy bears there would fit Zhou Lin's tiny feet, and amazingly, they did. The girls working there that evening had a marvelous time doing a shoe fitting for Zhou Lin (their first human shoe customer!), and we walked away with a pair of little sneakers, a pair of pink suede boots, two pairs of furry slippers, two pairs of frilly socks, and a bunch of free stuff from the girls at the store, who were blown away by Zhou Lin's remarkably positive attitude.

Indeed, Zhou Lin's attitude is amazing to everyone who meets her. Zhou Lin hasn't shied away from anything so far. We've been swimming in the YMCA pool, where she was gently lowered into the water by a wheelchair-accessible chair lift and then later (when she got cold) carried to warm up in the sauna by a muscular lifeguard. Zhou Lin has come to really enjoy bathing, which she was only able to do every few weeks when she was in China using boiled water out of a basin. She loves water and says she can't wait to ride on a boat someday and hopefully see a whale up close.

Zhou Lin also went this fall for her first horseback ride on a small pony at a local pumpkin farm, where we were invited by a reporter from the Boston Globe who has been working on a feature story about Zhou Lin. Joe Kahn and his family invited us to visit their home, where we got to pet their cats, bake brownies, collect and paint rocks, and play on the kids' trampoline. The Kahn family even made arrangements for Zhou Lin to visit their children's elementary school, where she was greeted with such enthusiasm that she commented to me on the way home: "I can't believe Emma's teacher welcomed me so warmly to their classroom. If someone asked a teacher in China if a handicapped person could visit their classroom, the teacher would think they were crazy." Zhou Lin has been amazed at the accessibility here in the US -- the ramps, elevators, and other accommodations that make life manageable for people in wheelchairs.

Since she has been here through the fall, Zhou Lin has missed going to school in China, but she has been grateful for her lessons from Chinese graduate students from Park Street Church, who also held a wonderful Moon Festival Party for Zhou Lin, complete with mooncakes, traditional fruits and snacks, and lots of memorable warm wishes. Zhou Lin has also been especially excited to start receiving art lessons from Zhou Lanhui ("Chris Chou"), a graduate student majoring in art at Boston University. Her father is from the same region of Sichuan Province that Zhou Lin is from, and Zhou Lin has been having fun teaching her teacher some of the native dialect. Lanhui's tutoring has been excellent for Zhou Lin, who is coming to understand art in a much more sophisticated way. They even visited the Museum of Fine Art in Boston together, and Zhou Lin says that she can't wait to hold her next art auction to hopefully help finally pay off her family's debts. She has been dismayed every time she talks to her family on the phone how much trouble they are still going through because of the remaining money they owe which was paid to the hospital to save Zhou Lin's and her sister's lives. Even though Zhou Lin knows that the fire wasn't her fault, she still feels responsible to do something to help get her family's life back to normal again.

Before transitioning to the Shriners Orthopedic Hospital in Springfield, we were able to take a week down in my hometown of Washington DC, where we had a wonderful time connecting with family and friends. Although we were so busy with visiting that we didn't have much time for touring, Zhou Lin did get to see the Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial up close (thank heaven for wheelchair-accessible parking!), and she got to spend an afternoon at VOA, where a documentary is under way about her journey.

Zhou Lin says the highlight of the trip to DC was being able to go trick-or-treating with her god-brothers, Paul and Shawn. She loved being able to visit so many American homes, and thought the one house where the father came to the door dressed as a howling wolf was weird but absolutely hilarious. When we got home, she meticulously organized her candy, none of which she had ever tried before. Zhou Lin has decided that American candy is pretty good, although she still prefers the Tic-Tacs that Grampa gave her while he was here.

Stay tuned for exciting updates from Springfield. Thanks to Shriners Hospital and especially to Terence Leong in New York for helping us afford a place to lodge there!

By the way, Zhou Lin now has email. She loves to receive and reply to messages from friends, so please feel free to send her something at:
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