Every human, if they aren’t German or a nervous midwestern boy like I used to be, understands the power of human touch. Sometimes that’s a hug, or a squeeze to the shoulder. Sometimes it’s more complicated. There was a fantastic TED talk by a doctor who is convinced that the basic physical exam, thumping the chest, using a stethoscope, is not an obsolete set of tools but a fundamental human ritual that establishes trust and care. Underlying it all is something simple and primal: physical contact with a human being. I was very lucky. I experienced extra doses of all of these today when I needed it most.
The ride to the Taipei hospital was surreal. I had been convinced that I would be able to walk to the subway, but when it was time to go I couldn’t even figure out how to open the door. I would never have made it to the hospital without Nikita Chen. I couldn’t concentrate. She realized what was happening and insisted on taking me over on her scooter.
It was raining. She made me wear a helmet. I climbed on and with a quiet purrrat the scooter motor threw us out onto the wet streets. It was dreamlike. A strange and wonderful world drifted past us as I sat in one place. Being in contact with another human being, holding on to keep from being tossed onto the street, was transformative. I was lost. Confused. But I felt safe as the rainy streets slipped by beneath the scooter tires, my body bounced by bumps and rocks along the way, hanging on to a physical warm assurance that it would all be ok.
After helping me fumble through the hospital Nikita left me with a doctor. He talked to me, incredibly, in Chinese I could almost understand. We used Chinese for about half of our meeting at first and then switched to a mixture of English and Chinese. He was very patient, showed real concern, and then began a ritual that radically elevated the experience and separated this visit from all of my visits to the best Chinese hospital we visited. He took my arm. He did a blood pressure check by hand, with a stethoscope. He used the stethoscope to examine my chest. He used his hands to check muscle strength and response. He looked into my eyes and checked my tongue. I have no idea what, if anything he learned. But I felt so reassured that I finally relaxed, for the first time, and could imagine that maybe there would be a solution. Maybe I could be helped. I could let someone else take over for a moment and do what they do best.
Thank you Nikita. Thank you Gunter, who is helping me back to the hospital tomorrow morning. Thank you family practice doctor, who’s name looked so familiar to me until I realized that it was “回答”，which means, “answer”, and was in fact the place on the note that he wrote for the other doctor to reply.