Back to Square One

Learning to appreciate family
APR 2019
Xiaoyue
G.
Operations Research Center

I just came back from Shanghai a week ago. It was my first trip home since I came to MIT in the summer of 2017. It’s been over a year and a half.

I saw a lot of friends and family on this trip, including my high school math teacher. He told me the story of his wife giving birth to their twin daughters 6 months ago. His wife stayed at a famous hospital in Shanghai for two weeks in the middle of the pregnancy. The doctor took many ultrasounds for them and kept reassuring them that everything was fine. However, his wife knew something was wrong. She couldn’t eat or sleep because her whole body hurt. Finally the doctor agreed to take a special kind of advanced type-B ultrasound with colors, and it showed that the umbilical cords of the two fetuses were tangled together, and one twin was sending blood to the other twin. Her condition was in a very late stage already, and there was a high chance of death for all three of them.

There were only 3 hospitals in China that could perform the surgery necessary to save my teacher’s wife, and only one doctor in Shanghai. Moreover, it’s super hard to reach a famous doctor in Shanghai, a city with 24 million people. My teacher reached out to all the parents of his past students for any help or information for contacting that doctor. Finally, one parent learnt that the doctor was very busy because he was going to be the chair of an international medical conference in Shanghai in the next days. My teacher immediately took a cab to the hotel of the conference. He begged the receptionist to tell him the room number of the famous doctor.

The doctor saw the reports and was furious. He said all the earlier reports that said the wife was fine were clearly wrong, because some numbers in the results were impossible for humans. It should have been obvious to the previous doctors that the machine must have been faulty and they should not have trusted the results, which delayed the diagnosis. By that time, the calf of my teacher’s wife was thinner than my teacher’s forearm.

Finally, after realizing the difficult condition, the doctor agreed to proceed with the surgery. After more excruciating moments, the surgery to separate the umbilical cords of the two fetuses was successful and the twin daughters were finally born after a couple months.

As I listened to the end of the story, I felt so happy for him that his family was intact and happy. I was reminded of how vulnerable and precious life is. I also felt some extreme anger. I wanted the first hospital to be punished. So I was really surprised to learn that my high school teacher and his family did not plan to sue the hospital. If they did, they would possibly get a million yuan (nearly $150,000 USD) in compensation. However, he said, his wife told him not to. She said the most important thing was for their family to stay healthy and together. He said that after everything they’ve been through, now he agrees with her on everything.

This is not how I remembered him from high school. He was competitive, and he taught us to be competitive. But of course I understand. After all these times that he could have lost his wife and his two children, he just wanted to cherish being together with the twins and not waste time on anything else.

Then I reflected on myself. Why haven’t I been home for 1.5 years? It was because I feared that staying at home would make me work less efficiently. I didn’t want to miss research meetings. I had all these deadlines that were set by others and set by myself. Even this trip was not really planned. It was a moment of weakness when most of my friends were gone and I was missing home so much during Christmas that I bought the tickets.

But when I heard the joy in my parents’ voice when I told them I’m finally coming home, when I saw the tears in my mom’s eyes when she and Dad hugged me at the arrival gate at the airport, and when I finally saw my parents and their grey hair, I could not help feeling like I had been missing out on the more important things in life. Being alive, being present, and being with your loved ones is such a blessing already. I habitually put that behind just because that’s where I started out in life, and there seemed to be nothing glorious or competitive about it. Family always seemed like something that could wait, but I realized that I didn’t want to wait until it was too late. The pure bliss we feel at home, safe and sound, is priceless.

We always want to travel farther and faster, but distance loses its meaning when we forget where we started out from. From time to time, perhaps we should all remember to go back to square one and enjoy life in its simplest form, with our loved ones.