MSI-OPERATION EYESIGHT Sharing Light – Saving Sight

After our very successful mission ventures in Huili, the second phase of Operation Eyesight made its debut at the Liangshan Prefecture, Second Hospital, in China, Sichuan Province, Xichang, from November 1-24, 2002.  The Health Authorities ‘trusted’ us sufficiently to allow us to get closer to larger municipalities.

They allowed/‘invited’ us to send two teams to a much larger city than Huili, to Xichang, to launch the second phase of our Operation Eyesight.  At this hospital we taught 6 doctors, 3 male and 3 female.  One of our goals this time was also to teach them that if everything were kept clean and sterile as possible we could do eye surgery using the mobile trailer so graciously provided to us by Gansu Inc., another eye operation working in China.  The first USA team had 9 members.  The second team was from Hong Kong, with 8 members.

The two teams overlapped to ensure continuity of the project.  Our local consultants, Dr. Cai and his wife (Dr. Lu) joined the first team; Ms Amy Fan, MSI staff in Hong Kong, watched over the Hong Kong team.  We were also blessed to have the long termers (missionaries) in Xichang to support us during our work there.  Again, all members were gifted, creative, and hard working; we could not envision a happier affiliation!

The USA team gathered in Hong Kong after flying across international waters for more than 17 hours. After transiting in Hong Kong, the team flew to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, for another 2.5 hours.  The team was then briefed by the long termers in Chengdu before catching the evening train and traveled another 10 hours to reach Xichang, our final destination.

We arrived at the Xichang train station shortly before dawn.  After quickly unloading more than 25 suitcases of supplies from the train, we were astonished by the decked out local officials and ladies dressed in beautiful native costumes to be greeting us so early in the morning and presenting each of us a fresh bouquet of beautiful flowers.

All team members checked in at the MSI Hostel and our food (3 meals a day) was provided by the Liangshan Prefecture Second Hospital.  The accommodation was comfortable.  The food was fresh, delicious and plentiful.  We were hosted to special banquets on several occasions and participated in local folk music and dances.

We gathered each morning for a short devotion, then, after a quick breakfast, walked to the hospital to start our work.  The mornings were spent on surgery; afternoons were reserved to see patients, and have discussions & lectures with local doctors.  We gathered each evening at the hostel to share and reflect on the day’s events and have evening devotions.

On the fourth day of our arrival, an official opening ceremony was held at the hospital campus before Government Officials, TV broadcasters, reporter’s flashing cameras, guests, MSI and Hospital hosts and spectators.  Our leader, George Chin was given the opportunity to share about our long friendship with Xichang and emphasize why we were there: to provide up to-date-eye care to the people in Xichang and try to shift them from blindness into seeing.

Our goals of launching the second phase in Xichang were:
1.  To teach them how to treat and prevent blindness, through lectures, videos and discussion of various eye diseases.

2.  To try to evaluate the trailer and possibly start surgery in the trailer.

3.  Train the local eye doctors and nurses through surgery in the trailer and hospital.

Initially, we had requested the hospital to line up 30 patients for us as the first phase of our operation.  Prior to our arrival, the number had already soared to 115.  When news of our arrival got out, a further influx of patients came and the number rose to over 300. After discussion with the hospital and careful selection, we registered 241 cases.  This large number had come as a great surprise and we were ill-prepared to treat that many. During the short 12 working days, with the full cooperation of the hospital staff, we successfully ‘taught’ the staff and operated on over 100 cataract surgeries and carried out the same number of intraocular lens implants.  The youngest patient was a 3 year old and the oldest was over 80.  There were also cases of glaucoma which were successfully operated.  All cases were without complication and the patients were delighted with their newly gained vision.  The hospital administration and local authorities were very pleased and proud of our achievements.  Many were also moved by the love displayed by each team member.  ‘Preaching always, using words only when necessary.’

We decided to return the following year to set up the trailer.  After a formal evaluation conducted with the hospital administration, the hospital presented each member a souvenir tea set. We gave the hospital a large plaque as a token of our appreciation for their friendship and partnership in the project.

Before we departed Xichang, we gave them sufficient surgical supplies and encouraged them to complete the cases registered on their list, reassuring them that they now possessed adequate skills to accomplish the needed tasks to carry on.

The following year, I recruited and convinced two of my Bainbridge Island Bethany Lutheran friends, Allen Lang and Jim Rorhscheib to go back to Xichang with me.  They were instrumental in setting up the mobile operating unit and Dr. George Chin taught the local doctor in the trailer while I taught the staff at the hospital OR.  Again, we had a great and successful experience.  Everyone treated us sincerely, respectfully and warmly even though most of us had a profound language barrier.

Towards the last days of our stay, I asked if Allen and Jim were interested in getting a suit to take home.  We surveyed several shops and settled on getting identical dark virgin Australian wool material tailor-made suits for $42 for each of us.  The tailor asked me if he could charge the ‘foreigners’ a little more like $10.  I told him that though most Chinese consider the white people are all rich, they are all actually hard working people like all of us and just trying to get by.  I told him they are also volunteers on my team.  He agreed and we got our suits ordered.

As we were leaving town we went to pick up our suits, mine was finished except for needing the buttons to be sewn on.  The female doctor whom I had worked with was with us to wish us ‘goodbye’.  She was scolding the tailor for ‘cheating’ us and charging us too much.  I was also chatting rather loudly with his staff.  My two friends Allen and Jim thought we were arguing and volunteered to pay the tailor more.  He refused to accept their money and informed them that Chinese always talked like that and no matter the price, it’s always too much.  He tried to convince them that we were passing time just waiting for my buttons to be sewn.  We assured them that we were not in a fight!  Cultural differences!!

In the rush to board our train, we were not placed in our proper bunk-bed section.  I told the group that I’d go to the front of the train to get our assignment while they squeezed together and guarded our luggage.   While there at the assignment station, there was a large throng of passengers yelling at the station manager and at each other.  I thought I could not out yell them, and as a Christian example, I’d wait for the mayhem to die down before going forward.  After about ten minutes, I finally heard my name called and I raised my hand and moved forward.  When I finally reached his counter, the clerk admonished me for not being more proactive and that he’d called me three times and was almost giving my allocated bunks away!  So much for trying to set an example of patience.  Cultural difference, all over again!!

MSI Mission: China, Sichuan, Huili,— Continued

After posting my report to Huili, many other thoughts came back to mind that I also wish to communicate.  On the day prior to our departure, we had convened a final evaluation meeting for 3 pm in the afternoon.  Having finished the morning surgery around noon and treated to lunch by 1:15, I had an hour to do some sightseeing.  I hailed a bicycle taxi and had him show me the city.  He rode me around and proudly showed me all the new construction and new businesses coming and had me back to the hospital by 2:15.  I tried to pay him but he refused saying it was his pleasure to meet and speak with me.  He said they all know why I was there and that the whole town was grateful.  I walked along the street and stopped to get a haircut with a head message, again the hair dresser refused my money.  When I left the barber shop, my shoes were polished as new with a note, ‘thanks, xie xie.’  My team was organizing a party for that evening, so as I passed a woman roasting chestnuts and watermelon seeds, I asked her to get me 4 bags of each.  She asked when I would be passing by again.  I answered around 4:30.  She said she’s not giving me anything off the shelves, but would have fresh roasted ones for me later.

I attended our final evaluation meeting and was very satisfied by their heartfelt appreciation.  I then went to the cook whom I asked to acquire for me some Sichuan hot pepper and their unique pepper corn.  I have 20 cousins in Seattle and when asked what they’d like me to bring back, they requested these spices.  I was thinking of giving each cousin one lb of hot pepper and ½ lb of the numbing pepper corn, but due to missed communication the cook got me the quantities in kilograms!  In the corner of the kitchen was a huge pile of these spices.  She had a helper wheel barrow them to my hotel.  What was I to do?  How could I accommodate such a huge amount?  I decided to give away all my clothing except for one set of change collected in my backpack and proceeded to stuff the spices into the my largest piece of luggage.

I picked up my order of chestnuts and watermelon seeds, and again the woman refused any payment but showed genuine gratitude for my helping her town people.

My team was really talented and we had a great party.  It turned out that it was Dr. Hwang’s daughter’s 13th birthday and she had invited friends to her house, but we had them all come over and celebrated with various games and concluded with a huge cake.  She was most happy, surprised and embarrassed.

On our return flight we checked back to USA territory in Vancouver, BC.  Customs had us place our suitcases on the conveyer belt so the dogs could sniff the contents of each.  When they came to my luggage, the dogs all backed off and started howling and coughing.  The inspector came over immediately and commanded me to take my extra large bag to be inspected by the officer.  I was terrified.  Was this illegal?  Would they be heavily taxing me or accessing a huge fine?  I had only 30 minutes to board my plane, how long would they delay me?

As I move along my line, seeing every suitcase being manually inspected, I became really nervous.  Then I noticed that my inspector appeared to be an Asian.  As I approached him, he asked where I’d been.  I told him in Chinese I was on a medical mission to Sichuan, China.  So he responded in Chinese, so you must have brought back some spices.  I answered affirmative.  He then warned me to answer clear and loudly.  “Are there any fresh fruit or plants in your bag?”  I replied at full volume, “Oh no, nothing fresh whatsoever, only some dried spices.”  Then he said OK, ‘let us not open it, we won’t be able to put it back together’ and let me pass.  How do you spell RELIEF!!

I returned to Huili the next year.  Far in the distance, I saw Dr. Hwang pacing about.  When the bus stopped, he waited patiently and as I got off the bus, he hugged me enthusiastically.  Then we met the other staff of the hospital and were ushered into the hospital conference room to meet and greet.

That evening they held a welcome dinner for us.  Dr. Hwang sat at my left, and the hospital director sat at my right.  During dinner, the director said to me that he felt hurt and slighted.  I inquired why?  He said that when I got off the bus, I gave Dr. Hwang an immense hug like I really missed him, but only reached out and politely shook his hand.  I informed him that through our MSI organization that we Americans were told not to show any emotions and only to respond with politely shaking hands.  He reminded me that I was still Chinese and I should know better that among true friends, we don’t just shake hands.  I asked the photographer to take a picture of the three of us, Dr. Hwang, the Hospital Director and me having a massive group hug.

The second mission trip was equally successful as the first.  I am truly grateful to meet these wonderful people and to have had the privilege to be of service in my capacity to my fellow human beings in China, Sichuan, Huili.

Professional Activities: WSAO board ’82, President 1987 AAO Western Councilor, Chair ’88-‘93 AAO State Affairs, Member ’93-‘97

The environment of medical practices was rapidly changing beginning in the 1980’s until present time.  Because of the multiplying effect of CPI overtime, the Medicare’s payment schedule increased in dollar amounts much faster for ‘procedural’ than ‘diagnostic’ services.  Throughout the country, the primarily office based doctors rather felt an injustice that the surgical doctors were much better reimbursed than they were.  A palpable rife was developing amongst US physicians.  A federal commission was established to study the inequities and develop a fairer solution.  They concluded by proposing a new system of resource–based relative value scale,  (RBRVS) and adopted and instituted a nationwide Medicare reimbursements in 1992; a system of payments to physicians for treating Medicare patients that takes into account the work done by the physicians, malpractice insurance premiums, and practice expenses including staff salaries, overhead, supplies, and equipment.  They tried to equate commonly performed procedures such as a Gynecologist doing a Pep Smear, to an Ophthalmologist doing a Chalazion excision as equal to a Pediatrician treating tonsillitis or an Internist caring for a diabetic wound infection.  Major procedures were similarly matched up to such as a cataract procedure was equal to a simple common gall bladder extraction or a gynecologic D/C.  Never mind what the Feds determined, obviously there were striking and heated ‘discussions’ among the physicians.  Medicare stated that this formula was only intended to apply to Medicare patients only, but clearly the private insurance companies also adopted this approach rapidly to save their payouts.  For example, a physician was paid over $1200 for cataract surgery before; the new reimbursement was cut to less than $500 after RBRVS.

Entrepreneurial ophthalmologists began developing alliances with groups of area optometrists to form co-management clusters.  These ophthalmologists advertize themselves as cataract specialists and paid the referring optometrist a percentage of the fee as ‘co-manager’ among equals fee rather than ‘fee-splitting’ which was/is against the law.  These ‘cataract cowboys’ operated on 25 plus patients per day, 5-days per week.  The well-deserved elite reputation of Ophthalmology was in jeopardy.

I became active politically when these not-my-colleagues runagate ‘prostitutes’ began to tout the equality of expertise of the optometrists to Eye MD ophthalmologists.  Optometrists do not have a medical degree.  Ophthalmologists are college graduates who go on to become medical doctors, and then specialize through three or more years in residency to qualify for the Board of Ophthalmology exam.  How is that training equal?

Initially in 1980 I testified in front of legislators that allowing optometrists dilation diagnostic eye drops would be a disservice to the population because they would not be able to discern what they saw.  They countered that I was demeaning to each of them and their profession; after all, they all have attended 4 years of optometric school.  The bill passed into law.

Then I testified again in futility that the optometrists were unqualified to manage post-op cataract patients.  The problem was that we became the victim of our own success, because cataract surgery was 98% successful; there were few complications to follow.

Later, I testified to propose a bill to define surgery, as using instruments in penetrating the human integument and removing human tissues, to be reserved for MD’s.  Here I was blindsided by a line of objectors including tattoo artists, ear piercers, phlebotomists etc.  The optometrists were never called forward to make their case for the session ran out of time.  Needless to say, this proposal went nowhere.

Nationally, I served as the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Councilor representing WA.  The western region comprised of HI, AK, CA, OR, WA, ID, MO, NV, UT, AR.  At the first meeting, (the group not wanting CA to dominate with more delegates while all the rest of us states had just one representative) they chose me to be their president and spokesperson on the Council Executive Committee.  Apparently I did OK because I served in that capacity for 5 years and went on to serve on the AAO State Affairs’ Committee for 4 years.  In 1998 I was also nominated (but did not win) to be a voting member on the Board of the American Academy of Ophthalmology representing ‘grassroots’ EyeMD’s.

With the distinction blurred between the professions of optometrist and ophthalmology the already confused public now truly are bewildered; add on to the list: the oculist, the ocularist, and the optician, no wonder the consumers are mystified.  To be sure, the proper training of the optometrist is meticulous refraction to provide patients with the most accurate prescription for the best corrected vision.  I respect them when they devote their attention to doing this for their clientele.  But when they encroach towards practicing medicine, then they need to attend medical school.  One principle I maintained dearly was that in spite of every societal pressure, I never stooped down to the level of co-managing any of my patients with less qualified personnel for financial gains.   I am proud to have been able to uphold this dogma throughout my professional career.

MSI Mission China, Sichuan, Huili April, 2001

There is no argument that eyesight is one of our most precious senses.  Imagine life being blind… unable to work or care for yourself.  You’d be totally dependent on your family and others for all simple tasks — everyday simple tasks such as feeding, cleansing and clothing yourself.  Then you hear about a group of Christian foreigners who have come to town to help people see again.  How happy would you be?  It was my great privilege to be with Operation Eyesight, a new mission launched by the Medical Services International to Huili, Xichang, and HeQing Sichuan, China over the past several years.  Our teams witnessed firsthand this joy and indescribable gratitude in the hearts and on the faces of those we served.

Having enjoyed a steady solo ophthalmic practice in Kitsap County for over 25 years, I often had wondered what direction to take near the waning days of my medical career.  I had considered serving as a medical missionary back to China, but was too busy fulfilling the mundane responsibilities of running a private practice, and never took time to “think outside the box.”  My friend, Dr. George Chin, the MSI eye project director, talked to me about going to China.  George discovered, through the MSI’s site selection process, that the Chinese authorities frowned upon any “show-off” projects, where American or other international teams flew in, demonstrated what great ‘miracles’ they could do and then left.  The people were exposed to the ‘moon’ but were not given any means to reach for it.  The local doctors gained nothing useful to better themselves nor how to better serve their patients.  Dr. Chin convinced the authorities that the MSI group had a different approach, and that our purpose was to teach the local personnel “to fish and eat for a lifetime.”  The governor of Yunan remained skeptical, but the Sichuan authorities consented to authorize MSI a trial visit.

When he first approached me, Dr. Chin had no inkling that my very first spoken words were Sichuanese!  I had lived in Sichuan province at ages 1-2, when just learning to speak.  The idea of going to Huili piqued my interest more than he expected.  I was anxious to spot if my Sichuanese still resembles their speech after almost 60 years.

Three teams were assembled for the launching of this maiden MSI Operation Eyesight Project.  Each team consisted of 10 members – Christians, from various walks of life, most without any medical training.  The foremost requirement was simply a sincere “desire to serve.”  All team members performed necessary functions according to their talents.  As physicians, we all realize the importance of the “supporting cast” of any surgical team.  The team leaders were the ophthalmic surgeons.  We were then responsible to assign duties to all of the rest of our team members.

The first site, Huili, is a poor farming community with a population of 450,000, located near the southern part of Sichuan province.  The average worker’s monthly wage is about $30 (US) per month.  Hospital doctors receive a salary of about $100 (US) per month.  Our goals were to train local doctors to better perform cataract surgery and to better provide eye care to the region’s farmers.  Prior to our visit, cataract surgery was essentially unavailable in the nearby area, hence many able bodied peasants were unnecessarily visually handicapped.

To get to Huili, we literally had taken Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  The Seattle volunteers first flew the 17-hour leg to Hong Kong and spent the night there.  We then entered Mainland China by flying to Chengdu; where via the Red Cross MSI was allowed to import ‘duty free’ the needed supplies.  We stayed another day there, took the opportunity to visit the China National Panda Preserve, and boarded a night train to PanZehHwua.  The train journey was 14 hours long, but the time was well spent getting acquainted.  My team, Team 2, consisted of members who came from other parts of US, Hong Kong and the UK.  At PZH, we were met by an ambulance van sent by the Huili County People’s Hospital and taken on a 3-hour ride along a bumpy mountain road through China’s scenic rural countryside.  When we reached Huili, we were quite surprised to see that this rural community had internet cafes, cellular services and countless stores stocked with everything, including some of the latest electronic equipments.  The air was clean and the scenery was magnificent.  As we walked through the main market area, the Caucasian team members invariably attracted crowds of curious on-lookers.

The facilities at the hospital were very basic, lacking many essential supplies.  It reminded me of the VA Hospitals in the 60’s.  The local personnel re-cycled everything, including needles, rubber gloves, and scalpels.  Sometimes they even used soup bowls to hold saline solutions for their surgical cases.  The hospital is a six-story building but didn’t have an elevator to transport patients or supplies.  Patients either walked or were carried by stretchers up and down the stairs.  We witnessed a woman lifted off the operating table onto a stretcher and taken up the stairs immediately following a caesarian section.

Thanks to our meticulous preparation, we were able to ship everything that we possibly could have needed: (medications, lens implants, surgical instruments, operating microscopes, autoclaves, etc.) so that we could perform cataract surgeries without any dependence on the local goods.  Needless to say, this was a huge logistical task; over 90 boxes of donated medical supplies were shipped in advance.  Additionally, most of us carried an extra suitcase full of equipment and/or supplies as our personal luggage.

As stated, each team member had a different task, some more publicly visible than others, but all important.  Dr. Chin’s team included a pharmacist who quickly organized and labeled the contents of 50+ suitcases and boxes of supplies.  When my team arrived, my Bainbridge receptionist, Jan Hurley, entered the inventory into my lap-top computer so we were fully aware of what we had at all times.  Someone else set up the electronics, such as the operating microscope with video and monitor connections, the cautery unit, and other essentials.  We had an engineer on my team who ably ran the autoclave and steamer, and set up our own “internet café” in my hotel room.  We also had a photographer who recorded and captured those special moments.  The OR nurse organized everything in the surgical theater.  Though I received the most exposure and appreciation, in all honesty, I felt that my job as team leader and as one of the teaching surgeons was the most effortless of all!  At least I was in back in my own environment.  The others, by necessity, all had to be more creative and flexible.

We worked effectively, efficiently and harmoniously during the entire mission.  The comradery was absolutely great!!!  We were reminded to work together through a Bible passage that we read together during one of our devotions:

I Corinthians 12:12

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.”

Besides treating patients, team members also scheduled presentations for the hospital staff on subjects ranging from treating allergies to making scarves.  Some members taught English, both at the hospital to the staff, and to children in the evening.  Since all cataract patients, as well as other patients, stayed in the wards and didn’t have much to keep them occupied or amused, other team members visited with them, entertaining them with music.  It wasn’t necessary for them to speak any Chinese, as their actions spoke volumes.  The team showed the people of Huili that we cared, through smiles, by holding their hands, and by just listening (even though most members couldn’t understand the patients at all).  Our team also held a “concert” for the patients, which attracted a large audience that included members of the hospital staff and patients from other wards.  On our last day, the team distributed small gifts and postcards from the USA and played with the patients using hand puppets!

The Huili hospital staff were wonderful hosts.  They took us on an outing to a lake retreat, entertained us with Karaoke and treated us to three marvelous meals each day.  We enjoyed foods such as steamed pineapple rice, Peking duck, steamed dumplings, and spicy Sichuan dishes.  Some of the local delicacies were quite difficult for our westernized palates to appreciate: dishes such as turtle soup, stir- fried snakes, fried sand worms, and cock testicles – food which would have been more enjoyable, not knowing what they were.

Although we were advised that preaching was forbidden, we did have the opportunity to worship on Easter at the local Christian church.  It was a dreadfully small building considering the size of the congregation.  We witnessed as many as 2000 people at worship, squeezed into a space which at best should seat 600!  Most peasants in China are illiterate, so they chanted simple hymns repeatedly, led by a church elder.  Team members who understood Chinese translated the sermon for the others in English.  We were pleased to hear that the same message of Christ’s love and grace transcends all cultures and languages.  Easter Service began at 8 AM and lasted until 4 PM.  More than 300 people were baptized on that day.

After the church service, we held an eye clinic to provide reading glasses and eye drops to those in need.  We served and dispensed over 300 pairs of readers within an hour.

We successfully met all our objectives and established good relationships with all the people we encountered.  Without exception, everyone treated us magnificently.  Mutually our eyes and hearts were opened.  With the assistance of the local doctors and nurses, the three MSI teams performed over 100 cataract operations and treated others with eye-related problems.  The local hospital staff is now fully trained in performing cataract extractions and lens implantations independently and with success and confidence.  People in Huili now have local access to cataract surgery, without any need to travel at least three hours to PZH.  We learned to use the various gifts and talents that GOD has granted and entrusted us, and we gained elevated awareness and in actual fact of how blessed we are.  Truthfully, one doesn’t have to be a skilled doctor or nurse to serve on a medical mission trip: only a loving heart.  The people of Huili greatly appreciated our presence.  They are very humble in listening to our opinions.   Our patients and the hospital staff were all sad to see each team leave.   Our unselfish, good work ethics, love towards all patients, ‘preached’ the Gospel quietly and steadily.  St. Assisi was spot on when he admonished us to ‘preach the Gospel always, and use words only when necessary.’  Moreover we in turn also will never ever forget this special positive experience.

Matthew Visit in Germany Experienced Best Air Flight Service Ever !!!

When Matthew was stationed at Germany in 1995, we visited him around the period of the German Oktoberfest.  We used Baumholder where he was stationed as our home-base but one long weekend we traveled east through very dreary Slovakia, Poland into Czech Republic. Prague was simply beautiful and drastically different.  (The principal site of one of Tom Cruise’s Missions Impossible movies.)  That bridge shown in the show does not do justice to witnessing the real thing in person.  Very talented Classic musicians played beautiful music everywhere.  There were also multiple free concerts in the evening at beautiful church venues.  People were friendly and helpful.  An unforgettably wonderful experience and lasting memory.

From Bomholder, we were flying to Italy to visit our friends Tom and Maureen Jurcak.  Baumholder was equal distant from Frankfurt and the Luxembourg airports, but the flight cost from Luxembourg was actually cheaper!  I believe it was Lux Air (although I no longer can find that airline via Google) that transported us to Frankfurt for the same flight to Italy.  Needless to say we left earlier to get to Luxembourg to board our plane, but it would be a new country we can mark as having ‘visited.’

Well it was quite an experience flying Lux Air.  As we walked on to the plane via a red tarmac, we were passed a warm towel to clean our hands. Then we were served fresh squeezed orange juice before we walk up the stairs of the plane.  Our luggage was left to the handlers at the base of the plane stairs.  After we got on board and seated, the staff immediately served us croissant with cheese and eggs with a dish of fresh fruits, of cause asked us if we preferred tea or coffee.  After takeoff, we were given another warm fresh towel and a pastry dessert with a piece of fine chocolate.  On our departure, they also gifted us a small souvenir and thanked us profusely for choosing to fly with them!  All these pampering within a 30 minute flight!!  Those day are long gone,  with that we are all certain.

1994 continued…

Although 1994 was a disastrous year in many ways, it was also one of the best years in my life.  Following the breakup of my marriage, I became better acquainted with a fellow Bethany member, Linnea Enz. We had known one other through church and school activities for several years since her two children and my two oldest children were classmates, graduating in 1991 and 1993, respectively, from Bainbridge High School. (I had a younger child who would graduate in 1997.)

Linnea and I discovered that we had much in common, not the least being that we were both preachers’ kids, and despite our obvious cultural differences, had had similar experiences.  (Too much to blog here.  One of our kids may write a book someday!)  After a relatively short courtship, we were married on March 25, 1995.  Best thing that happened to me.  Linnea is kind and generous to all my relatives.  My 20+ cousins, (Chinese consider all as siblings) love her dearly and gladly address her as Da Sau, meaning eldest brother’s ‘better half.’

We’ve now been married for over 22 years and still enjoy the love and support of being each other’s best friend. Currently, Linnea, having just lost her Mother in late July, is not only caring for me with pancreatic cancer, but is also helping my Mother who has been staying with us as she recovers from hip replacement surgery performed on July 17, 2017.  Unfortunately, three days post-op Mom developed a clotting problem and a hematoma in her muscles as large as a grape fruit.  This continued to bleed and prevented the wound from healing.  Finally on October 19th, she underwent another procedure to hopefully remedy the problem and facilitate healing. Currently, Mom wears a wound-vac pump and needs to be checked by the wound care clinic twice a week, along with other medical appointments. My sister, Elizabeth, who had been the go-to person for Mom was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer; she had surgery on September 13th and has just started a chemo regimen.  Through all of this, Linnea provides loving care with patience, grace and cheerfulness touched by humor.  Nothing better could have happened to me in 1994 when I started courting Linnea.

VM takeover of Winslow Clinic (Jan 1995)

1994 was a very busy year for me.  In addition to tending to the failing restaurant venture, my marriage was falling apart and resulted in a divorce that year.  I also contacted the doctors whom I was giving weekly hour-long lectures re: ophthalmic topics at the Winslow Clinic and asked what they thought of the idea that I move my practice full time to the island.  This proposal received overwhelming approval.  I proceeded to acquire the corner property at Madison Avenue and Ihland Way and built my office, the Bainbridge Eyeland.  The construction started in March and the health center was opened for business in September.  I started out being very busy and the clinic was ‘bustling.’  I hired and trained a sizable group of healthcare worker and we treated large volume of eye patients.

Suddenly on January 1995, Winslow Clinic, my primary referral source became Virginia Mason, Bainbridge.  Because of these managed care medical plans, abruptly I lost access to more than 60% of my patients for now they had to get a referral to see me.  To be sure, Virginia Mason headquarters in Seattle arranged for me to cover their afterhours and weekend urgent cases at a flat fee but corralled all the elective and surgical cases to Seattle.  Unless patients were willing to pay out-of-pocket, they no longer could come and get their eye care on the island.  A significant part of my practice had become as ‘lackey,’ serving at whelms of VM.  Meanwhile Group Health also enrolled many other islanders and had their own optometric eye center in Silverdale.  Health access no longer was ‘free choice’ but belonged now to these insurance groups, practically dictating where patient have to go.  Solo independent private practice on Bainbridge Island was becoming untenable.  I fought back steadily and stuck to my medical principles of personally caring for all my patients, especially those having had operations as long as possible.  I never gave in to ‘co-managing’ and ‘upgrading’ optometrists to be equals to medical doctors in their ability to delivering post-op care.  Finally, I retired from practice in 2003, right as I had my 60th birthday.

Restaurant Venture (1991-1994)

After having entertained numerous friends for dinner at the Chu household over the years, countless numbers have asked, ‘Franklin, why don’t you open a Chinese restaurant?’  The answer is ‘been there, done that!’

During the early 1990’s, the writing was beginning to be etched on the wall: Health care costs needed to be reigned in; they were already consuming 8% of the economy and rising.  (Seem pretty tame by today’s roughly 13%)  Health care reimbursement must be and needed to be revisited.  The message from our national organization, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, was ‘To survive,  diversify’: set up optical dispensaries in office practices, be known as experts in a more narrow aspect of eye care delivery, or if possible and able, plan on an early retirement.

As my attempt at diversification, an opportunity opened for me to be involved in the restaurant business.  There was no Chinese eatery on Bainbridge Island.  I thought of how supportive the folks of the island had been to my family and to my medical practice over the years and how this venture might just be a chance of my sharing my heritage and in a small way ‘a pay back to the community.’  My thoughts were that my restaurant, in addition to having the regular menu, would also offer special banquet opportunities to party groups, tables of 10-12, featuring cuisine from various regions of China.  I’d instruct a few of our smart high school wait staff beforehand as to serving and naming each dish.  Additionally, they were to include explanatory words and a short historic background for that entre.  In this manner, the diners would not only enjoy special cuisines but also gain a little more insight into Chinese history and cooking.  This was one of the main reasons I had to be an owner of a restaurant.  Our eatery was named the Far East Café.

The partnership consisted of three parties, each owning 30%.  The fourth person granted 10% ownership was our architect who rendered services for the planned and ongoing renovations.  One of the three major owners was also the working manager.  Since he, the manager, was intimately involved with the daily operations, early on we allowed him much latitude and tried to stay out of his way.  But the surprise to me was how ‘possessive’ the he was.  On opening day, the crowd lined along Winslow Way down to Madison Avenue!  My nephew Billy and I went from Poulsbo after work and started to clear the tables voluntarily to help out.  The manager was upset because he thought we were interferring.  The first Friday we started karaoke and I attended to get things going but was told that the platform was for paying customers.  I was informed (and not  subtlely) that unless I was there as a paying diner, I should stay away from ‘my own’ establishment.  This opinion was shared by the other partners as well so as to give the manager a chance.  I stayed away.

Sunday around 11:00 pm I was called to the restaurant because the cooking staff was not communicating with our manager who did not speak Chinese.  I arrived and discovered that the cook and his staff had the perception that their agreed compensation was ‘net’ amount and that the roughly 30% deduction was never in their agreement nor understand.  They worked hard and stayed longer than intended nightly all week long and they were aware of the large crowds they served daily.  They would never have agreed to the meager pay for what they did and had endured. Besides, they also wanted reimbursement for the ferry fares and more money for grocery.  Unless they were paid fully, they were not coming back.

I relayed this information to the manager.  Unless he was ready to be closed next week, or unless he had a plan B, he had better meet their demands.  A total surprise to me was that he started pulling $20 dollar bills out of his various pockets, shirt and pants, to make up the differences the staff stipulated.  This action should have been a BIG CLUE for us ‘money investors’ that something was rotten in Winslow!

Perhaps due to my previous mishap in cooking rice for the church spring banquet, my restaurant knowledge and input on menu and style of cooking were summarily dismissed and discounted by my partners and especially by the manager who supposedly had more experience having once taught ‘Asian Cooking’ for the Bainbridge Parks District.  Whereas, in fact, since early childhood I’ve always helped my Mom in the kitchen and I worked in my uncles’ restaurant in Springfield, OH from high school through my college years.  Mom and I had always made it a habit of dissecting ingredients of restaurant dishes and trying  to duplicate and/or improve them at home.

To demonstrate my hope and dreams for the restaurant, I held a dinner party for a birthday celebration for 36 people, three tables.  I talked with the cooks and arranged for them to put together a banquet for me consisted of cold cut appetizers, nine entrées, and birthday cake for dessert.  The cook and I agreed on the cost of supplies as my cost, but instead, the partners and their spouses as well as the manager all of whom incidentally also were invited and attended the meal, insisted on no discount for anyone and billed me $30 per person.  Nonetheless, the manager and his family daily ate all their meals there for free!  Later I held a similar banquet for a meeting of my American Academy of Ophthalmologists and the Academy gladly paid $1500.  Everyone had a wonderful experience.

To move rapidly onward, the ‘cooking’ of our books continued.  In spite of the fact that we always had lines waiting for seats, we constantly had to monetarily subsidize the restaurant operation.  (My Mom commented incredulously, ‘I’ve never seen a restaurant with customers lining up like yours lose money!’)  Ultimately, we, the investing partners demanded a formal audit of the manager’s bookkeeping.  Mysteriously on that appointed day a fire broke out in the manager’s back office and all the records as well as part of the restaurant burned.

The insurance company agreed to pay for the fire damage and renovation.  We could accept the reimbursement, or we could initiate an investigation of arson on our own dime.  The city officials would not pursue the case.  We chose the easy route and took the insurance money to rebuild and fired the manager.  (I have lingering regrets regarding this decision.)

After reconstruction and a restart, my friend Mr. Sun LuYe, who owned the China First restaurant chain of 7 establishments in Seattle, offered to help me by providing our restaurant an entire kitchen staff and we were to provide the front personnel.  He consented that after all expenses were paid and only then if there were profits remaining, we would split that 50/50.  I presented this proposal but received little attention.  The other two partners already had someone whom they knew in mind to take over as manager, a Caucasian, running our Chinese restaurant!  There was little communication between the front desk and the kitchen.  With rapid changes in medical reimbursement, I was too busy keeping my practice solvent to give too much attention to this my side business.  The restaurant did not succeed, in fact it failed much costly.  Finally, in 1994, I made the deal to sell it at a loss to a Mexican-American of the family of the Azteca restaurant chain.  Mr. Louis Robles named his place Isla Bonita which exists across from Town and Country even today.

p.s.  Lani and San Tran with their nine children of southeast Asia immigrated as a family to the USA and settled on Bainbridgde Island, being sponsored by local church groups during the early 1990’s.  While the children attended school, the Tran’s used to wash vegetables at our restaurant.   Although the Far East Cafe failed misersably, the Tran’s opened Sawatdy, (meaning Welcome,) in 1992 and continued their venture extremely successfully.  They and their children now have expanded the family business to three restaurants:  Sawatdy Thai Cuisine at Island Center, Sawan Thai Kitchen at Lynwood Center, and Kachai Thai Kitchen near Central Market in Poulsbo, WA.  To this day, whenever I visit the Tran’s in their various kitchens, Lani and San continue to address me as “Mr. BOSS Man” each time I see them.

Chinese-Cooked Rice

I have heard that during the time my Dad, at age 25, was courting my 17-year old Mom, he tried to impress her by acting as if he could do everything and anything in caring for her and their future family. Truth be told, he could barely boil water!  Shortly after their marriage, he once cooked a pot of rice over a camp fire.  It was three layers: bottom burnt, middle raw, top soupy.

Years ago Bethany Lutheran Church had a tradition of providing a Mother/Daughter dinner celebration.  One year the planning committee approached me and asked if I could cook rice for 100 people.  Proud as my Dad, I responded “Of course, I am a native Chinese, no problem.”  It was settled; I accepted the responsibility of providing rice for the Spring banquet.

On the appointed day, I rushed home on the 5:30 ferry from my Seattle office, quickly washed 25 cups of rice in a canning kettle, filled it with the appropriate amount of water and placed it on the stove to cook at maximum heat.  I then spent time washing up and getting dressed for the banquet.  Out of the blue and unexpectedly, I smelled something burning.  I ran to the kitchen and discovered the bottom of the canning kettle itself was red hot, the adjacent layer of rice inside was burnt and brown/black, the overlying layer of rice was hardly hot and scarcely cooked.  The Spring Banquet was to start is 30 minutes!

I tried savaging some rice from the kettle but it was futile.  Washing and rinsing all the remaining rice I had in the house (which was hardly enough) I started three pots going.  I arrived with a poorly cooked supply of rice 40 minutes late.  Most people had finished eating.  Needless to say, my reputation as a Chinese cook was in shatters.  One best way of ruining any reputation is to bomb the given opportunity royally and in totality.

In reality, I am quite a capable cook of Chinese/Fusion cuisine.  Subsequently, during recent years, I believe I have redeemed myself, having hosted numerous dinners at my home.

Debra Winger

I got a surprise call from Paramount Pictures one Saturday morning at the North Kitsap Medical Center.  They asked if I knew where the Kitsap High School football field was and how soon could they pick me up there with a helicopter?  I asked what was the matter?  They just answered that they had a VIP with an eye problem for me to examine.  I answered that all my equipments were at the clinic and that treating patients via a simple ‘black bag’ of yesteryears was over.  If they needed a proper evaluation, they’d need to come to the clinic.

Half hour later they called back and asked if I’d clear the office of patients and they’d come.  I responded that I couldn’t comply, but if they came at 12:30pm, I’d be finished with the appointments and could attend to this VIP.  They consented.

I told the staff about this arrangement and asked them to treat these people the same as any other patient, namely make them give proper information and fill out all the usual paper work.

At 12:25, a group of about 8 people arrived.  There was definitely a ‘handler’ in charge.  While the staff was gathering pertinent data from this leader, I noticed a young woman with purple tennis shoes sitting quietly with her hand over her left eye and with discomfort.  I walked over and asked if she was the patient and took her back to the exam room.

First I inquired her for a name.  She replied, ‘Debra Winger, just call me Debra.’  Then I asked ‘what do you do that you are a VIP?’  She responded that she was a ‘dramatic artist;’ she did movies.  I then questioned ‘what movies have you done?’  She rattled off a list:  Slumber Party, Thank God It’s Friday, French Postcards, Warriors and most recently Urban Cowboy opposite John Travolta and Cannery Row opposite Nick Nolta.  I inquired, ‘what are you shooting now?’  She replied ‘It’s titled An Officer and a Gentleman, opposite Richard Gere, a love story.’

I responded apologetically, ‘Well, Debra, if you depended on me to make a living, you may be starving for I don’t go to movies often and I have not seen any of your films!’  Debra wittedly retorted, ‘Dr. Chu, if you depended on me for a living, you will for sure starve because until now, I’ve never seen any eye doctors!’

Then I declared, ‘Debra would you do me a favor?  When you go up stage to accept the Academy Award, after thanking God and Country, would you mention that you also wanted to thank Dr. Franklin Chu of Poulsbo, WA.’  She countered, ‘Don’t hold your breath; it’s not that good a film.  But if I have that chance, I’ll send you two tickets so you can sit in the audience and hear me say that.’

I examined her.  She had an infected gland along her L lid, forming an abscess and causing the swelling and pain.  Treatment was to open the lesion and drain the contents.  Debra informed me that the ‘handler’ must make the ultimate decision.  Debra knew that she was merely deemed a profitable object, an asset to Paramount.  We brought the ‘handler’ in for the discussion.

I explained the situation and stated that in order to alleviate her pain minor surgery was necessary.  I could inject the local anesthetic under the skin beneath her lid, but no promise that I might not hit a vessel which will cause her face to be black and blue.  The ‘handler’ reacted “don’t do that!!!  Don’t do that!!!”

I then proposed that I could pull the lid outward and inject on the underside of the lid.  The handler shouted, “Then do that!!! Then do that!!!”  After that I stated that if I happened to hit a vessel there, it would be a good chance that the white of the eye could appear bloody.  The ‘handler demanded “don’t do that!!!  Don’t do that!!!”  She had to check with her superiors.  There was a wall phone in the hallway and I told her she could use it.

“Why don’t you talk it over and let me know your desire when a decision is ready.”  I retreated to my office across the exam room.  With the door opened, I overheard her talking, “Yea, he seemed legit.  Got a diploma from Johns Hopkins and his Ophthalmology Board Certification on the wall.”

Finally realizing doing nothing was not an option, she asked me to do my best and told me that by Monday they hoped to complete the final shooting of the scene on the WA ferry.

The surgical incision and drainage was performed uneventfully.  I advised Debra to use hot compresses as often as tolerable over the weekend and that there was a slim possibility they could complete the shooting of the film on Monday.

I charged them $158.  The handler asked an assistant who swiftly pulled out a stack of $100 bills from his vest pocket and gave the receptionist 2 of them and said to keep the change.

The following week I was frequently interrupted by Paramount Pictures and their insurance company with calls.  I discovered that Paramount was requesting two days of delay at $1 million dollars for each day!

p.s. Debra Winger was nominated for best actress for this movie in 1982 but was certain she would not win that even she did not attend the Academy Awards event.  Needless to say, she also did not send me any tickets.