Xiao is a diminutive, generally for people younger than the speaker.
This honorific is not the same as the ‘Xiao’ in Tao Xiaodong.
Tang Suoyan was already on his fortieth hour of work without rest.
The Spring Festival was a joyous occasion for families to come together and make merry.
But that was for ordinary people.
To ophthalmologists, the Spring Festival was an uphill battle.
At this time of the year, many patients were brought in from everywhere with serious eye injuries from playing with firecrackers, requiring immediate surgery, racing against time to minimise the damage to their vision.
Ever since Tang Suoyan started work at the hospital, he had never spent a single Spring Festival at home.
Right after the surgery, the scrub nurse was checking the instrument trolley and the nurse on duty was helping to clean the operating table.
Tang Suoyan didn’t immediately leave, sitting on a chair in the operating room for a while.
A doctor on his shift walked in, whispering to him, “Deputy Tang, how about taking a break I just checked with the Emergency Department (ED); there aren’t any that require surgery for now.”
He smiled wryly after saying so himself.
“The rush is over.
I just pray that it’s not temporary.”
Tang Suoyan nodded.
“That’ll be ideal.”
Tang Suoyan’s office faced the inpatient wing.
The hospital was a place largely untouched by the festive season.
Anyone who could return home for the holidays had returned home, whereas those remaining in the wards naturally wouldn’t be in any mood for celebration.
However, some families still prepared small red lanterns, each glowing small and red through the windows.
Red was never an auspicious colour in a hospital, yet presently, these glowing red flecks filled people with rarely glimmered warmth.
Tang Suoyan glanced at his phone.
It was just past four in the morning.
He entered the operating room at seven in the evening and exited at this hour.
Doing ten or so surgeries straight under prolonged, high-intensity pressure numbed the nerves.
In actuality, even now there was no real relief, for the next medical emergency could come in any time.
There was a simple folding bed in his office.
A junior doctor in the department had readied it for him knowing that he’d be pulling shifts in the hospital over this period, and the other doctors on-call had long prepared their battle gear.
But Tang Suoyan didn’t take it out to use; he had to stay on alert until the sky brightened.
His phone vibrated in the drawer.
Tang Suoyan unlocked it and checked his notifications, mostly new year greetings and not one from Tong Ning.
He opened the chat he had pinned to the top, sending a message to Tong Ning: Happy New Year, Xiao Ning.
Likely asleep, Tong Ning didn’t respond to this message.
The last message in their chat was half a month ago, and there were few calls between them nearing the end of the lunar year.
Tang Suoyan washed up and rested his head on the desk.
In between sleep and wakefulness, when he closed his eyes, he still saw film after film of orbit CT scans floating in his mind.
San Hospital’s Ophthalmology Department was nationally renowned.
Patients from other provinces would come here in hope for treatment, and serious eye injuries would be sent straight over, as though they could set their heart at rest at this place knowing that their eyes could be saved.
Tang Suoyan was the ophthalmology deputy head of department in San Hospital, and their best surgeon in the operating theatre.
He was a direct student under the hospital director, Professor Xu Shi.
The elder had personally invited him back from abroad to make a switch from research to treatment; the laboratory to the operating room.
Many patients would rather give up their medical insurance and pay the bills from their own pockets to come to San Hospital due to Professor Xu’s and Tang Suoyan’s repute.
We’re sorry for MTLers or people who like using reading mode, but our translations keep getting stolen by aggregators so we’re going to bring back the copy protection.
If you need to MTL please retype the gibberish parts.
Tang Suoyan had very steady hands and his clinical judgements at critical junctures were bold and rigorous.
Some cases deemed hopeless by provincial hospitals saw a turnaround under his charge.
These patients revered him as an existence akin to a god.
Ktlr rtbga gfrqlaf ijrafv obg cb wbgf atjc akb tbegr ktfc atf vbmabg bc rtloa xcbmxfv bc tlr vbbg.
Pa kjr yfobgf rlz.
“Gfqeas Kjcu, SG lr jrxlcu obg sbe.
Ktfs tjnf j qjalfca mbwlcu lc ogbw j rfmbcv-alfg mlas klat fsf agjewj ab tfg ifoa fsf.
Vtf tjr fsfyjii geqaegf jcv gfalcji vfajmtwfca.”
Tang Suoyan was already wide awake the very moment the door was opened.
With those words, he stood up and followed the other out.
No doctor in San Hospital’s Ophthalmology Department was mediocre, but the patient was related to an internal medicine physician in the hospital, who insisted for Tang Suoyan to take this operation.
The patient was a four-year-old girl, visiting her grandmother for the lunar new year.
She had set off firecrackers in the middle of the night, which sprung up and injured her eye.
Stray sparks left burns around her left eye as well as her left eyelid.
The local hospital couldn’t manage this surgery and could only provide emergency treatment.
The ambulance had rushed the patient over through the night.
The girl’s father was an internal medicine physician in the hospital, which saved them the need for the usual platitudes and procedure.
His professionalism enabled him to calmly listen to the possible risks of the surgery and swiftly sign the consent form.
His wife was disconsolate, but she was also doing her best to stifle her sobs so as to not impede the doctors from doing their jobs.
The retina was reattached and skilfully sutured.
Tang Suoyan had attained the highest degree of perfection achievable for this surgery.
Even so, he had no control over the post-surgery developments; how much vision would remain, whether her eyeball would atrophise, whether the retina would detach again, so on and so forth.
Only time would tell.
However, what he could be sure of was that a full recovery for this eye was impossible.
It was highly probable that, after today, the young lady would only be left with one eye to view the world.
By sheer luck, she had only injured one eye.
On this same night, Tang Suoyan even had to operate on a seventeen-year-old high school student whose both eyeballs had ruptured, just a month away from his university entrance examinations.
Everyone was equal in the face of injury and sickness; medical conditions wouldn’t show any grace on account of one’s identity.
The high school student would still require a corneal transplant at a later date, but how much vision he would be left with after was anyone’s guess.
—So, was he any kind of godly existence
Even the most skilled of doctors were mere mortals.
It was the second day of the lunar calendar year when Tang Suoyan finally left the hospital.
He had made ward rounds and personally checked on a few patients who required closer attention. Resident doctors followed behind him, quietly describing the patients’ post-op conditions, and were instructed on the patient care for each.
Only after did Tang Suoyan change out of his work clothes and end his shift.
By then, it was noon.
It was still before the new year when he stepped into the hospital.
But after having not stepped out of the hospital for a few days, the vibrancy of passing into a new year had faded.
He went home first to take a shower and change his clothes.
His parents had dropped him a few calls to ask what time he would arrive.
The two professors of traditional Chinese medicine fretted over him pulling all-nighters like this, but it was fortunate that Tang Suoyan didn’t usually have to take the night shifts.
His phone remained devoid of any response from Tong Ning, so Tang Suoyan called him after his shower.
Tong Ning’s phone was answered by a resident with the youthful voice of a student: “Hello, Dr.
Tong can’t come to the phone right now.”
Tang Suoyan asked her, “Is he in the operating room”
The other person very politely replied, “Yes.
Tong is performing emergency surgery.
Shall I have him call you back when he’s out”
Tang Suoyan said, “It’s fine, there’s no need.”
It was many days since the two of them had last spoken to each other.
Tang Suoyan had already forgotten what their tiff was about.
He was too busy in recent, truly.
Tong Ning’s temper always simmered for prolonged periods.
He would spurn him every time, supposedly leaving space for both sides to cool their heads.
Tang Suoyan wasn’t good at coaxing him out of it.
When they were younger, he’d keep attempting to apologise and make peace, but it was useless, only serving to incite the other further.
In time, Tang Suoyan stopped trying.
Just like now.
Tang Suoyan had forgotten even the cause of Tong Ning’s ire, yet Tong Ning remained elusive, neither taking his calls nor responding to his texts.
Tang Suoyan was extremely fatigued from the four-day shift.
He took a nap before heading to his parents’ place.
His parents were both professors of traditional Chinese medicine.
While his father had retired, his mother was called back by the university to resume her teaching post.
There was a wall separating Chinese and Western medicine, each with its own approach and principles.
Though a family with both fields of study under one roof might have its arguments, they were a very harmonious family and never had their disagreements.
His parents had supported his decision to study Western medicine and were even proud of his accomplishments.
The only shortcoming, in their opinion, was that they were truly unable to stop worrying over Tang Suoyan’s lifestyle habits.
While they had eventually come to terms that some things just couldn’t be changed, his relationship with Tong Ning was simply too rocky.
“Is Xiao Tong on shift today” his mother asked, almost casually.
“Mm, yeah,” Tang Suoyan nodded, taking a dumpling from the plate that his father was holding.
“Taking the night shift today Why don’t you call him over to share a meal with us tomorrow” his mother suggested to him while boiling the dumplings.
Tang Suoyan left the kitchen and sat at the dining table.
“Forget it, he’s been busy lately.”
His father and mother glanced at him at the same time, then tacitly turned back to preparing the dumplings, neither broaching the topic.
Despite the many years that he had been with Tong Ning, the other had only visited his family a scarce few times.
In the beginning, Tang Suoyan’s parents were unable to reconcile with that, but in time they came to accept that their relationship with Tong Ning wasn’t much to speak of, so it was natural that he didn’t like coming over.
Similarly, Tang Suoyan didn’t usually visit Tong Ning’s family as well, for Tong Ning didn’t often return himself.
Tong Ning had expressed that he wasn’t willing for Tang Suoyan to visit his family.
His parents were still preparing dinner in the kitchen.
Tang Suoyan took out his phone to send Tong Ning a message: Come over to my parents’ for dinner tomorrow
This time, Tong Ning’s responded, the text coming in while Tang Suoyan was eating: I’ll be on night shift.
Tang Suoyan replied: Where are you now Shall I pick you up
Tong Ning: I can’t, I’m working overtime.
Send them my regards.
Tang Suoyan kept his phone and carried on with his meal.
Every now and then, his parents would cast glances at him, filling his bowl with more to eat.
Tang Suoyan pretended not to notice them at first, but the frequency of those glances was truly a tad too high.
Tang Suoyan chuckled and asked, “Get it out with, what do you want to say Don’t just keep looking at me.”
It’s nothing much at all.” His mother continued to put more food in his bowl.
“Make sure to eat more.”
Tang Suoyan said with a smile, “Your little glances don’t seem like you have nothing to say.
Ask away, professors.”
But these two professors still shook their heads, keeping mum.
After the meal, Tang Suoyan enjoyed herbal tea with his father.
The elder said that his complexion didn’t look well, but Tang Suoyan assured, “Don’t worry.
I’m just tired from working these days.”
“How is it this year Are there still many patients” the elder asked.
Tang Suoyan hummed in assent, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“We received over two hundred cases of eye injuries requiring emergency treatment from the eve to the first day of the new year.”
“Good gracious…” His father sighed.
“Isn’t there a ban on firecrackers”
“It’s because of the ban that it’s only in the two hundreds.
It’ll be more, otherwise.”
“If it were up to me, I’d ban them completely, even at the city outskirts instead of only in the city.
Don’t just consider it from an environmental perspective.
It’s important to protect the eyes as well.
It’s a shame for someone to go blind because of eye injuries from lighting firecrackers.” His mother had come over with a bowl of fruits and felt uncomfortable listening to this.
“Not just firecrackers; there are those who get oil splotches and ash in their eyes as well, right” His father refilled Tang Suoyan’s teacup, shaking his head.
“Some kids look forward to having fun with fireworks over the new year.
They’d have a fit if you ban them completely.”
“Who doesn’t like to have fun; but must they play with these” His mother was unmoved.
Her heart broke for the patients.
They chatted over tea for a while.
His parents didn’t want to let him return so late in the night at first, but Tang Suoyan still had to go to work the next day and it was less convenient to head over from here.
“Shall I pack some food for you to eat when you end your shift tomorrow If you don’t feel like cooking you can just heat it up.” The food was packed into containers even before she proposed this, and she moved them into a tote bag whilst speaking.
“It’s okay, I’m not sure when my shift will end yet.
I’ll just eat at the hospital,” Tang Suoyan said.
“I’ll just pack less in that case.
You can heat up lunch at the hospital.” She moved a few containers out of the bag.
Tang Suoyan didn’t insist on it.
He smiled and said, “Sure.”
Tang Suoyan only used to feel his parents’ strictness in the past, but following the passage of time, he gradually began to perceive how endearingly cute they were, with them acting more and more like children.
Mayhaps this was the inescapable exchange of roles, the passing of the torch between parents and children.
His mother carried the bag and set it on the cabinet at the doorway, then added many fruits for him inside.
Her students had given her these, she told him, he could share them with his colleagues at work.
Tang Suoyan said, “They don’t dare to take what I hand out, anyway.”
“You’re too intimidating, aren’t you” Mrs.
Tang said with a touch of mirth in her eyes, “Smile more at your department.
Don’t always look so fierce.”
“I really don’t.
I’m quite calm, but the interns always hide away when they see me,” Tang Suoyan said helplessly.
“You got it from me; we just don’t look approachable.” His father picked up the conversation.
“My students used to tremble in fear at the sight of me.”
“Is that something for you to boast about” His mother laughed.
“You should go back soon and get more rest.”
Tang Suoyan nodded.
It was indeed time to leave.
His mother watched him wear his shoes at the doorway and helped him take his coat.
When he was done with his shoes, she passed his coat over.
“Are you and Xiao Tong…” She spoke haltingly.
Tang Suoyan looked at her, waiting for her to carry on.
“Did the two of you break up again”
Hearing this, Tang Suoyan smiled and said, “Where did this come from We didn’t.”
“You always seem off when you visit, like you’re having relationship issues… Don’t be afraid to tell us if you aren’t together anymore.
You don’t have to stress over it.” She studied Tang Suoyan’s expression, then continued, tentative, “Your dad and I have come across many couples like this… where it’s normal for them to date on and off.
But just let me know if you’re single again, okay I can drop by more often to tidy the place.”
“We haven’t, really.” Tang Suoyan lowered his head, watching the careful way his mother phrased this, and his heart softened.
He wrapped her in his embrace, smiling.
“You don’t have to worry, I’m doing well.
I’ll bring him with me next time.
Don’t overthink it.”
“Okay, as long as you’re doing well, I’m glad…” His mother patted the arm that he put around her.
“If he doesn’t want to, you don’t have to force it.
It’s not worth making a fuss over.”
“All right,” Tang Suoyan nodded.
He lifted his chin towards his father, a way’s off.
“I’m going off now.”
“Be on your way then, take care on the road,” said his father from where he stood.