Hardly any cars remained at the staff car park.
Tang Suoyan was able to see the two containers on top of his car from a distance away.
He went over and retrieved them, glancing at the time.
It was past eleven.
He placed the tupperware on the passenger side and sat in the car without starting the ignition, messaging Tao Xiaodong first.
—Are you asleep
Tao Xiaodong instantly replied: Nope.
Tang Suoyan asked: Can I call Is it convenient
Tao Xiaodong didn’t respond, calling straight over.
When the call connected, he first greeted “Yan ge” and then asked, “What’s wrong”
Tang Suoyan’s throat had turned slightly hoarse from speaking the whole day.
The inside of the car was hushed, and his voice wasn’t loud.
“Nothing’s wrong, I just got off work.
Why didn’t you tell me when you came over”
Before, Tao Xiaodong was already in bed and about to sleep.
Hearing that Tang Suoyan only got off work now came as a shock; he checked the time on his phone.
“Mn, it’s a busy period,” said Tang Suoyan.
“What about now Where are you” Tao Xiaodong asked with a frown.
“Car park.” Tang Suoyan told him, “I received the food.
Did you wait for long You should have come up to find me.”
“I did, but I saw you were busy so I left.
I bumped into a nurse from your department, she said that you’ve been working off your feet lately.” Tao Xiaodong sat up.
“Hurry along, what are you still calling me for Go back home, have a bite, and get some rest.”
The day’s work had crashed over Tang Suoyan just moments ago, but now sitting in the car with Tao Xiaodong’s soft voice in his ear, he suddenly felt the lethargy ebb away into a comfortable sensation.
Like the calm after a storm, awash in a halcyon peace that spread from the inside out.
“I told you that I’d call after work, I can’t just not follow through.” Tang Suoyan smiled.
“I didn’t ignore your messages on purpose.
If I didn’t call, wouldn’t it seem like I’m giving you the cold shoulder”
“I know you aren’t.
Hurry home.” Tao Xiaodong sighed audibly with a broad smile.
“I already said that I’m the brash type, I won’t care about all that.
You don’t have to be so particular, either.
I can’t believe that you’d go the extra mile to call me when it’s so late in the night.
Don’t bother, relax, Yan ge.”
Tao Xiaodong was getting himself worked up.
“You’ll tire yourself out like this.
You really don’t have to.
If you’re busy, you don’t have to call, just rest well, that’s all I ask for.”
Tang Suoyan listened to him, and then after that said, “You’re making me feel like I should hang up right this second.”
“Uh-huh, you should.” Tao Xiaodong told him, “Look at the time, why aren’t you going home yet.”
Tang Suoyan had barely gotten a few sentences in edgewise before Tao Xiaodong started to persistently chase him off the phone.
He was silent for a few seconds, then smiled helplessly, asking, “I just wanted to call you, okay Will that do”
Tao Xiaodong also fell silent for a spell, then smiled, saying softly, “All right, then.”
With that, the conversation took on a different tone from before.
Neither spoke, each listening to the other’s breathing across the line.
The silence was companionable and not awkward.
A moment went by and then Tao Xiaodong asked, “Bet you’re tired.”
“I am.” Tang Suoyan was holding his phone with his right hand, reclined in his seat, but it started to get sore, so he switched to hold it with his left hand instead.
“There’s a symposium next week and so much to do.
I keep feeling like there isn’t enough time.”
Tao Xiaodong was incapable of helping him lighten his workload and unable to say anything to console him.
At their age, empty platitudes were a waste of breath.
When the going gets tough, no one would find any solace in a token ‘take your time, take it easy’, nor would such encouragement diminish what had to be done.
So, Tao Xiaodong could only say, “When this is over, when you’re less busy, I’ll spend time unwinding with you.”
“Unwind with me, how” asked Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong had uttered the words in all seriousness, and it did sound all serious to Tang Suoyan as well.
But right before he opened his mouth, his mind abruptly went wayside.
He got fidgety, asking, “How do you want me to help you unwind”
Tang Suoyan didn’t respond; he didn’t speak, simply chuckling over the phone.
The sound caused Tao Xiaodong’s ears to burn; in a sitting position on his bed, he tugged his ear, saying, “Go home, okay It’s going to be eleven-thirty soon, it’ll be even later by the time you reach home.
You should catch more sleep when it gets busy.”
“Mn,” Tang Suoyan acceded then asked, “Do you speak to everyone like this”
“What do you mean” asked Tao Xiaodong.
“Like…” Amusement coloured Tang Suoyan’s voice.
“In an indulgent tone”
“Of course not, christ.” Tao Xiaodong was quick to refute, “Won’t I be randomly misleading people if I did It’d get so messy if I spoke to all of my clients like this.”
Tang Suoyan dissolved into chuckles.
His right hand picked at the steering wheel.
Leaving work late every night and rising before daybreak every morning was the norm until the close of the annual symposium.
Besides exchanging newer technologies and methodologies, there were also clinical case conference sessions on the more challenging cases of the year, openly sharing successes and failures.
It was also at this critical time that the retired military man stirred up trouble in his ward every day, clamouring to see Tang Suoyan the moment his eyes experienced the slightest bit of discomfort.
This incident was neither major nor minor.
It could blow up; no one could guarantee that the surgery would be successful—every surgery has its risk of failure—but even if it didn’t, it was ultimately a mistake caused by a lapse in clinical judgement.
If Tang Suoyan had agreed for the sutures to be removed, then it wouldn’t even be classified as an incident, but poor clinical judgement that led to the sutures being prematurely removed.
The problem lay in that the doctor on shift had removed the sutures without having gained the head doctor’s approval.
If the call had gone through, Tang Suoyan would have in no circumstance let him remove them.
It was indeed too early; the time wasn’t ripe yet.
While such incidents didn’t occur on a daily basis in a hospital, with so many departments, there were bound to be a few every month.
Lin, who had been the one on duty, had just finished his rotation last year.
His depth of experience wasn’t there.
He knew that he had caused trouble this time, when describing the incident therefore, he skipped over any mention of the unanswered phone call to Tang Suoyan, writing instead that he ‘didn’t contact the head doctor’.
Upon seeing the report, Tang Suoyan passed it back to him and told him to write the truth for what it was.
Lin, unable to tell if he truly meant that, resisted the instruction.
Tang Suoyan told him, “Write the report the way it should be written.”
Lin was afraid that Tang Suoyan would end up held accountable if he did write it that way.
After all, the call hadn’t managed to get through.
The young doctor had a conscientious attitude and wanted to clear Consultant Tang of any involvement in the incident.
Consequently, Tang Suoyan was briefly unsure what attitude to use in this conversation.
Until now, this junior doctor still believed that Tang Suoyan’s phone was off and wanted to cover for him.
Tang Suoyan had been too busy to handle this affair until now.
The junior doctor had been on tenterhooks for a good many days, trapped in a sense of helplessness.
Though junior in status, he wasn’t that young.
Any doctor who finished their apprenticeship in a hospital would minimally be thirty years of age.
After all, it took so long just to complete medical school, and there was still a residency programme after that.
In actuality, Tang Suoyan wasn’t much older than them.
When Tang Suoyan was at their age, he had been personally brought back by Xu lao, half by invitation and half by insistence, from academia abroad to domestic clinical care.
His teacher had gone all the way to his then-accommodation to seek him out, and they spent over seven hours in discussion.
Tang Suoyan had a share of the blame in this.
He had never played it off, nor did he need anyone to cover for him.
Lin was reproaching himself, he also felt wronged.
He believed that he had been driven into a corner: the head doctor was uncontactable and the patient was unruly.
He didn’t know what was the right course of action to take.
He was just a lowly junior doctor, a punching bag caught in the middle.
He glanced gingerly at Tang Suoyan and asked, tentatively, “Consultant, how would you advise me to act… in this type of circumstance”
Tang Suoyan studied the patient chart in his hand, telling him without a raise of his head, “Keep trying to reach me.”
Lin blinked, musing that it would be futile if the phone was off anyway.
Tang Suoyan said, “I never turn off my phone.”
The other asked, “Then what if I am really unable to reach you”
Tang Suoyan looked up.
“Call other doctors.
There are many glaucoma specialist doctors; you can approach any of them.
Even Professor Xu.
Your clinical judgement isn’t mature yet, nor are your basics solid enough.
You have to seek a more discerning opinion.”
That was easy enough to say, but making calls all over the place filled one with a sense of impotency.
After hours, no doctor on duty would want to disturb the rest of another off-duty doctor unless it was an emergency.
“Or a more convenient option would be to contact the emergency department.
Seek out a consultant; those who work shifts in the ED are all senior doctors.” Tang Suoyan said evenly, “Did you consider the possible repercussions before removing the sutures that day”
The other nodded hesitantly.
Tang Suoyan said, “And you removed them in spite of that.
Because the patient insisted on it Or was it irritation Spite Thinking that since it was they who wanted to have them removed anyway, with the signed indemnity form, we are absolved of all responsibility Am I correct”
It was a bitter pill to swallow; Dr.
Lin denied it, hurriedly shaking his head.
Tang Suoyan stopped him with a small head shake, merely saying, “You’re a professional doctor now and no longer an intern.
You don’t have to explain yourself to me whether or not that’s the case, just know the truth in your heart.
No matter the circumstance, you have a responsibility to the patients under you.
Any misstep you make in a moment of rashness may result in vision loss, or even blindness, in your patient.”
Lin had his head bowed, silent.
Tang Suoyan had many other matters on his hands demanding his attention, so he didn’t have the time to say much more.
“I need not tell you that doctors must have compassion, I also need not remind you of the Hippocratic Oath you took.
Just keep one thing in mind: why did you become an ophthalmologist”
Tang Suoyan rose to leave the office.
Lin watched him, and Tang Suoyan said, “Lack of knowledge can be made up for but not the lack of awareness.
Never intentionally give up on a patient because of a bit of juvenile pride.
As one who delivers sight, do not steal away the light.”
With that said, Tang Suoyan had truly no time on his hands in the present to guide a young man on how to be a good doctor.
Tang Suoyan passed each day in double time, it was the same every year during this season.
Even for a while after Tao Xiaodong put the finishing touches to that full body tattoo, Tang Suoyan’s work had yet to let up.
It had been three weeks since they last met; they hadn’t seen each other since Tang Suoyan’s birthday.
Tao Xiaodong was unable to see him, and it even started to pour recently.
Tao Xiaodong pined, and once the rain started it didn’t stop, drumming restlessly into his heart.
During the short dinner break, Tang Suoyan read the messages that Tao Xiaodong sent him, and then called the other.
Over the phone Tao Xiaodong asked, “It’s been raining heavily.
How’s your hand Does it hurt”
Tang Suoyan had a dismissal on the tip of his tongue but the words took a swerve when he opened his mouth, to confess instead, “It hurts.”
“It does” Tao Xiaodong was on a stool at the store entrance, watching the rain outside.
He propped his feet up on the legs of the stool, faint lines marring his forehead.
“I was scared of that, you have enough on your plate on top of that.”
Tao Xiaodong’s sliver of worry was heartfelt.
Tang Suoyan chuckled and then said, “I was just playing around with you.
It doesn’t hurt much.”
Tao Xiaodong considered it then got Tang Suoyan to squeeze in half an hour for him at noon.
Tang Suoyan asked, “Do you intend to come”
“Un,” Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Can I”
“Don’t, it’s too much hassle.
There’ll be a jam with this poor weather.” Tang Suoyan said to him, “The busy period is almost over.”
Someone came from behind to speak to Tao Xiaodong.
He heard the request out and agreed with a nod, while also asking Tang Suoyan over the phone, “Can’t make the time”
Tang Suoyan said, “I can, I just don’t want to trouble you.”
“Then leave half an hour for me.” Tao Xiaodong leaned back against the entrance, his voice small and soft.
There was an annoying gang of people in the store who kept listening in and mimicking the way he spoke.
Tang Suoyan didn’t want him to come, actually.
Tao Xiaodong had many things on hand himself, it was not worth it for him to run by the hospital just for those scant few minutes.
Met by silence, Tao Xiaodong shut his eyes, and his voice turned even smaller.
“It’s been three weeks, Yan ge.
How is this ‘getting to know each other’.”
From behind him, Dyer cleared his throat obnoxiously.
Tao Xiaodong turned back to look.
He had already shied away to the entrance but still wasn’t able to escape their hearing.
He chuckled in exasperation and abandoned the attempt, openly declaring, “I just want to go.”
“Oh-hoh, I just want to go, where do you want to go” Dyer was about to work, adjusting his mask, parroting after him.
“Wanna go, wanna go.”
Tao Xiaodong soundlessly swore at them with a grin and opened the door, taking the call outside.
Tang Suoyan could hear them heckling him and could also hear the rain falling around Tao Xiaodong when he stepped out.
Who could refuse Tao Xiaodong like this It was impossible to reject him.
At noon the next day, Tang Suoyan didn’t even change out of his clothes, wearing his white coat down to Tao Xiaodong’s car.
He was only wearing a button-up under the white coat; not enough to ward off the chill at this time of the year, so Tang Suoyan speedily got into the car.
Tao Xiaodong opened the lunch box and handed the food over.
He surveyed Tang Suoyan.
“You’ve lost weight.”
“I didn’t notice.” Tang Suoyan held the spoon in his left hand, and his right hand loosely curled around the container to support it.
Tao Xiaodong watched him eat, then asked, “How much longer will it be”
“I’d be freer next week.” Tang Suoyan was used to holding chopsticks with his left hand, his motions seamless.
When he was done, Tao Xiaodong kept the lunch box and got out of the car to fetch a bag from the back seat.
A dry towel, a thermos flask, and a water pouch.
He was in a sweatshirt, and the hood slid up his neck when he bent down to pour hot water on the towel.
Tang Suoyan watched him through the car window; saw that the other got his hands wet yet didn’t seem to care, stuffed the wet towel inside the water pouch, and came back in.
Returning the items to the back seat, he smiled at Tang Suoyan and held out a palm.
“Pass me your hand.”
Tang Suoyan silently extended his right hand.
Tao Xiaodong grasped his right hand; the fingers were icy cool.
He frowned, undoing the button on the cuff and pushing the sleeve up.
A scar ran from his wrist up to his lower arm.
It was Tao Xiaodong’s first time noticing it.
The water pouch was pressed to his wrist, and the initial contact was hot.
Tang Suoyan’s hand had been throbbing for two days now, the pain turning it sore and numb.
At this moment, the heat applied by Tao Xiaodong caused his fingers to tremble slightly and scuttled right into his heart.
“I’ll massage it for you in a bit.” Tao Xiaodong’s palms were very warm.
He held Tang Suoyan’s hand, easily and naturally, his fingers even shifting around from time to time.
“Director Tao.” Tang Suoyan’s gaze was trained on him all this while, and having looked his fill, he asked him out of the blue, “Have you pursued others before”
“I wooed the fairer sex back in my teens,” Tao Xiaodong smiled roguishly.
“Then, my parents were gone and I had my brother to take care of, so I didn’t have the mood nor the leisure to pursue anyone.”
With that, he raised his head, questioning, “Why did you ask that”
Tang Suoyan looked at his own hand with his head lowered, also looking at Tao Xiaodong’s hands.
Tao Xiaodong had a tiny splotch on his finger that he hadn’t washed off.
The man followed his line of sight and laughed, “Some colour got onto me from the morning, I haven’t cleaned it.
Stop staring at it, it’s dirty.”
Tang Suoyan wiped that spot with his finger.
Tao Xiaodong’s finger drew back minutely; Tang Suoyan’s hand was pristine, too pristine.
Tang Suoyan let out a contented sigh.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “Is it hot”
“My resolve is crumbling.” Tang Suoyan said, seemingly without preamble.
“Huh” Tao Xiaodong looked at him.
Tang Suoyan looked at him, and he dropped his gaze, laughing even before he spoke.
“You seem to be treating me like a fair maiden.”
Tao Xiaodong blinked, his brain rapidly chugging along before catching on to what Tang Suoyan meant.
“Do you dislike that” asked Tao Xiaodong.
Tang Suoyan said that he didn’t.
Tao Xiaodong turned Tang Suoyan’s wrist over, and once one side was warm, he went to warm up the other.
“I’m not treating you like a fair maiden.
I’m treating you like my little brother.”
Having said that, Tao Xiaodong felt a bit sheepish himself.
“I know that you’re older than me, though.”
“Before, you told me that you’ve got many tricks, more than enough to take in one person.” Tang Suoyan looked at the towel in Tao Xiaodong’s hand; due to his posture, the tendons on the middle and ring finger jutted out.
The corners of Tang Suoyan’s lips hooked up.
“I see that now.”
Tao Xiaodong laughed before saying, “No tricks, I’m hundred percent genuine.”