Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Asia (02/26/09)
TITLE: What are little boys made of?
By Sharon Kane
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Chen Shaoqi squinted at the morning sun glinting off the water. He stretched and rubbed his aching back. Though the sun had risen just an hour earlier, the sweat was already beading on his forehead. He had been in the rice fields since before dawn, and aimed to put in another hour. Then he would leave for the small clinic where the patients would already be waiting for him. As he bent to attend to the precious rice seedlings he saw a figure hurrying across the fields.
“Brother Chen, I'm so glad to find you. The baby is coming but the midwife thinks there is a problem. Please hurry!”
Chen splashed through the ankle-deep water and joined his neighbour, Liu Enlai, on the raised dirt path between the fields. The man's reddened eyes betrayed a night spent in unceasing vigil, while deep furrows of anxiety lined his face.
Minutes later the men stooped and entered Liu's homestead. Once Chen's eyes had adjusted to the dimly-lit interior, he saw Liu's wife, Jiang Peng, lying on a bamboo mat on the raised stone bed above the fireplace. His pulse quickened as the midwife quietly moved aside to make space for 'the doctor'. The six months training he had received in the nearest township hospital had prepared him well for simple routine tasks and taught him the principles of hygiene and nutrition. But now, as he knelt to help Jiang Peng, he was brutally aware that this should be a specialist's job. His inexperience could cost this child its life.
Breathing a silent prayer to the God whom his superiors maintained did not exist, he gently felt inside the birth canal – and froze. He was holding two feet! He had delivered four breech babies previously but they were all born buttocks first. Through his panic the advice of a wise old midwife rang in his head, “During a breech delivery sit on your hands”. He hesitantly slid his hands under his buttocks, and waited. Minutes later he delivered the head, sucked mucus from the child's mouth, and sharply smacked the baby's bottom. The child wailed lustily, and with a smile of joy and relief Chen handed the squawling newborn to Liu. The look on Liu's face instantly wiped the smile from Chen's. What could possibly be amiss? The baby was strong and healthy, with a button nose and a shock of thick, jet-black hair.
“You saw. Why did you do nothing?” spat Liu.
“I saw... what? I did everything I had to. Babies that come feet first are best left...”
“You did not have to bring out the head. You knew already. We could have had a boy. Now we are cursed with a girl who will grow to be someone else's strength. Get out of our house! We will decide what to do next.”
Stunned and deflated Chen stumbled from the house to the clinic. Was this what it had come to? The government's edict six months previously that couples could have only one child had seemed reasonable enough. 'The population is growing too fast. Soon there will not be enough food. We must limit the number of births.' Few people had foreseen what this might mean in a land where tradition strongly favoured boys. If good people like Liu and Jiang could contemplate killing a daughter, how many other girl babies would never reach adulthood?
Chen willed himself to work as a shipwrecked man wills his limbs to move until he reaches land. He recorded that he vaccinated 24 children against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio; and 17 against measles. “Lord, that little girl, our newest member - does her heart still beat in her infant chest?” He dispensed antibiotics for coughs and poultices made from his garden herbs for skin infections. “Lord, our leaders don't see people your way. They don't know how much you love each one.” He gave herbal remedies to eliminate worms from children whose parents still refused to dig latrines. “I know you love them, Lord, but what can a humble 'barefoot doctor' do? I can no more change the law than alter the phases of the moon.” He treated arthritic joints with acupuncture. “I won't kill, but I can't command others.” He examined pregnant mothers and gave family planning to those who did not wish to become pregnant. “I need to hear from you God. What should I do?”
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