Consent Forms

My grandfather has been in the hospital for the last week because of a myriad of health problems. Initially he was admitted due to a shortness of breath, but it slowly evolved into stomach pains, and then now heart arrhythmia and blocked coronary arteries. Luckily, he was able to get a bed in the hospital next to my apartment so I was able to see him everyday.

There was never much to talk about, maybe the visitors that came that day or his life advice to me, jumbled by my poor Chinese and his Hangzhou accent. We would talk about family and what my uncles, aunts, and cousins were doing, and a daily update on what doctors said to him. Doctors in China never tell the patient the whole story, it’s always relayed to a family member who chooses what information they want to tell the person that’s actually sick.

For a man in his late 80’s, my grandfather is (relative to others) in pretty good shape. Today he was moved to a heart disease portion of the hospital where doctors specialize in, well, heart disease. In the next bed over, a 70 year old man was also in the hospital for some heart-related issue. The thing is, he looked so much older, so much more frail. In my head, as messed up as it may be, I was happy that my grandfather, who was 15 years his senior (though they would both be considered seniors) looked more energetic and physically fit. It’s probably due to all the biking and walking my grandfather does to take care of his health, a habit that I can see has transmitted to my father, who jogs in the early morning everyday in an effort to slow the atrophy of his muscles. Maybe those genes will be passed onto me?

Back at home at the YMCA I go to for exercise and weightlifting, there is a man who I see almost every time I’m there. The only clue you have to his age are the grey streaks across the side of his head, and the slightly wrinkled skin on his hands, but otherwise, this man could easily be in his 30’s. Large, but not massive, toned biceps and a slim profile, he is my role model in terms of health 30 years from now. The t-shirts he wears are emblazoned with logos of Spartan runs and Tough Mudders. That sort of physique obviously shows that health, for him, was a lifestyle.

Today, I was sitting in the hospital room with my grandfather, hanging around a little longer after my aunts had left to go back to work. The doctor comes in, and looks at me, asking if I was a family member (你是家人吗?). Nervously standing up, I nodded and replied with a weak “对”. I was whisked away out of the room, where he started to explain something to me in Chinese, and through the hail of words I stopped him and said that my Chinese was not great, and that he would have to talk slower and explain some things to me. He looked at me for a quick second, and resumed talking, slowly at first, but his pace grew quicker over time.

I needed to sign papers. Whoa. That’s not something that anyone wants to hear, especially someone who doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. Aren’t consent forms usually for life threatening surgeries? Or at least, that’s what House has thinking. Ok. “Sign this here, here, and here.” What is this form for? “造影。” The hell is 造影? I whip out my phone and do a quick search. Oh. Radiography. Some sort of scan. Why does a scan need a consent form?冠状动脉 造影。The hell is 冠状动脉? Dictionary again. Oh. Coronary arteries. Sticking things into his veins to scan. The doctor slowly explains the risks. Internal bleeding. Other complications that can lead to death.

Whoa. I am too young to be doing this. Or am I? When did I cross from this border of being a carefree child into this world of adulthood? This is REAL responsibility. This is time for me to step up. Understand what’s going on. Sign the form, and pray that everything is going to be alright. This is a low risk operation, after all. Shouldn’t be a big deal.

I pick up the pen, and fumble through my Chinese name. Even though I’ve written it hundreds of times, I feel judgement as the doctor watches me write the words 陈彬, even though I’ve practiced the correct stroke order after my friends laughed at me previously. “What’s your relation?” “Grandson.” I fumble through two even easier words, 孙子, doctor’s eyes drilling into the back of my hand.

I don’t think I’ve ever been ashamed of my Chinese abilities more than today. I looked at that form, characters staring back at me, and I froze. It is a very low risk procedure, one that my grandfather underwent last week, but in these scenarios I want to understand everything. I’m used to being the one who understands what’s going on, and if not, one who will do what it takes to understand.

Today, I want to take steps to make sure I accelerate my learning. Writing and reading have historically been my weaknesses, and I’ve learning very casually. But in order to prevent these scenarios where I’m too scared to even read Chinese when I need to, I need to start to work even harder. Writing this post, I forgot how fluidly words flew out of my mind and onto the page, and I want to be able to do the same, but this time, take action to turn these dreams into reality.

Just begin. Next time a consent form is handed to me, or someone explains something I need to understand, I will be confident in my abilities.