For those who have lost their sights, Chen Shuying is an angel who can hopefully bring them back to the bright world. For the dying patients' relatives, however, she is one of the persons they don't want to see as her job is to persuade them to donate the corneas of their beloved, even before he or she is dead. Chen Shuying, a 26-year-old nurse works for the Eye Bank of Shenzhen Lions Club, works whole-heartedly to promote corneal donation in China. Is it easy? How does she feel about it? Chen tells Nanfang Weekend her happiness and sorrows.
Chen Shuying graduated from the Guangzhou Nurse School in 1996. She has participated in the Eyesight First: China Action program with the medical team to Inner Mongolia and Tibet three times. Later, she was recruited by Dr. Yao Xiaoming, director of the Eye Bank of Shenzhen Lions Club, to work as an advisor of corneal donations. On May 8, 2003, Chen took the full-time job and began to work with the Eye Bank. From then on, she became an unwelcome nurse.
Q: How did you become a full-time advisor on corneal donations?
Chen: There was no full-time advisor of corneal donations in the Eye Bank before. The only part-time advisor was Dr. Yao. I found it interesting and followed Dr. Yao to encourage people to donate their corneas after I learned about the significance from him. Last year, after we came back from Tibet, Dr. Yao began to recruit full-time advisors of corneal donations from the nurses. At the beginning，many nurses signed up as candidates, but only six people stayed after they understood what they were supposed to do. At last, I was chosen through public voting to become the first professional advisor of corneal donations.
Q: Did the choice changed your life?
Chen: Yes, it did. My work is to know the situation of all critical patients in different hospitals, and be ready to encourage their relatives to donate their beloved's corneas. If they agree, we will take the corneas away in six hours after the death. Then we will help them to contact with the funeral house. We will also take part in the mourning ceremony and bring honor certificate to the family. All of these have to be done in a week.
In the beginning, I was plagued by insomnia at night, with the scene of helping the dead to put on clothes appearing in front of me. I found I had become sensitive. Once I heard someone in our building crying at midnight, I just jumped out of my bed immediately, getting ready to go out to see if someone had passed away.
Q: It must be very difficult to encourage corneal donations as people have different opinions on the issue.
Chen: I would feel nervous every time I receive a call from the hospital, worrying about what kind of situation I'll have to deal with. In the evening, when I'm in bed, I cannot help thinking about the next day's work: which hospital I should go, and what may possibly happen….
For example, once a hospital called me that a cancer patient was in a coma and possibly would pass away at noon. When I met the patient's wife, she told me she would save her husband at any cost and she won't believe her husband was dying. After the cancer patient passed away at 11 a.m., the wife didn't allow anyone touching his body. I could do nothing to persuade her, but I really understood her. I never get angry with people for their excessive actions. If I were a patient's relative, maybe I would be angry about the donation too.
Q: Is there an example that you had your work done smoothly?
Chen: Of course. Once a patient died at 6 a.m. There were seven or eight family members in the hospital. After two hours' discussion between me and each of them, they finally agreed. I felt so proud of myself.
Q: Has your job made you unwelcome in hospitals?
Chen: Yes, it has. Once when I was talking with a patient's wife, encouraging her to donate her husband's corneas, another patient joined in, saying, "There must be something wrong with the world that people choose such a job to take other's corneas away." In another case, I was pushed out of the ward by a patient's relative, who said, "I don't want to see you again." Some people even thought that I would sell the corneas in the organ market.
I used to work in the department of Eye Disease and Injury, and I get along very well with my colleagues and leaders. When I feel sad, I will go back to the department and cry. There was a period of time that I just couldn't get rid of the depression, and I did not want to talk to anyone. I told Dr. Yao that I couldn't meet his expectation. He told me that I should go ahead and grow up in curses. Sometimes I sat by the street and asked myself if I was a silly girl not suitable for this job. Anyway, the second minute, the silly girl was ready to go to hospitals again to encourage people to donate their corneas.
Q: Does your family support you?
Chen: At the beginning, my parents were opposed to the job I'd taken. When I explained to them about the significance, they eventually understood me. Now, both my parents are willing to donate their corneas after their deaths. What makes me happy is that most of my friends are willing to donate their corneas.
Q: You participated in the program of Eyesight First: China Action last year. The trips to Inner Mongolia and Tibet deeply impressed you, didn't they?
Chen: Yes, they did. I went through a special time there and I cried many times. Not only me, Dr. Yao couldn't help crying either.
I still remember the sad story of a mother and her son. The mother could not see anything because of serious glaucoma. As she had missed her chance to treat the disease, it was impossible by then to cure her. She suffered pains in her eyes and head because of the high intraocular pressure. Her 30-year-old son could not find a wife due to the poor family situation. The local people told us that they were the poorest in the village. Besides a bed and a quilt, there was nothing in their house. The son couldn't go to other places to work because he had to stay home taking care of his mother. The son kneeled down in front of us every day to beg us to help her mother. Unfortunately, in that remote area, we couldn't even buy him some agents to help her reduce the pain. I regretted that we had not taken any such agent with us.
On the leaving day, many villagers came to say goodbye to us. Both Dr. Yao and I cried. We did not want to leave for many patients still needed our help.
Q: You have been influenced by the trips?
Chen: After coming back from the border areas, I suddenly found my life was full of happiness. I am so lucky to be a nurse so that I can help many people. To help the blind regain their sights means to save the person and his or her family too.
Q: You said you treat bodies of subscribers as "friends". Don't you feel scared when handling a corpse?
Chen: A teacher passed away on May 18, 2003. It was the first time that I faced a corpse. His corneas were put in a vacuum flask. I hold it tightly, and my hands couldn't help trembling. Some journalists laughed at me. I told them that I was holding teacher Lu's corneas, and they were the light for the blind.
I didn't feel nervous anymore in the second case. When another patient died four days later, Dr. Yao and I carried the body onto the wheel-bed. Now, I will help the dead to tidy up the hair, take pictures and put flowers beside the body.
Q: How many patients' families have you successfully persuaded since you became an advisor four months ago?
Chen: I encountered about 30 families and five of them agreed to donate the corneas of the dead. Last year only 10 patients donated corneas in Shenzhen. This year, by now, there are already 10 donations.
Q: What did you learn from your job?
Chen: I learned how to treat my life. I met many cancer patients and saw how their lives were being consumed with each passing day. They taught me to treat others better and cherish my family and friends.
Q: You have received many interviews from the media, and you have given your mobile phone number to the public. How do you like to be a focus in social life?
Chen: I have to endure big psychological pressure. My life has been completely disturbed. I cannot sleep well at night because the phone keeps ringing. I cannot turn it off for there may be calls from hospitals. Some people thought it was my purpose to become the spotlight. I once told Dr. Yao and some of my friends that I wouldn't take interviews anymore as the fame would make me difficult to get along with other doctors and nurses. However, they believed the media could let more people to know us and know the corneal donation and wipe out doubts.
Q: Are you satisfied with you life now?
Chen: Yes, my life is very much fulfilled. Now I won't tell the patients' family who I am. I will tell them that I am a passer-by who would like to let them know her condolences. Then I will encourage them to donate their lovers' corneas. This is a method to let their beloved to live on in different way.
Q: What's your next plan?
Chen: I will go to Hong Kong to learn their managerial methods, including how to make publicity materials. We will set up a computer system to watch patients' situation in different hospitals. When the situation of patients becomes serious, volunteers of that area will be informed to go there immediately. Then, our human recourses will be saved. With the improving recognition of the Chinese people, I hope that within 10 years, patients and their families will take the initiative in contacting us and donating their corneas. It will be a pleasure for me if I loose my job by then.
(China.org.cn translated by Wu Nanlan, November 14, 2003)