In January, 1975, the National Guardian newspaper, a radical, independent weekly and the Chinese government sponsored a three week tour for American farmers. My husband Marty and I were excited to be invited.
We travelled through six major cities and their surrounding areas, tasting every aspect of Chinese life, as guests of the Chinese government. There were twenty-two in our party, including our coordinator from the United States. Two or three translator/guides accompanied us throughout our travels in China. In each of the regions we visited, local officials joined us to enlighten us about their work, and the history and culture of each site.
One of the most memorable events of the tour was the visit to the Norman Bethune Hospital in Shih Chia Chuang. Dr. Norman Bethune, a thoracic surgeon from Montreal, relinquished his privileges at state of the art hospitals in Canada in 1939 to establish the hospital in Shih Chia Chuang. As a young man he vowed to do something great for humankind.
The use of acupuncture for anesthesia fascinated us. We were fortunate to observe three surgeries on the day of our visit that used this method. The first was of a young soldier having his tonsils removed, who seemed quite comfortable. He was in uniform and was sitting in a chair that looked like an old dentist’s or barber’s chair. Maybe he was getting his teeth fixed and his haircut at the same time! When the procedure was completed, the soldier got up from the chair, acknowledged us, put his hat on, and walked out of the hospital. We witnessed a woman having a thyroid operation, and a man who underwent open-heart surgery; each person showed no signs of pain.
The operations were not viewed from a glass-enclosed amphitheater, with video and audio enhancements. Twenty-two people crowded around the operating table and carefully managed not to trip on electric cords or overturn washbasins. We wore gowns, hats, and masks, along with plastic sandals. The only way that we could identify each other was by the color of our socks.
Forty years ago, the Bethune Hospital was one of the few facilities in China that provided treatment for serious illnesses. Today this hospital is part of a complex of prominent medical centers, which include The Norman Bethune College of Medicine of Jilin University.