“Aaaarghhh! No one answers.”

I left a message at my doctor’s office. It’s a toss of a coin if he will be in today. He’s semi-retired and moving a bit more slowly now even when he’s in. That doesn’t bother me, it’s catching him in that’s the challenge. After work, I gave him another call, and again, the answering machine came on. I didn’t have much hope of getting in today. I sighed.

My phone rang.

“H’lo… Oh, hello Dr. Juang, you can fit me in this afternoon at 2:30. Great! Thank you!”

I checked my watch. Just an hour’s wait.

Right on time, I pushed in the door to his large, dark and very polished old home which housed his practice on the bottom floor. The door creaked, loud and slowly as I pushed my way in. It announced my arrival. I peeked into the absent receptionist’s office and found a seat in the waiting room. A Chinese patient was in with the doctor, and when he saw me, he swung the door shut.

A few minutes later, it was my turn.

“Ni-how-ma?” I greeted him in mandarin.

“Ni-how.” He looked up from his desk. “You good job. You want translator?”

I shook my head. The movement threw me into a minute-long and labored cough.

“Dr. Juang, I can’t stop coughing! “Coughers” are not popular in public anymore, you know. Help me!”

Could I have the swine flu? Nowadays television commercials advocated coughing into your sleeve in public and staying away from hospital visits. I felt like a pariah.

“Say, ahhhh” he ordered after I opened my mouth.

He muttered something half in English, and half in Chinese, which I strained to hear.

“Breed. Big breed,” he ordered as he took out his stethoscope.

So I breathed, but had to smile as he checked my breathing with me still wearing my coat. Who am I to question his methods?

“Tsk-tsk. You wheeze?”

“I-uh-I-yeah, I guess so.”

“Thought so. You bronchial problem. Next pneumonia. You care now, you better for teaching.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“You insurance now?”

“Noooo.”

“No problem. You take pill and rest. Must take rest. You call me no feel better tomorrow, uh, after tomorrow. Jus’ you call and you say me.”

I nodded.

“This Obama. No make it easy. He take more cuts. You happy this man?”

“Well–”

“Yes, he make big mix-up now, you see. You brother. I see he struggle his business the insurance.” he made a face. “Little business big problem. Too much money they need pay.”He laughed– a dry humorless laugh that showed his compassion.

My doctor’s a card and I so appreciate him! He’s also the only one in which I can afford to go. At a mere $30 an office visit, he also prescribes medicine I can afford. He tries to work with patients like me. I think it’s the nature of small town life. So much better than other doctors with big waiting rooms, who charge bigger bills to support them. $95 a pop is what those doctors charge just for the visit.

My doctor has a great personality. I can understand him just fine. My brother, on the other hand, struggles. They repeat themselves many times to be understood, poking fun of each other all the while.

“You big man,” the doctor warned but always with a gentle smile, “You diabetes. Need lose weight.”

“What? What? Are you talking English?” my brother would joke back. “Nah, t’day it’s my back. Trying to fix my truck…”

“Okay, okay, but you diabetes, so you need lose big gut, now we talk ‘back’.”

“What doc? You talkin’ back to me?”

And so a typical visit between my brother and his great friend, Dr. Juang, would go.

But they like each other. My brother introduced me to him, in fact. Small town life is great that way. A personal introduction to a great family doctor.

“You teach college? No many students. You see?” he questioned now.

“Now high school, doctor. This year, high school.”

“Okay, okay, tomorrow you college. You remedial now.” I laughed. He looked over the top of his glasses at me and frowned.

“You listen me. You need teach college. Big pay, huh? They want bring community college here, and tax payer need pay. What you think? We need it?” He looked unhappy. I knew it was for show. He’d lived here for thirty years. This was his world.

I shrugged. He shrugged.

“Shay-shay-ni” Thank you.

Delighted at my Chinese, no matter how poor my tonal abilities that butcher his language; this always brings a smile to his face.

“You good. Youuuu good.” his face a wreathe of lines and smiles.

“You too, doc. Very good”

I left his office and was almost to the door when I remembered to pay him for my appointment.

“Oh, Dr. Juang, the money!”

He gave me a blank look.

“The thirty dollars!”

“Yes, yes, yes. You can pay now?”

“Of course!” I quickly extracted the money and handed it to his outstretched palm.

Dr. Juang was so kind as to not even ask for the money of his own office call. Then again, usually his receptionist, also elderly, usually took care of that.

The door swung open and creaked loudly, announcing my departure. I tapped my way out to the car with my blind man’s cane.

I am so blessed.

Coughing My Way into My Chinese Doctor’s Heart
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