A Lesson in Compassion

Two days ago, while making a left hand turn onto a busy boulevard, a scooter basically T-boned my van.  As you can imagine, it was horrible.  When I jumped out of my car, the first thing I saw was a smashed scooter and a young man lying on the road, covered in blood and convulsing.

I felt completely helpless.  Luckily, a number of college students on scooters stopped and I could see that they were calling the Taiwan equivalent of 911.  As the young man came in and out of consciousness, I was unable to ask him if he could hear me, or if he was okay.  All I could do was hold his hand while cars, buses and scooters whizzed past us on the busy street.  Eventually, local police arrived, followed by an ambulance and the foreign affairs police and finally my husband.

After the ambulance left to take the young man to the hospital, and the local police and foreign affairs police wrapped up their investigation at the scene, my husband and I asked the foreign affairs police what we needed to do.  We wanted to be very sensitive to cultural expectations at a time like this, because we understood that they were very different from what would be expected in the U.S.  We were then given a quick lesson in what was expected of us.

The cultural expectations turned out to be a great lesson in compassion for both my husband and me.

First, we followed the foreign affairs police to the hospital.  Once there, we were expected to make sure the injured was stable and express remorse to the family.  When we entered the emergency room, we were immediately introduced to the young man’s parents.  Sobbing through my broken Mandarin, I told the parents that I was very sorry and that I had two sons of my own.  Then, with the foreign affairs police translating, I told the parents how concerned I was for their son.  I told them that, as a mother, all I could think of was my own sons as I held their son’s hand and waited for the ambulance.  Over and over, I expressed my deepest apologies.  I then embraced the mother and sobbed into her ear, “Dui bu qi.”  I’m sorry.

We then waited in the ER for a few hours, until we could see the young man.  It turns out that he is a 19 year-old math major and basketball player at the Chinese Culture University.  As soon as we were able, we went in to see him.  His injuries include a badly broken nose, slight concussion, three broken teeth and a stitched laceration on his forehead.  It is a miracle that these were his only injuries.  I thought he was much worse when we were on the street.

I then expressed to him how sorry I was and that I hoped he had a speedy recovery.  He seemed embarrassed and said that he was okay. (Based on the swelling of his face, he obviously wasn’t, but in typical fashion of a 19 year-old boy , was trying to seem tough.)  The parents then told us that he was stable and that we should go home and get some sleep.  We again expressed our deepest apologies and then left.

We were told that the young man would stay in the hospital for observation for five to seven days.  On the day after the accident, the cultural expectation is that we would bring fruit to the hospital; particularly apples, which represent long life.  Then we were to visit the injured every day until he left the hospital.  Luckily, and again I’ll use the word miraculously, the young man left the hospital the next day.  The family told the U.S. embassy representative who is handling the case that we no longer need to visit them.  They believe that their son will be fine.  I’m relieved that he is doing so well, but I regret not being able to take fruit to him.  I really did want to wish him a “long life” with the representational apples.

When a person is injured in a similar fashion in the U.S., the two parties have basically no contact once the ambulance pulls away.  It is very different here in Taiwan, and as I experienced, much more compassionate.  There is no discussion of who is at fault, who is going to pay or how much insurance the parties have.  The uninjured party shows remorse to both the injured and his family, regardless of who is at fault.  The primary concern is for the welfare of the injured.  After seven days, the police will issue their report and at that point the first discussions of payments and insurance will begin.

It might sound strange, but if I had to go through this horrible experience, I’m glad it occurred in Taiwan and not in the U.S.  I think that America could learn a great lesson in compassion from the Taiwanese.


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