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Continuing Life After Radiation Disease

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Radiation, a word that is far from daily life, actually affects numerous people’s life. Radiation plant accident, the atomic bomb, and radiation experiment accident torture thousands of people. Some of the victims have the possibilities to develop leukemia and thyroid cancer higher than any age group, others have a severe mental issue that induces them cannot live a normal life. The diseases are not developed because of their own internal health problems but caused by external factors. The rarity and passiveness of radiation disease made it very special.

Unfortunately, a worker in China, named Xuewen Song, experiences the diseases and pain brought by radiation. It was on the morning of 1996, January the first. Xuewen was walking to work. Walking to work hurriedly, he inadvertently saw a suspected metal key chain in the grass along the road. He thought there must be somebody lost their keychain, and he has to hand into the officers to find the owner. He picked up the keychain and put it in his right pocket. During busy office hour, he forgot the keychain and kept it in his pocket for nine hours. At afternoon, he felt dizzy and weakness of limbs, and he thought he caught fever in the morning. Then he vomited more often, and also had abdominal cramps. His body began to generic blister. Until 5 PM, construction captain came to visit him, Xuewen song didn’t know the so-called “keychain”, is the nuclear source iridium – 192. The group’s operating personnel violated the rule of the program, causing iridium – 192 fell off from the equipment and being left on the grass. Xuewen Song was exposed to gamma rays, and the external exposure situation was quite severe. His whole body exposed to the dose of 2.4 Gy, and local exposure dose on his right lap was 7747 times of the normal dose. He was diagnosed with bone marrow type acute radiation syndrome and severe radionuclide injury. Surgery must be carried right away.

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The basic pathological change brought by acute radiation disease is a bone marrow hematopoietic tissue damage. The number of white blood cell will decline drastically, and patients may easy to get infection and hemorrhage. A bone marrow transplant needs to be carried right away. Because the radiation exposure was focused on Xuewen’s right lap, to prevent toxin spread upward to kidneys and important organs, his right leg had to be amputated. When he heard his leg had to be amputated, he was exceptionally calm. Xuewen said: ‘My parents are just normal farmers living a peaceful and ordinary life. In the face of my diseases, they were almost crushed by the cold fact. They have already suffered too much. My sorrow and sadness only can add the burden on their shoulder. Crying cannot solve any problem, so I have to face the fact and the ongoing battle! ’ However, it is not the only pain he had to get through. The situation was not getting better: Bone marrow transplant did not resolve the declining number of red blood cell, white blood cell, and platelets. His white blood was critically low, only one-tenth of the normal count. Xuewen Song was transferred into the sterile room, intubated with catheter, infusion tube, and drainage tube. He eagerly seeks treatments to get better. His determination and persistence support him to undergo the treatment. Xuewen never thought about giving up treatments or not to continue to live on this world. Some people maybe could not accept the truth that they will go to be live with an incomplete body in the future life because they think their lives is not worth living anymore. Paul Kalanithi wrote in his book When Breath becomes Air that ‘the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living. Would you trade your ability, or your mother’s, to talk for a few extra months of mute life? Does the expansion of the visual blind spot in exchange for eliminating the small possibility of a fatal brain hemorrhage? …What makes life meaningful and worth living?’ Xuewen’s answer towards this question is clear, he said: ‘I have to live, even if my body is distorted and my organs are not functioning well. My family needs me. I’m not by my own and I still love the feeling of being alive.’ Xuewen attitude towards terminal disease was consistent with the Chinese people’s general attitude toward terminal disease. Under the influence of traditional Confucius thought for thousands of years, Chinese people are taboo to talk about death. Even though the family of patients knows the disease is incurable, they still will spend a lot of money to continue treatments, instead of choosing hospice. Chinese people have a positive attitude towards the battle between health and disease.

The process that he copes with the result of treatment was really harsh for him. When Xuewen takes treatments and surgeries in the hospital, he was not always positive. Sometimes he missed those invaluable and delightful memories. He still can recollect that, during the childhood, he skips downs the road after the last class, picking up flowers along the pathway. It seems that, on yesterday, he took part in the rock climbing events in the company, being rather smug for his four flexible limbs. But today, he was laid on the bed without right lap, intubating with different-functioned tubes. He cannot even walk to the bathroom on his own. Recalling those memories brought happiness at first, but then sorrow flushed into his mind. Being healthy and able-bodied was a natural and normal for me, but now it becomes a priceless luxury: a luxury that is not affordable; a luxury he cannot buy. However, missing bad memories does not equal to hate the present self. Xuewen said: ‘I am only 22 years old. Could I live a life happily with this body? People might say a doubtful ‘yes’, but I will say it definitely. I still dream of one day I can find the one that I loved and we can have children. I don’t want to leave the world with so many things have not done. There are so many possibilities in the future.’ But the ‘real’ difficulties he met is to go to the outside world— the world that is outside the hospital. He built himself a cocoon, shutting all people out of his world. He does not hate the body that he had before, but he afraid of getting out of the hospital. It is not because he thought himself is ugly, but because he doesn’t want to be treated as a disabled person. He wanted to be treated as a normal person, with no difference from others. Rachel wards, a woman who lost her husband in her 30s, said: “At the two-year point I find myself having to make more and more choices about whether or not I immediately blurt out hey did you know I’m a widow that’s my fun fact! People in my life are less likely to have been around then and more likely to need to be briefed on this backstory. This is extremely annoying because, after two years, I still don’t have a better way to relate this information than all caps-no spaces shouting”. He does not want to see the concern looks in his parents’ eyes. He wondered when he can introduce himself without mentioning why he lost his leg. He wanted to know when can people stop asking how he gets injured which enforced him to tell the story repeatedly, uncovering his scar over and over again. Fortunately, the nurse who took care of him instructed and guided him through those difficulties. The nurse said: Listen, Xuewen, don’t set yourself a psychological line. The society did not abandon you. Our medical staff did not retard you. You have gone through the physical pain, and you will go through the mental pain. Be confident in yourself. The warmness brought by the medical staff shape Xuewen’s memory with meticulous care. The close relationship between patients and doctors is so important here. Probably without the warm-hearted medical staff, Xuewen cannot get through those difficulties.

For the rarity and passiveness of the acute radiation, the patients usually will keep ‘silence’ toward the cause of their disease. People with internal disease question themselves why they will get the disease in the physical perspective, recalling past unhealthy habits. Compared with them, people with acute radiation disease in East Asia, which is caused by external factors, usually keep silence. In the case of Xuewen, he usually shows a sense of resigning to the disease. He said: ‘things just happened, then I have to face it.’ Except seeking compensation, he did not blame the cause of his disease usually. But he did ask the question of ‘ why me?’, in a more moral sense. He thought he must have done something bad before, inducing the god to punish him, and it might be related to reincarnation. This phenomenon also projected on a larger group of people in Japan who also experienced acute radiation syndrome, caused by radiation plant accidents and the atomic bomb. According to Yuka Kamite, ‘ while the majority of the trauma reactions were related to the tragic circumstances surrounding the bombing, radiation-related illnesses and their incumbent anxiety, confusion, and prejudice all shared a common theme as “unspoken” or “unspeakable” aspects of the postwar condition of atomic bomb survivors. It is now understood that the veil of silence on these topics functioned to obscure the transgressions of the atomic aftermath and has affected survivors over the course of their lives, as recent results of surveys have shown that some survivors still suffer from traumatic reactions tied to the atomic bomb experience today.’ This phenomenon, according to Linda M. HUNT, can be analyzed by saying that ‘as people attempted to make sense of the illness in the context of a specific life, generic biomedical notions proved inadequate and needed to be connected to the living world in a concrete way.’ Therefore, as the victims of the radiation plant accidents or atomic bomb, patients cannot find the physical medical issue on themselves. Therefore, they might relate the thing with God to explain the happening of the accident.

In 1998, Xuewen Song finished all his surgeries and returned his hometown. He took seven major surgeries in total. The number one Surgical suture needles are more than three hundred. The total surgery hours are more than 200 hours. But he gets through it finally. He got married and has a child. But it is pity that he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and heart disease, as a chronic and long-term result from severe exposure to radiation.

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