Hand in Hand on the Path of Life

She didn’t buckle when hardship knocked on her door. Instead, she emerged from it stronger. She demonstrated an indomitable spirit that has amazed many.

It was a chilly March night in Taipei and the kids were already in bed. Wang Ju (王菊) glanced at the clock: a quarter past ten. She wondered why her husband, Ye Ming-xi
 (葉明西), hadn’t arrived home yet. What could be keeping him?

Just then the phone rang and jarred her from her thoughts. “Hello, is this Mrs. Ye?” the caller asked tentatively. After introducing himself as a police officer, the man on the phone continued: “Don’t panic, but I must inform you that your husband, Ye Ming-xi, has been in a traffic accident. He has been taken to MacKay Hospital. Please come quickly....”

Wang hung up before the police officer could even finish his sentence. Grabbing her purse and keys, she dashed downstairs and hailed a taxi. Only then did she realize she had forgotten to put on her shoes.

When she arrived at the emergency room, she saw her husband, his clothes cut away, covered in tubes. His head had been cracked open by the impact of the accident, and blood and a white liquid had flowed from his brain out through his ears. He was immediately admitted to the ICU.

Ye had been discovered lying unconscious on the road. The front end of his motor scooter had been smashed, and his helmet had rolled off to one side. It was unclear if he had been the victim of a hit-and-run, or if he had accidentally crashed into the median island himself.

After Ye Ming-xi (left) suffered a grave brain injury in a traffic accident, his wife, Wang Ju, stood by him like a rock and took excellent care of him.

Tying the knot

Ye was born in 1966 in Kinmen, an offshore island of Taiwan. In 1992, he was posted to China by his company in Taiwan as a maintenance engineer for a hotel video arcade. That was where he met his future wife, Wang Ju.

Wang was born in 1973 in Hainan, the southernmost province of China. Her parents were both farmers, and life was hard when she was growing up. Although she was an excellent student, she had to drop out of school when she was in the seventh grade to work and help pay for her younger siblings’ schooling. Later, she was hired by a big hotel in Hainan, where she started at the bottom and worked her way up. Starting out as a warehouse worker, she was head of the Chinese food section by the time she was in her early 20s, managing over 200 people.

Ye courted Wang for six years before she finally agreed to give him her hand in marriage. The hotel’s boss said to Ye when he learned that they were getting married: “Wang is the best girl I’ve ever met. Don’t ever let her shed a tear after you get married—I’ll never let you get away with it if you do.”

After their two children were born, Wang and the children moved to Taiwan. Ye later quit his job in China and returned to be reunited with them. 

The first thing Ye does every day is exercise on the balcony of his home in Hainan.

My kids cannot be without a father

Ye had his accident in March 2005. Their two children were still very young at the time: Jia-jun
 (家均), their son, was in first grade, and Xiang-yi 
(湘宜), their daughter, was about five.

The accident left Ye in the deepest level of coma, a 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, and his pupils were dilated. The doctors told Wang that if they operated on her husband, he might die on the operating table or end up in a vegetative state. But all Wang could think was that she couldn’t let her kids be without a father. Despite the risks, she opted for surgery for her husband. “We must save him. I know he’ll recover.”

The surgery went well. A couple of weeks later, Ye had a tracheotomy. Wang’s heart broke when she saw how his body convulsed and his features distorted with pain when he underwent the phlegm suction procedure. She even second-guessed her decision to save him, and she wished that she could suffer in his stead. When she went home that day, she tried to insert a phlegm suction tube into her own throat to experience how much it hurt, but she found she couldn’t even get it past her throat—it was too painful.

Whenever Wang had a moment alone, she’d dissolve in tears. Ye had been a loving husband before the accident. Being shy, he wasn’t the type who said, “I love you” all the time, but he showed his love in other ways. For example, he would wash her hair for her, which Wang had always felt was a very sweet gesture. Thinking of her husband like this made her want to weep. The pressure from an uncertain future made her tear up, too. 

In front of others, however, she tried to appear strong. “I mustn’t panic or get flustered. I must think of the kids,” she told herself. 

Whenever Wang is home, she attends to the daily needs of her husband: She gives him his medicine at the right times, bathes him, massages him…. This has been her life not just for one or two days, but for the last ten years.

Back home 

Ye returned home after being hospitalized for more than a month, but he was still in a coma. A social worker at the hospital contacted Tzu Chi volunteer Wu Xi-jiao (巫喜教) and told him of the Ye family’s situation. Wu arranged for a used hospital bed, wheelchair, phlegm suction machine, oxygen tank, and some diapers to be delivered to Ye’s home. “That’s the first contact I had with Tzu Chi,” said Wang. “I was full of gratitude for their help.”

Wang turned her husband over in bed and massaged him every two hours to prevent bedsores. He weighed about 200 pounds but felt heavier because he was unconscious. This made it even more of a challenge for the petite Wang to take care of him. Sometimes after Wang had turned him over, she would find that he had wet the bed. She’d then have to change the bed sheets and comforter covers. After she was done, she’d turn him back over—only to find that he had wet the bed again.

Sometimes Ye would slip off the bed amidst all the turning over and sheet changing. Wang couldn’t possibly lift him back onto the bed by herself, but there was no one around to help her. The first time that happened, she burst into tears of  helplessness. But she later figured out a way to solve the problem. She discovered that she could put his feet on a chair and stuff a comforter cover behind his back. Then she’d stand on the bed and with all her might give the comforter cover a sharp pull. With that, she could move her husband back onto the bed.

She had a trick for moving him from the bed into a wheelchair, too. She would first pull her husband toward her. Then she’d swing his feet off and down the side of the bed and clamp his knees with hers. Then with her hands gripping the waist of his pants, she’d take a big breath, lift him, and wrestle him into the wheelchair.

Before Ye was discharged from the hospital, Wang had learned from the nursing staff how to suction phlegm. Because she had tried to insert a tube into herself before, she knew how painful it was. Even though he appeared unconscious, she made a point of soothing Ye before sucking out his mucus. “Daddy, I’m going to suck out your phlegm now. You’ll feel better after this. Don’t tense up. Relax. I’ll put the tube in slowly.” Practice makes perfect, and after a while she felt that her phlegm-suction skills were equal to those of a hospital nurse.

One day, more than a month after he had returned home, Ye suddenly opened his eyes and turned his eyeballs around, as if he were looking for something. Wang was overjoyed. “I kept calling his nickname, ‘ABC! ABC! I’m here! Look at me!’” (Because his name—Ye Ming-xi—sounds a little like English “ABC,” his nickname has been ABC since he was small.) Wang called his name from different directions and found that his eyes would follow her voice. He was awake! He was awake! Wang hugged her husband and cried tears of joy.

A strong woman

Since Ye now seemed to be awake, Wu Ming-ya 
(巫明雅), a home visit nurse who visited Ye every two weeks to take his blood pressure and change his tubes, suggested that Wang check her husband into a hospital and start him on a rehabilitation program. The nurse also referred Ye and Wang to a Tzu Chi social worker, saying that the couple’s kids were still small and Ye’s situation had plunged the family into financial difficulty. No one in the couple’s extended family was able to help financially, and they were really in need of support and assistance.

After learning of the Ye family’s situation, volunteers Guo Bao-ying (郭寶瑛), Chen Mu-lan
 (陳木蘭), Wu Ming-gui (吳銘桂), and Lin Su-ying
 (林素英) visited Wang and Ye at the hospital where Ye was undergoing physical therapy.

“The first time I saw Ye,” Chen Mu-lan recalled, “he was slumped in a wheelchair. His head hung low, and he didn’t seem to register anything of what was happening around him.”

Ye could raise his right hand, but only with a lot of effort. His left hand was totally limp. Just getting him into a wheelchair was a Herculean feat, and then he had to be tied to the wheelchair to prevent him from slipping down.

Wang patiently helped him do his rehab exercises. One of his exercises was pushing a ball forward with his hand. Wang would hold his hand in hers and help him push the ball forward time and again. Every time the ball moved forward, Wang would applaud and exclaim, “Wow, daddy, you’re doing so great! Come on, let’s do it again.”

“Ye was as limp as a pile of mud,” said Chen. “It was just Wang who was pushing the ball. I was really impressed by her—she was so positive and encouraging during the whole process.”

Wang told the volunteers that though they had always lived a frugal life, what little savings they had put away had quickly diminished after her husband’s accident. Even so, she was determined to help him recover. “I’ll do my best to help him. I believe he’ll get well.”

The group of volunteers admired Wang’s positive and optimistic attitude despite what had happened to her. They felt that there was a great chance that the husband would recover with a wife like her. After assessing the couple’s situation, they decided to enroll the family as a long-term care recipient. Chen began delivering NT$10,000 (US$340) to Wang every month.

Chen Mu-lan (right) treats Wang like her own daughter. Li Li

A caring world

Chen’s heart went out to Wang because she knew what a huge burden she was shouldering, and so she often delivered daily necessities and food given away by a temple. She also compiled for Wang a list of resources for which she could apply. Wang was very thankful. She said to Chen in tears, “We’ve been living off people’s donations. I feel very uneasy about that.” Chen just hugged her and reassured her: “Our society is full of love. You’re in need now, so you’re receiving help from others. When you’ve gotten through the rough patches, when your kids have grown up, you can pay back society by helping others.” With tears streaming down her face, Wang nodded and promised she would.

After another operation on his brain, Ye finally became fully conscious. He underwent active rehabilitation afterwards, and two months later he was able to walk out of the hospital hand-in-hand with his wife.

Ye returned to the hospital three days a week to do rehab exercises. On the other days, Wang helped him exercise at home or took him out for walks. She knew that the key to recovery was working hard on physical therapy.

An in-home care provider hired by the social welfare department of the Taipei City government came to the couple’s home twice a week to wash Ye and help him exercise so that Wang could take a breather and go out to run errands. When Wang learned that an in-home care provider was paid by the hour, she was tempted to become one herself. “If I train, pass the exam, and qualify as a care provider, I’ll be able to better help my husband. What’s more, when I have time, I can go serve other people and make some money too.”

She started training in November 2005. One of Ye’s older sisters helped look after him when Wang was attending the courses. The training was rigorous—anyone who was late or left a class early for a total of six hours was cut from the training program. Because Ye was hospitalized again for a blood clot in his brain, Wang soon exceeded the maximum allowable absences, but her teacher was moved by her determination to finish the training and made an exception for her to stay in the program. In the end Wang passed the exam with flying colors. Her husband was also discharged from the hospital soon after.

In late December that year, they received a letter from the government informing them that they had passed the eligibility screening for low-income status and would begin receiving a monthly subsidy of 17,000 NT dollars the following February. Wang quickly called Chen and asked her to remove her family from the Tzu Chi list of care recipients and to give the money to other needy people. 

Remember how good he used to be

Ye suffered from another serious complication after the traffic accident—he could never feel full. He tended to eat too much, and as a result he put on a lot of weight and his blood sugar spiked. What was worse, he often grew violent when he was denied food.

“He didn’t use to be like this,” observed Wang. “He was a good husband and father—very thoughtful and gentle.” To prevent her husband’s behavior from alienating their children, she often told them: “Daddy used to be a terrific person. It was only because of his brain injury that he became like this. We must make allowances for him.”

Chen suggested that Wang take Ye to the recycling station at the Tzu Chi Guandu Complex to volunteer. She said that the benign atmosphere there might have a good effect on his emotions. It may sound strange, but Ye did gradually become more peaceful and less susceptible to violent bursts of temper after he began serving as a recycling volunteer. It might be that food stopped dominating his thoughts when his attention was engaged by sorting recyclables. When he did sometimes lose his temper, Wang would hold him tight and say softly to him, “Okay, I know. Relax. Come on, let’s take a deep breath.”

She said with a wry smile, “It was no use getting mad at him, but it worked when I tried to soothe him. So instead of losing my temper, I was gentle with him and tried to calm him down.”

When the couple went to do recycling, Wang would patiently teach her husband how to sort stuff: “Put the newspapers here. This is for printed paper. This is for blank paper.” Ye gradually learned to properly sort out recyclable material. His cognitive and thinking abilities were improving.

Wang enjoyed volunteering. She appreciated the chance to give. So she asked Chen to let her know when there were other volunteer opportunities. Consequently, Chen often invited her to take part in different volunteer work events, such as cleaning up the Tzu Chi Guandu Complex and chanting sutras for the deceased. Wang was always happy to help out as long as she was free.

Seeing how much she liked volunteering, Chen asked Wang if she was interested in becoming a Tzu Chi commissioner. [A Tzu Chi commissioner must receive training and establish a roster of people who make monthly donations to the foundation.] “I’d like to recommend you to train as a commissioner. You need to train for two years to receive your certification. What do you think?”

“Me?” Wang was taken by surprise. “How is that possible?!”

Chen told Wang that she believed she would make a good commissioner with her admirable character, can-do spirit, and positive outlook on life. “Besides, you already do a lot of volunteer work. Why can’t you become a commissioner?”

“In addition to taking care of my husband and children, I do handiwork at home to make money. I also work part-time as a cleaning lady and as an in-home care provider....”

“Do you know what my family situation is like?” Chen said. It was the first time she had talked about her family. “My husband and I are both tailors. One of our children is your age. He’s seriously handicapped and can’t take care of himself. My mother-in-law lived with us before she passed away, and she had dementia.”

Wang couldn’t believe what she had just heard. The two of them had a long heart-to-heart, crying and laughing in turn. When Wang found out that Chen was as old as her mother, she asked, “Can I call you ‘Mama’?” “What?” It was Chen’s turn to be surprised, but she immediately said, “Sure you can!” The two hugged each other with tears rolling down their cheeks. 

Wang, Ye, and their two children, Jia-jun and Xiang-yi, at their home in Hainan

 Bringing the seed of Tzu Chi home

Wang was certified as a Tzu Chi commissioner in January 2010. In March that year, she volunteered for three days at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in eastern Taiwan. One day she shared her story at the daily volunteer morning meeting presided over by Master Cheng Yen. She told the audience that she was from Hainan and had settled in Taiwan after she married a Taiwanese. She recounted that she had two kids, that her husband had had a traffic accident five years earlier, and that though his life was saved, his intellect was reduced to that of a five-year-old.

“When my life was at its hardest, Tzu Chi extended a helping hand to me. Now I’ve become a commissioner. In order to volunteer at the Tzu Chi hospital this time, I especially asked my mom to come from Hainan to Taiwan to look after my husband and children for me.”

She continued and said that she had learned that Tzu Chi did not yet have a branch office in Hainan. “I vow that if I ever return to Hainan, I’ll take the seed of Tzu Chi there and help it take root and sprout.”

Wang took her family and moved back to Hainan in August 2010. Her mother had urged her to move back so that she could help look after her husband and children. But a bigger reason that had motivated her to move back was that Wang hoped to promote and carry out Tzu Chi work there.

Some time after she returned, Wang started up a business of her own and was quite successful. In a few years, she was able to build a building and provide the second floor to be used as a Tzu Chi office.

Her husband continues to be a challenge to take care of, but she continues to hold his hand tight on the path of life.

March 2018