Chapter 43 - If Only Tears Could Bring You Back

Fei’s job required him to constantly fly in and out of Hong Kong.  But having the latest and the greatest gadgets in technology, he was able to see Kwan and Lemon-B wherever he went.  On nights when he was not home, Kwan would always Skype him so he could say good night to Lemon-B who was at an age where she was learning to repeat words.

“Good night!” Lemon-B said into the webcam.  Her cute little mimicking voice was just the nightcap Fei needed at the end of a long tiring day.  However, with his colleagues still sitting next to him in the office, he was not at liberty to tell Kwan that he missed the warmth and feel of her next to him.  Normally he would end their conversation telling her that he would see her again on Skype tomorrow.  However, tonight, he planned to give her a surprise to make up for not being able to celebrate Valentine’s Day with her two weeks ago, so he ended the conversation a little differently tonight.

“I’ll see you soon!”

Five hours later, Fei snucked into the single bed in his daughter’s room where his wife was sleeping in.  Guess he wasn’t that quiet because as soon as he climbed in, Kwan jerked awake and almost hit him in the head with Lemon-B’s glass bottle.  Luckily his reflexes were good.

After welcome home kiss, they approached the sleeping toddler.  Fei gave his daughter a butterfly kiss which landed on her soft forehead.  After that, he led his wife out of the nursery and took her into their own bedroom where they had their late Valentine celebration.

Two hours later, Kwan and Fei were woken up by the phone.  It was just minutes after 6 in the morning.  They both thought it was the Agency calling for Fei.

“Don’t they let agents sleep and have a normal family life?”  Kwan whined as she buried her face in the pillow.

Fei looked at the caller ID and passed the phone over to his wife.  “Today they do.  This is for you.  Dr. Millard.”

Five minutes later, Kwan was fully awake and was in the den signing onto her email account on the computer which was never shut down because of Fei’s work.  She saw the large file that was sitting in her email attachment and began the downloading.

“This is quite a late notice from WHO but the case was not reported until late February.  We need to re-open that file I sent you just before Christmas.  WHO is asking for a green light to issue a global alert,” Dr. Millard explained.  “I am also sending you a link to access their database so that you can retrieve the files from there too.  This is not a ‘business as usual’ case.  This might very well be a state of Worldwide Emergency.”

“There seems to be a flu bug going around over the last few weeks, does this have anything to do with it?”  Kwan could hear the urgency from Dr. Millard’s voice.

“We don’t know yet, but WHO thinks it is a new infectious disease from an unknown origin.  Vietnam sent the report in and we are now investigating.”  Dr. Millard explained what he knew.  “And you take care of yourself and keep your family safe.  Tell Fei to take precaution as well!”

Within a matter of days, the whole world learned about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, better known as SARS.  And Kwan was a crucial researcher for Dr. Millard.  Due to her language skills and the fact that she was in Hong Kong and close to China, she was able to gather a lot more information from her end that benefited the research.

“It’s the media!  People are reacting with panic.  And half the hospital staffs decided not to show up for work.  The lack of patient care in the hospitals is making it impossible to contain the disease.”  Kwan had Dr. Millard on Skype when she let out her frustration.  “They should cut the media!”

“Well, we know all about the media and who is controlling them, don’t we, Fei?”

“Sure do!”  Fei saluted into the webcam.

“People are living in fear because this is a new disease.  But this epidemic is still mysterious in so many aspects.  I think the fear of SARS is outrunning SARS per se!”  Kwan continued with her 2 cents worth.

“I agree.  But nonetheless, you need to take precaution and remember to rest.  I know how you function.  Remember you have a family to take care of.”  Dr. Millard’s image and voice came over the speaker phone loud and clear.  “And Fei, you make sure Quin doesn’t overwork herself in the research.”

“Yes, I will keep on reminding her not to turn Lemon-B into Snow White!”  Fei gave his wife a smirk.

“Huh?” Dr. Millard didn’t get it.

But Kwan finally understood what Fei meant.  She snubbed him and smacked him in the arms.  “She won't turn into Snow White if you become a monk when I am no longer alive!”

“Oh, I get it now.”  Dr. Millard chuckled.  Then he pointed his index finger into the webcam aiming at Kwan. “Well, don’t you give him a reason to become a monk!”

A week later, Kwan was on her way to her Dad’s home to pick up Lemon-B.  She saw the old woman who lived in the apartment below struggling to walk up the stairs.  Kwan could tell the old woman was not well and reached out to catch her as she almost fell.  As soon as Kwan touched the old woman’s arms, she knew the elderly was fighting a high fever and needed medical attention immediately.  She decided to drive the woman in her car to the nearest hospital to be treated immediately.  When she was about to leave, the nurse who was attending the older woman called to Kwan and told her to she had to stay behind for mandatory quarantine because she had contact with someone with SARS.

“What? Quarantined?!”  Fei did not like hearing that word over the phone.  He was in Australia and was about to board his flight back when she called.  “Do you have a fever?”

“No,” Kwan felt her own forehead to be sure.  She was glad she had her lap top with her and especially glad she remembered the password to Fei’s wireless account to get on the Internet via his FBI access.  “It’s just for precaution.  Skype me when you get back and remember not to come to the hospital.”
For the next ten days, Kwan made good use of her quarantine time in the hospital.  She didn’t tell Fei, but she volunteered to stay behind after three days when she didn’t develop any sign of the illness.  She made her choice to stay because the hospital needed help.  She was able to continue her work by using Fei’s FBI account to access the Internet.  Fei copied all her files regarding SARS that were in the home server into an external drive so that she could continue her research in the hospital.  

“No, antibiotics won’t work.  Take ibuprofen or Aspirin.”  Kwan told the nurse who suspected she caught the virus from one of the patients who just died after being hospitalized for 17 days.  “Keep taking them and try to cool off the fever with wet towels.”  Before the nurse exited her office, Kwan quickly called after her.  “And remember to rest!”

Though the outlook was bleak for containing the SARS outbreak, Kwan did her best to stay positive for the hospital staff and for Fei who had now learned she stayed voluntarily.  When she read about the death of the doctor who first reported the disease to WHO, her faith of getting out of the hospital began to waver.  Two weeks later, Fei noticed she looked weary and tired when they were on Skype.

“Are you getting enough sleep?”  Fei was trying to keep Lemon-B’s hands from touching the keyboard.

“Yes,” She lied.  She was working overtime with the staff trying to come up with a vaccine for SARS.

“Sleep?”  Lemon-B mimicked her Dad.  She wanted her turn to talk into the mic.  “Ma Ma!”

“Yeah, you tell Ma Ma to sleep but you won’t sleep.”  Fei pretended to squeeze his daughter’s cheeks which in turned made her laugh.

“Play her the The Prayer song.  I play it for her every night when you were missing after September 11th.”  Kwan’s eyes were getting tearful from missing them so much.

“Sleep!  Ma Ma!”

Those were the last words Kwan heard from her daughter before falling sick and succumming to SARS.  Overnight, Kwan developed a high fever and was immediately placed under the negative pressure room which was an isolation technique that she recommended to the hospital to keep the spread of the disease at minimum.  Before the illness took away her strength, she wrote Chin Chin an email, apologizing that she wouldn’t be able to make it to her debut.  But she promised she would watch from the direct live broadcast which Fei had set up for her using his phone to transmit directly to an application in her computer.

Lying in her hospital bed fighting to reduce her fever, she popped a couple of aspirin into her mouth and swallowed them with her glass of water.  She also asked a nurse to analyze some blood work for her before she connected her lap top to watch Chin Chin’s debut performance.

To her surprise, Chin Chin came on stage from behind the curtains and gave a short dedication.  Even Fei was surprised because he looked into the camera with a surprised grin.

“Tonight I would like to dedicate this performance to my friend, Kwan, who is now lying in the hospital because of SARS.  She’s shown me what it means to live each day by giving her very best.  As you all know, we’ve lost too many doctors, nurses and healthcare workers because of SARS.  They are still giving their heart and soul to the battle, even when their colleagues fall victim to the deadly virus.  They are truly our modern day heroes.  So I ask that we take one minute of silence for those who lost the battle while fighting this war for us.  We dedicate to all of you this song - One Moment in Time.”

While watching Chin Chin, a sense of loneliness overcame Kwan.  Tears started to flow uncontrollably from her eyes.  She tried to wipe them dry and control her sadness by thinking about Fei and Lemon-B, but nothing worked.  The tears wouldn’t stop.  As she watched Chin Chin danced and listened to the lyrics of the song, she realized the dancer was indeed a new person.  Chin Chin was no longer the woman who was afraid to dance because of the past.  Fei was able to focus the camera closer and Kwan could see her smiling face as she and Annabelle took the stage.

Suddenly, Kwan felt sad for making the decision to stay behind.  She could have been there with her family, with Chi Shan and Ah Man and their daughter.  She could have been sitting next to Fei and her daughter watching Chin Chin dance.  She was under the limelight and Kwan could only imagine the delight on everyone’s face.  The illness made Kwan weak.  Her hands were trembling as she took her glass of water to drink.  Then she remembered her dream on the flight to Las Vegas.  Now she understood the dream was never meant to be a nightmare, it was a revelation when she would see Chin Chin free to dance again.  Kwan also thought it was a revelation telling her she would leave this world behind.  She remembered vividly that she felt her spirit drifting away as she became deaf to her surrounding while watching the man she loved from afar. She started to feel this way and she knew she was not dreaming.

The nurse came back with the results of her blood work.  Kwan took one last look and closed her eyes.  Her arm fell off the side of the bed and the slip of paper with her blood test results fell to the floor and slipped underneath the side table. The count on the heart rate monitor was dropping rapidly and Fei was notified immediately.

When Fei reached the hospital, he realized it was too late to even say good-bye.  He wanted to enter the room immediately but Bui Yee stopped him.

“You can’t risk getting SARS.  You have to think about Lemon-B!”

So he got dressed as quickly as he could and went to his wife who was still warm, but he knew she was gone because there was no pulse and the line on the monitor went flat.  He held on to Kwan’s body and sobbed like he never did before.  Tears were bursting forth and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he got down on his knees and continued to sob.  Then Fei noticed a piece of paper underneath the side table.  When he read it, he crunched it up with anger and frustration and sobbed even harder.  Those who were watching from outside the room couldn’t hold back their tears either.  They lost a loved one on April 29, 2003.

If Only Tears Could Bring You Back by Midnight Sons