Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mr Cat, meet Mr Pidgeon

"Mr Cat, meet Mr Pidgeon...the rest I leave to you."

So goes the old saying, which indicates the strong order of things that seem to drive so much of the human condition.

Much like the laws of nature, so with humans, our likes, our reactions, our affiliations and our nemeses.

Or so I thought.

A few months ago I started seeing a new patient, an elderly Chinese man who was suffering from moderately advanced Parkinson's Disease. In the consultation was his daughter, a feisty, assertive but genuinely caring woman, doing all she could for her father, as well as the gentleman's wife, a woman in her eighties who could not speak any English, but seemed to be the decision maker in the unit.

This man was luckily very responsive to first line treatment, and at least for now many of his symptoms have come under control, resulting in a better quality of life for this man, and as is almost always the case, for his long suffering wife.

At our last appointment the wife expressed her delight that she could now go for long walks without worrying about her husband, who she previously believed needed 24 hr monitoring. In response, I jokingly mentioned that since they live close to me, that she could come and visit my mother-in-law.

Given all that they had in common, their age, their heritage, their language, the vicinity to each other's households, I thought this was a no brainer, and this would provide my mother-in-law an opportunity to mix with other people, and have broader interests and independent friends.

So naively, I arranged for us to meet one day over yum cha.

From where I was sitting, everything seemed to go smoothly. There was a lot of chatter, a lot of smiles. My mother-in-law and the elderly women seemed to talk the most, and why not after-all, they were so remarkably similar.

Well in the days and weeks after that lunch, I slowly noticed that there was no reference, no discussion about the new friend.

At first I barely noticed it, but I kept on asking my wife whether her mother saw her new friend today, in a way feeling chuffed that through my handy work, my mother-in-law had benefitted.

My wife would respond without asking her mother, with a bland "no".

After a few weeks of this, it occurred to me that this simply didn't sound right, so one night, while lying in bed with my wife, I asked her why her mother had not seen her new friend since the yum cha.

My wife said that the woman called 3 times, but her mother didn't want to see her.

I found this so strange. My mother-in-law has so few friends, so few peers of the same age, and she had such a burning desire for conversation, how could she not want to see her new friend?

After more prodding, my wife finally spilled the beans.

She said:

"My mother doesn't like her. She feels that she is below her."

My wife continued:

"My mother was a teacher back in China. This woman was just a commoner."

"My mother now has a son-in-law who is a doctor. This woman's daughter works in a factory. How could you think they would have anything in common. All you have done is embarrassed my mother."

Ditto! Maybe there are some things about the laws of nature that I have yet to fully understand!

What do you like/dislike most about Chinese women?