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Mennonite-China connection aids healing


Philip Bender’s nurse, Xiaomin Yan, in front of her hyperbaric oxygen machine.

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January 21, 2011
-Philip Bender

Hamilton, ONT. — Sometimes Mennonite Church Canada international workers benefit from the broad network of relationships that have been knit between us and our local communties. I learned this first-hand during a recent health crisis.

On July 11, 2010 in Dazhou, I suddenly lost part of the hearing in my left ear. Three days later, I was almost completely deaf in that ear so I sought a specialist in Chongqing, a large city three hours away. My wife Julie and I had taught there from 2004 to 2009.

At First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University, the doctor offered a grim diagnosis: “idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss,” very severe. The prognosis: limited recovery, if any. The treatment plan: a week of intravenous drugs, plus 10 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

I had never heard of this treatment, but I learned that it meant sitting with other patients in a chamber pressurized like an airplane cabin and inhaling oxygen through a mask for 70 minutes. On my third day of therapy, one of the nurses addressed me in English. I quickly learned that her name was Xiaomin Yan. She had studied nursing at Bluffton University as a China Educational Exchange (CEE) scholar in 1987-88.

CEE, now called Mennonite Partners in China (MPC), is the organization through which Julie and I teach as Mennonite Church Canada Workers. Thanks to the China-North America Mennonite network, my nurse was an extended family member. Now we had lots to talk about.

The following week Julie and I met Xiaomin for dinner. She told us about her experience as a CEE/MPC scholar and her life in China today.

Xiaomin has fond memories of her year in the USA. While she was able to travel to Goshen, New York, and other cities, she especially has fond memories of Bluffton.

“People there are very kind and nice. I loved them.”

She warmly recalls her nursing professor, Dr. Wanda McDowell. And she remembers with appreciation the worship services at the Bluffton First Mennonite Church she attended. Having worked for several years at First Affiliated Hospital as a neurosurgical nurse, Xiaomin today is head nurse of the Hyperbaric Oxygen department. Many of the patients she meets come for treatment following brain surgery, head trauma, carbon monoxide poisoning, and, like me, sudden hearing loss.

During my first week of oxygen therapy, Xiaomin pointed out that at least 15 sessions are usually recommended for my condition. So when the 10 sessions my doctor ordered were finished, I decided to continue for another 5. Two hearing tests showed progressive improvement. I ended up returning for an additional 20 treatments. While my ear has not returned to normal, I have regained far more hearing than the original prognosis offered.  My doctor pronounced me “very lucky.”

When Julie and I were based in Hamilton, Ont. in the fall of 2010 for a Canadian assignment with Mennonite Church Canada, I saw an ear specialist. Hyperbaric oxygen is not used to treat sudden hearing loss in Hamilton and the doctor seemed sceptical of the treatment I had received, but it certainly worked for me.

I’m very glad to have Xiaomin as a new Chinese friend. I’m also grateful for the information she provided about a longer series of oxygen treatments. I’m grateful for the MPC/CEE network that enabled me to meet her.  And I’m grateful that God, more than we are aware, uses such connections to impart healing and grace.

Philip and Julie Bender are long-term Mennonite Church Canada Workers in Dazhou, Sichuan. They serve through Mennonite Partners in China, teaching English at Sichuan University of Arts and Science.