Compassionate Care in New York During Lunar New Year and Beyond: Chapter Four

Northeast  |  April 15, 2021
Defa Wen has difficulty walking and grits his teeth with each step. Photo/Daphne Liu

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Diana Chang, Ida Eva Zielinska

Tzu Chi New York has a tradition, which is, at the end of each lunar year, to distribute gift bags to seniors and long-term care recipients while bringing heartfelt best wishes. The practice has been going on for five years. Many look forward to their visits and company since the volunteers have helped them get through low points in their lives. Some even became volunteers themselves because of this ongoing custom. And sadly, a few of the care recipients Tzu Chi volunteers got to know passed away during that time. 

“Compassionate Care in New York During Lunar New Year and Beyond: Chapter Four” is the last in a series of blogs sharing stories about New Yorkers under Tzu Chi USA’s long-term care. The gifts Tzu Chi New York volunteers offer during the Lunar New Year celebration period are just one part of their ongoing support.

Defa Wen

“When your feet are weak, your waist is fragile; you will surely fall…” 

Defa Wen, a New York resident of Chinese descent, suffers from pinched nerves due to lumbar disc herniation, thus has difficulty walking: “I once suddenly stopped and dropped while walking in the middle of a road. Fortunately, I made it to the other side because my hands were still strong.”

Even for a distance as short as crossing a road, Defa found himself prone to falling. 

“In the past, my feet felt normal, never going as far as feeling hot,” Wen reminisced. He wonders why a person who was as healthy as he used to be could suddenly develop a new and painfully unpleasant sensation in his feet after the herniation. “It feels like fire erupting inside,” he describes, relaying that “in the beginning, I could still use dry ice to cool them down.” 

But that method would eventually become useless, and surgery was to follow. Even then, the constant flare-ups forced Defa to resort to massage and electric therapy twice a week to relieve the numbing pain in the wake of three operations.

“Right after massage and electric therapy, the muscle relaxed a little. But it would relapse soon afterward, the same pain coming back in a couple of hours.” It wasn’t long before going up and down stairs became laborious with sharp pain in the lumbar. But he tried to make do, gritting his teeth secretly without grunting out loud, making it look like everything is just fine, stoically enduring his suffering like many expect men to do.

While constantly beset by pain, Defa nonetheless remained courageous and optimistic, seeking help, literally, one step at a time, from going to clinics to locating doctors, from securing medical insurance to undergoing surgeries. He just kept forging ahead with steadfast perseverance, solving one problem after another as they came up.

“This insurance I applied for and secured had been deemed impossible by many folks, who wondered how come I could get it for lack of legal status. But I didn’t give up. Today I have it done due to a spirit of self-reliance!” he says, taking a moment to appreciate his approach and attitude, which won’t accept defeat. 

Maybe it’s precisely his valor and unbeatable stance and his admirable and unflinching self-reliance that attracted assistance from others. It seems that outside help tends to appear and pour in whenever he hits a snag, Tzu Chi entering the story that way as well. Just when he had depleted all his savings and couldn’t afford rent, Tzu Chi volunteers showed up with all the resources he needed and something more: the commitment to provide long-term care!

Peter Chu, a Tzu Chi New York volunteer, brings Defa Wen (right) provisions along with a letter from Master Cheng Yen. Photo/Daphne Liu

“This is extra stuff for you, outside of the one we give out to you at the start of each month. Just for an additional leg-up,” said Peter Chu, a Tzu Chi New York volunteer, handing over a cash card as financial aid to Defa, who was deeply touched: “I am grateful to you, Peter. I sincerely appreciate your help.”

Peter explains that Tzu Chi USA provides Defa a monthly living stipend, yet he will also go above and beyond that charity aid, adding that “I almost always bring some food for him each week.” Moreover, whenever Peter visits, he’ll ask Defa about his needs, then head out to locate resources and apply for assistance, hoping to seek out every bit of help for him.

Beyond bringing his monthly stipend, volunteer Peter Chu (left) will ask Defa Wen (right) what he needs, then make every effort to provide that assistance. Photo/Daphne Liu

Gradually, the one-way giver and receiver relationship that the two had established early on evolved into a kind of a two-way street. Today, Defa is equally a vital source of input. The experience and information he shares are of great help to other immigrants under Tzu Chi New York volunteers’ care who may find themselves in a similar situation, needing medical insurance or services, even without legal status in the United States.

Peter elaborates, saying that “He would also fill me in on whether certain medical insurances or doctors are good, and he became very experienced in this area, which I readily picked up from him.” Additionally, by sharing what he learns about how Defa overcomes obstacles while seeking medical help, others can also discover solutions, individuals who might otherwise have no medical recourse at all. Not to mention the inspiration Defa’s example and story bring, encouraging everyone to persevere in their attempts to solve life’s problems.

Whatever you encounter, don’t get distracted, just face it, for you can’t afford to just let the chips fall where they may, or give up on hope, which you need when taking the initiative to find medicines and doctors. It is the right way, isn’t it?!

What Defa Wen has done epitomizes the spirit of combining help from others with self-help. Nowadays, he feels he is no longer a lone wolf in a strenuous endeavor. Even when facing the extreme uncertainty and stress that problems in life can bring, at least he can count on the Tzu Chi family for warmth and company.

With your love, Tzu Chi USA’s long-term care individuals nationwide will only benefit. The assistance and moral support they will receive from our volunteers, thanks to your generosity and care, will surely brighten the light of courage and hope they need to carry on and move forward, no matter what difficulties life throws their way.

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