By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Asian American doctors who serve immigrant clients, usually close their offices during Lunar New Year (LNY), as so few patients show up. It’s not that Asian immigrants would like to have a day off. LNY is not a public holiday. There is something else…
Some consider it a tradition to never visit a doctor during LNY to protect yourself from bad luck. It’s one of those traditions on my late mom’s and grandma’s to-do list to preserve good luck. Actually, it’s more like a “don’t” list.
One of them is, if you do visit a doctor, sickness may follow you for the rest of the year. And if you need surgery, many Asians would probably postpone it until after LNY. The truth is, some of those customs are bogus. Despite the fact that I knew some customs foster superstitions, I went along with mom and grandma just because they said so. I listened to them, not because I was an obedient daughter, but because it made them very happy that I respected their views.
What if you really feel sick and you need a doctor? Sorry, grandma, this year, I have violated your rule in the Year of the Ox. It was not to prove you were wrong. I didn’t plan on it, but I needed a medical procedure.
For decades, I have been fortunate to never get sick or need to visit a doctor during LNY. However, my gums were swollen in January, and it was getting worse. My dentist referred me to an endodontist to do a root canal, to drain out possible pus or remove bacteria. That sounded like a minor surgery.
Chinese people don’t like to use the word “knife” during LNY. “Knife” symbolizes severing ties, risk, and viciousness. Never give knives to your good friends as gifts.
But my gum problem was serious, if not dangerous. I needed to take action quickly.
Then, I got more unwanted news. The only time that I was free and the endodontist could do it would be Feb. 12, the first day of LNY. Yes or no, her office asked. My gums couldn’t wait, and there was some pain.
American dentists work during LNY, I reminded myself. Well, all signs pointed to this being a not-so-lucky year. Strange, I realize that some of my mom and grandma’s beliefs had no logic. So why was I bothered that the endodontist’s appointment was on Feb. 12? Subconsciously, mom might have influenced my inner self.
According to a 2016 study on 35 families, the part of the brain that regulates emotions is more similar between mothers and daughters than any other intergenerational pairing, as quoted in the Motherly website. My mother passed away in 2018, but I have dreamed of her often. And what would she say about my decision to fix my tooth on Feb. 12?
“Don’t do it,” she would have probably nagged me. I did have some regrets after I said yes to the endodontist. Yet, my reasoning overruled my emotions.
A few days before my dental appointment, fears were swimming in my head. I imagined that it would be as painful as the time I got a crown. And it was the same tooth which caused the problem. I prepared myself mentally to bear the pain and all the unpleasantness. Confession: it was mostly anxiety and some stupid thoughts. I assumed I wouldn’t be able to eat regular foods on Feb. 12.
“Yuck! There goes my mouth-watering LNY dinner!”
My daughter-in-law Tracy was so sweet that she decided to cook me and my husband special LNY dishes on Feb. 11, instead of Feb. 12. I presumed that I should chew on soft food such as congee on the 12th. It would be the worst LNY dinner (or nothing to eat) in my life, I ranted. Well, I love to eat. How tormenting it would be, if not humiliating, to watch others enjoy their food, while I just stare, unable touch any of those foods!
On Feb. 12, everything proceeded as planned. The endodontist drilled open my tooth inside the crown all the way up, and cleaned and fixed three nerves inside my tooth. She prescribed a sleeping pill for me, and I slept for half an hour during the two-hour plus procedure. I expected I would be sick when it was over. Instead, I felt very much alive. I was like a new person. There was hardly any pain.
I went home and enjoyed the leftovers from my daughter-in-law’s LNY plate from the day before. Buoyed by the joy of a new year, I chopsticked every bite of food, including oyster, abalone, chicken, sea cucumber, prawns, and Chinese sausage, with pleasure and gratitude. I was thankful for minimal pain in my tooth and gums. I was back to normal right away.
The following day, when the snowstorm descended on Seattle, I was so happy that I had my root canal done already. LNY in Chinatown-International District CID on a Saturday, is usually a big celebration with ceaseless firecrackers and several lions dancing around the streets. But this year, the snow completely overshadowed the festival. But people still came, hoping perhaps, there might be some Lunar New Year activities. Sadly, what they found was a quiet “city within a city” filled with relentless falling white snow. Most ID businesses were closed.
We were lucky that Tracy had prepared so much food, it was enough for the next two meals. While many neighborhoods suffered power outages, we didn’t have that problem, and were spared from the freezing cold.
There were countless LNY blessings during the last week, including my escape for a day of misery and pain! And the snow began only after I returned from the endodontist. It was one of the biggest snowstorms in the last 58 years in Seattle. Almost a foot of snow accumulated in a day. The snow and the dental appointment were circumstances beyond my control. Yet, everything worked out perfectly. Thank God, all my assumptions were wrong.
On the eve of LNY, the Northwest Asian Weekly came out the day before the snowstorm, avoiding delivery challenges, not to mention the issue was full of interesting stories and advertisements. It couldn’t have been a more satisfying and joyful LNY. Well, if that’s the indication of my fortune for the rest of the year, I will gleefully accept it with open arms.
The lessons are numerous for this LNY. In this modern age, not every LNY tradition makes sense. Be flexible in following traditions. If you can’t follow them, it’s not the end of the world.
Secondly, don’t worry about your environment, it’s beyond your control. Overthinking causes anxiety. Letting it go is the best solution. It would mean freedom for you and the people around you.
Last is most important. If you don’t feel well and need to see a doctor, do it as soon as possible. Your and your loved ones’ well-being should take priority. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or second day of LNY, just go. Sometimes, delaying a day could be a matter of life and death.
Live in the present, my friends. Be in the moment. Don’t spoil today. As Mother Teresa said, “Each moment is all we need…not more.”
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.