May 24, 2012

Of Pineapples and Beef Noodles

These are three words that define Chinese people - superstitious, Thermos flask, and Confucianism. We are talking about the first today.
Call nights are a burden to hospital staff. Nurses, residents, and interns especially. They are the first line care provider whom patients call whenever they feel the slightest of nuisance - I can't sleep, my roommate is snoring too loudly, there's a tingling sensation on my back etc. However, there are some nights when things get really bad, say, a series of codes, followed by several patients threatening to be sent to the ICU, then a family member of the patient turns up and throws a tantrum. That's when the analytical mind of the Chinese intern/resident/nurse kicks in.
"Did you by chance ate any fresh or byproducts of pineapples?"
"I remember you had beef noodles for dinner didn't you? You're so dead."

As medical professionals, besides hoping our call nights would be peaceful and event-free, we hope our patients get a good night's sleep and recover quickly to be discharged. Calls during the middle of the night seldom bring good news. And you're disrupting our precious sleep.
That's why superstitious Chinese residents/interns/nurses tend to avoid pineapples and beef noodles during calls. In addition, mangoes and vitamin C are taboos too.
Pineapple - in Hokkien (Fukienese) is pronounced ong lai, meaning prosperous deeds coming my way. While businessmen love pineapples, it is the number one taboo for us. We definitely don't wish anything patient-related to be prosperous.
Same principle applies for any pineapple by-products, including pineapple tarts, the national dessert and most clichéd gift  of Taiwan.

Beef noodles - somehow the cow (or buffalo) for southern Chinese is a sacred animal blessed by the Goddess of Mercy. They work the rice fields, a staple for southern China, and is the last animal you would kill for food. However, for northern Chinese, beef is a regular dish in addition to noodles and dumplings. When the melting pot of cultures came to Taiwan, beef noodles became the cordon bleu for Taiwanese chefs. Widely available, once you had one for dinner, the pretty Goddess of Mercy will take revenge on your patients, and your sleep.

Mangoes - pronounced in Chinese as mang guo, sounds similar to the busy fruit. Being busy is the last thing I wanted in my medical career. My ideal lifestyle in the next 30 years is to clock out at 5 pm sharp every day, and uninterrupted 8 hours sleep on call nights.
Vitamin C - there was a brand of juice called Everyday C. People who drank them reported performing CPRs every day ever since. The staff union held a public burning party of Everyday C juices. And it was never seen in hospital stores, ever. Then the C superstition spread to vitamin C tablets as well. The innocent vitamin was to be taken secretly and never saw daylight in any hospitals.
So you can imagine, McDonalds is so dead introducing pineapple and mango pies. It's like a combo of taboos for hospital people.
And remember - if you really think the intern looking after you is cute and wanted to buy him a gift, avoid anything aforementioned. For the record I like Twinnings tea, Ikea pillows and bedsheets, and lava brownies. Absolutely no pineapples, mangos, beef, or Everyday C.