Dedication, Perseverance, Sacrifice: Doctor Fulfills Pledge to Help Rural Residents Improve Health

ByZhang Jiamin October 9, 2021
Lu Shengmei


During the past five decades, Lu Shengmei, former vice-president and director of the department of pediatrics of Jiaxian People's Hospital, has been devoting her life to helping residents, in Jiaxian (a county in Yulin, a city in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province), improve their health. Many Chinese wonder how Lu, a university graduate from Beijing, is able to both devote herself to her work and endure her hard, simple rural life in Yulin. If they learn about Lu's experiences, they might understand why she is so ardently enthusiastic about her rural lifestyle, and how she has found the strength, as a Party (Communist Party of China) member, to fulfill her decades-long promise to make continuous efforts to help Jiaxian's residents improve their health.

Practicing Medicine in Countryside

In 1961, Lu submitted her application for Party membership to her middle school's Party organization. In her application, she wrote, "I'll devote all of my efforts to promoting the Party's cause during the following 50 years." In a report, which she submitted to the hospital's Party organization soon after she began working in Jiaxian (in December 1968), Lu explained her ideological progress. She also vowed to make continuous efforts to help Jiaxian's residents improve their health throughout the next five decades. Despite all of the hardships and difficulties she has encountered, Lu has tried her best to fulfill her promise.

Despite the passage of time, Lu can recall how excited she was when she was informed, in 1968, she should prepare to work in Jiaxian. Then, she was about to graduate from Beijing Second Medical College (the predecessor of Capital Medical University). "Most of us (Lu and her classmates) were pleased when we learned we would work in hospitals or health centers, in faraway places with harsh conditions, after we graduated from university. We were determined to work hard to live up to the Party's expectations," Lu recalls.

It was not until she arrived in Jiaxian (in December 1968) that Lu discovered how economically backward the county was. Situated on the Loess Plateau, Jiaxian is a water-deficient area. Lu was surprised to see Jiaxian People's Hospital was built in cave dwellings. Even worse, she had to put up with an adobe kang (earthern bed) and the annoying biting and/or stinging of bugs. However, the strong-willed woman gradually adapted to her new surroundings.

Lu grew concerned after she learned, within a short time after arriving in Jiaxian, many of the residents had little or no medical knowledge. That inspired her to work harder to fulfill her duty (as a doctor), and to help residents increase their medical knowledge.

Benevolence, Compassion

Given the inadequate transportation system, it was difficult for seriously ill patients to get to the hospital to receive treatment. Therefore, doctors had to make home visits. Lu will never forget how affected she was one snowy day, as she watched the patient's family blubber, as she was approaching their home. She had fallen dozens of times on the way, as she traveled along the treacherous mountain path. Given Lu's timely treatment, the boy, who suffered from pneumonia, complicated by heart failure, got better within days. Lu, who was aware of the high infection rate of the disease, lost no time in visiting other families in the village. Within a short time, Lu had provided treatment to five other children.

To express her gratitude to Lu, the mother of one of the children offered Lu a pair of qiancengdi cotton shoes (shoes with soles made from many layers of cloth stitched together). The woman hoped Lu would be able to travel along the rugged, uneven mountain path more easily if she wore the shoes. As she looked at the woman, Lu realized there was a serious need for qualified doctors in the rural area.

Establishing Pediatrics Department

Lu attended a training course between 1981 and 1983 provided by Peking Union Medical College Hospital. The course was intended to help doctors, from various regions of the country, improve their medical skills. Given Lu's outstanding performance, several of her peers recommended she be employed by a large hospital in either Beijing or Xi'an (capital of Shaanxi Province). Lu, though, preferred to remain a doctor in Jiaxian.

A short time after she returned to Jiaxian (in 1983), she proposed the establishment of the department of pediatrics in Jiaxian People's Hospital. She was named the department's director. Lu made it a rule that doctors within the department should help patients save money on their treatment costs. Lu also encouraged the doctors to care for and help impoverished patients.

During the first few years after the department was established, Lu raised money, so all of the nurses (within the department) could attend training provided by Xi'an Children's Hospital. Given their diligence and wisdom, the nurses quickly honed their professional skills.

Contributions Since Retirement

Lu has witnessed — and been pleased by — the hospital's development throughout the decades. In 1999, she retired from the hospital. She gently declined offers — even with handsome salaries — from several large hospitals (in Xi'an and Yulin). By December 2018, Lu had fulfilled her promise to help Jiaxian's residents improve their health during the previous five decades. But she has not slowed down; in fact, she has continued to work hard for people's well-being.  

During the past 20 years, Lu has provided free medical consultations to more than 100,000 residents.

Despite her advanced age, Lu faithfully performs her duty (as a doctor). In 2019, she accepted the hospital's invitation to help provide free medical consultations to residents every week. "I cannot remember how many patients I have treated over the years. Like a kite, I'll 'fly' to the patients quickly whenever they 'pull the kite's thread'," says Lu.

In May 2016, she established a group of volunteers, composed of seniors, to help residents solve difficulties in their lives. Inspired by Lu, many of the residents have joined the group.

Shortly after the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in early 2020, Lu applied to serve on an anti-epidemic "battlefield." She wrote in her application, "Wherever I'm needed, I'll rush to the 'battlefield' fearlessly. I'll try my best to fulfill my duty (as a doctor)." To support the hospital in its work on combating the disease, Lu within a short time offered 10,000 yuan (US $1,538) to the hospital's Party organization, as the Party membership dues. "I hope my life will be as beautiful as a spark, which releases its energy enthusiastically. I'll try my best to promote the 'spirit of the ox (in serving the people, driving innovative development and working tirelessly),' as I do my bit to help residents improve their health," says Lu.

Given her outstanding achievements, the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) named Lu a National March 8 Red-banner Holder in February 2021. Four months later, the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee named her a National Outstanding Party Member. Yet, despite all of her achievements, Lu has kept a low profile, and she has vowed to make continuous efforts to help residents improve their health.

"General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered a speech in Beijing on July 1, 2021, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC. His words touched my heart. I have realized we Party members should always remain committed to our original aspirations, and devote all of our efforts to promoting the Party's cause. We should also prove, with our actions, the value of Party members," says Lu.


Photos Supplied by Lu Shengmei

(Women of China English Monthly August 2021 issue)


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