Wed, Apr 10, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Life under quarantine

In the first of a two-part series, the ‘Taipei Times’ examines the long and complex history of Losheng Sanatorium and the life inside it through the eyes of its residents

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Lan now lives with 92-year-old Lin Chueh (林卻), who vowed to be with her caregiver and life-long friend until the day she dies.

“DIRTY PLACE”

Despite the lifting of the quarantine in 1962, throughout the 1960s and 1970s Losheng residents were prohibited from leaving the complex without permission. And, in order to go out, they had to make “special deals” with those in charge of the resident’s care.

“You had to bribe them — give them your food allowance and gifts,” says Tang.

Though not all keepers were “corrupt,” most of the remaining residents tell stories of how they were taken advantage of by their supposed guardians. Chou Fu-tzu (周富子), who was sent to Losheng in 1960 when she was 17, says mistreatment and prejudice against the patients were also common among medical professionals.

“It was hurtful to see the nurses afraid of touching the door knob or using pincers to pick up our prescription slips to avoid ‘the dirty bacteria,’” Chou says.

Outside, a hostile world awaited the sufferers, as years of segregation and false propaganda fostered discrimination and unfounded fears. Residents were refused service in restaurants; those who sought employment outside were forced to keep their life in Losheng a secret.

“Companies and businesses didn’t want us. They knew we were from the ‘dirty place’ once they saw [the address on] our ID cards,” Tang says. “We could only do manual labor, odd jobs.”

Residents internalized the stigma. Lee, for example, turned down an opportunity to work at Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower), fearing that people might find out about his condition.

Chen and Chou chose to eke out a living by helping out at the sanatorium. They also earned extra money raising and selling puppies, rabbits, chickens and other animals.

NO KIDS ALLOWED

Though it was tough to make a living outside, returning home was never an option for residents. Many were seen as a burden on their families, while others were simply abandoned.

“Fearing that others might find out that a relative had leprosy, family members would cut contact with them,” Tang says. “By the time the quarantine was lifted, families had moved and those infected with leprosy no longer knew where their homes were.”

Residents recall how the diseases stigma brought shame and ruin to their parents and siblings. In Lee’s case, his parents were forced to shut down their businesses in Hualien and went bankrupt because of the family’s association with leprosy.

Lee started his own family with a fellow leper, and in 1979 the couple had a baby daughter. When Losheng authorities found out they gave Lee an ultimatum: Have a vasectomy or get kicked out of the sanatorium.

“Residents weren’t allowed to have children during Japanese colonial rule. In the 1960s, forced abortions ceased, but we were still not allowed to raise kids,” says Lee.

Infants born to infected parents were either sent away to a nearby children’s home or, if the parents decided to keep the child, hidden from Losheng officials.

Chou’s oldest daughter was taken away as soon as she was born. She only returned to the sanatorium to live when she reached high school.

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