Losing a family member is painful, but “remembering a lost loved one is a kind of happiness in itself,” said Tang Ssu-hu (唐四虎), the widowed husband of a nurse who died after contracting SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in the line of duty during the 2003 outbreak of the virus in Taiwan.
Tang spoke passionately and gave the occasional smile as he recounted memories of his late wife, Chen Ching-chiu (陳靜秋), a head nurse at the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital — the predecessor of Taipei City Hospital’s Heping Fuyou Branch — who was among the 73 people in Taiwan that succumbed to the epidemic.
“I have vivid memories of her staying up all night sorting through piles of medical documents from the hospital,” Tang, 63, said.
Tang said that in the first few years after his wife’s passing, he frequently cried himself to sleep and only started to recover from his grief after realizing that there was some joy in reminiscing about Chen.
“Missing her [Chen] is enjoyable,” Tang said.
Recalling the days before his wife’s death, Tang said Chen started running a fever on April 21, 2003, after she had taken care of a laundryman admitted to her hospital for SARS, but mistakenly attributed the symptom to her heavy workload.
Chen initially sought medical treatment at Cardinal Tien Hospital in then-Taipei county — now New Taipei City (新北市) — but after news of an outbreak at Heping Hospital broke out, she immediately turned to National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH), Tang said.
“However, because the NTUH had no spare beds available at the time, my wife was later admitted to Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in New Taipei City’s Linkou District (林口),” Tang added.
Despite receiving treatment immediately, Tang said his wife’s fever lasted for about eight days, adding that her lungs were so infected they appeared “almost completely white” in X-ray images.
“On April 30, the doctors treating my wife told me to prepare for the worst. That same day, she asked about our daughter, who was only eight at the time,” Tang said.
Chen succumbed to the disease the next day, just 11 days after exhibiting her first symptoms, he said.
Tang said he was overwhelmed with grief by Chen’s sudden passing and cursed fate for what happened to his wife, until his sense of responsibility for his daughter helped bring him back to reality and emerge from his depression.
A soldier by profession, Tang is disinclined to share his emotions with others and would instead go for a drive whenever he felt overwhelmed by sadness.
“There are times when I just hopped on my motorcycle and rode all the way [from Taipei] to Hsinchu or Miaoli counties. One time, I even took an impromptu road trip around the nation by myself,” Tang said.
After Chen’s death, many of Tang’s neighbors and friends avoided his family for fear of catching the diseases themselves. However, the tragedy also made him see the good in people.
“My life was thrown into chaos when Chen died, but while everyone else shunned my family as if we were ‘walking viruses,’ my daughter’s nanny volunteered to take my daughter to her place for a while so I could pull myself together,” Tang said.
Although Tang moved house a few years afterward, a picture of Chen still hangs on his wall.
As for his current relationship status, Tang said he was in a stable relationship with a woman, but added that he would not remarry.