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Doctor who keeps a simple promise makes a perfect partner for his patient
"If I can't cure you, I will marry you."
So said self-taught doctor Fang Huisheng, to save a young woman's life 14 years ago in Huangshan, Anhui province.
For him, it was a simple promise that he kept.
"All I thought about at the time was to prevent her from killing herself and cure her as soon as possible," said Fang, who married his patient, Hong Mei, one year after he made the promise.
Fang Huisheng accompanies his wife, Hong Mei, who is receiving treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in a hospital in Jinzhai county, Anhui province. Sun Lingjuan / for China Daily
Hong had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a severe disease caused by a weakening immune system, at the age of 19.
Isolation from the outside world and poverty had kept her from access to modern and professional medical treatment until recently, when the country adopted a national medical insurance policy.
Before that, she could only seek help from self-taught doctors of traditional Chinese medicine in the village, like Fang.
By the time they met, she was already 28 and had been suffering from the disease for nine years.
"Although I wasn't a professional doctor, I liked to treat villagers' illnesses with what I learned from books," said Fang, who had been reading medical books and gathering herbs on nearby hills since graduating from middle school.
Fang said the prescriptions he made for local villagers generally helped them feel better. However, Hong's disease brought him a huge challenge.
"My prescriptions for her worked in the beginning and she could take several steps, but somehow she had to lie down again and still suffered from heavy pain," Fang recalled.
Feeling hopeless with her illness, Hong considered suicide.
To encourage Hong to stay alive and positive, Fang married her one year after they met and has since taken good care of her.
"He never bought me a bouquet of flowers, even when we got married, but he has given me everything I need," said Hong, now 42, unable to conceal the smile on her face.
Atrophied muscles caused by the disease force her to lie in bed all the time. To take care of Hong, Fang dropped his work in other cities after marriage and earned money as a mason around the village.
Even with only a one-hour break for lunch, Fang insists on coming back from work at noon and making lunch for his wife every day, Hong said.
In return, Hong tells her husband the funny stories she learns from TV or books during the day.
"That's the happiest time for both of us," she said.
At times, Hong gets into a bad mood staying in bed all day long. But she said Fang has never quarreled even once with her.
"I know she feels very miserable, physically and mentally. I feel sorry for her," Fang said.
Fang said the strong pain in her body, especially her legs, is like someone having a severe toothache that can't be touched at all, so he massages her whole body to make her feel better.
To local villagers, Fang is not only a warmhearted person caring for people's illnesses, but also a husband who treats his wife with all his heart.
"Although my sister has misfortune with her body, she is a lucky woman to have married such a good man," said Hong Qian, Hong Mei's younger sister.
Every time Hong misses her parents and wants to visit her family, Fang carries Hong on his shoulders to get on and off the bus, which is quite far from both homes.
"Our parents, although a little suspicious at the very beginning, now both appreciate what he has done for their daughter," said Hong Qian.
After Fang's story was picked up by local media, a local hospital specializing in bone disease and recovery extended a helping hand to Hong.
"We were all touched by Fang's story when we read it in local newspapers, and we'll try our best to cure her," said Tao Renzhu, director of the hospital.
He said there will be four to five operations during one year of treatment, which would cost the couple some 500,000 yuan ($80,000) in medical expenses.
"However, the national preferential policy of medical expenses toward poor families and our support will guarantee Hong nearly free treatment," said the director.
He said the hospital will also pay for the couple's living expenses during Hong's treatment and call for staff to donate to the couple.
"Although she now suffers from severe malformation, damage to her joints and atrophied muscles, we have faith we can make her walk like a normal person and have the ability to care for herself," said Cai Xiangfeng, the doctor in charge.
With his wife's expected recovery, Fang, who has been staying in the hospital to take care of his wife 24 hours a day, said he feels excited because Hong has been in a happy mood.
Optimism now shows on their faces and the couple has plans to restart life.
"We want to have a child," said Fang, with a shy smile on his face.
Given Hong's age and weak body, she is not able to give birth to a healthy baby. Fang said they intend to adopt a child after Hong recovers.
Hong said she also wants to cook up something delicious for her husband when she gets better.
"During the past 14 years, I never made even one meal for my husband."
Liu Nanxue contributed to this story.