China quake: Trapped doctors, optimism, and a thirst for Coke

Liu Rui lies in a hospital bed in Chengdu, China, where he is recovering from earthquake injuries that led to amputation of both of his legs. His wife, Yin Yayan, massages his hand.
Liu Rui lies in a hospital bed in Chengdu, China, where he is recovering from earthquake injuries that led to amputation of both of his legs. His wife, Yin Yayan, massages his hand. Tim Johnson / MCT

MIANYANG, China — When an earthquake jolted Sichuan Province, physicians Xie Shouju and Tang Xiong could not tend to the injured. They were trapped themselves.

Their apartment building collapsed around them, and the husband and wife team of doctors lay buried under rubble — she for three days, and he for six.

In the blackness, the two soothed each other. Xie called Tang "big brother" and Tang responded with soft words for his "little cutie pie."

Xie had mobility and was mostly uninjured. She rolled off the sofa in their living room and could move slightly in a shallow space. Tang, who had been in the kitchen, was deeper in rubble. His right foot was trapped. They were barely two yards apart.

"She couldn't help him. She could only encourage him. She'd call his name," said Dr. Tian Yun, an orthopedic surgeon tending to the two survivors as they lay on cots in a blue tent in the front garden area of a hospital here.

About 7 a.m. on the third day after the devastating May 12 earthquake, Xie heard rescuers calling into the rubble of their building in Beichuan City, "Anyone down there?" She shouted, "Yes, there are people here!"

Shortly after noon on May 15, firefighters from Hainan Island removed enough rubble to rescue Xie, a maternity ward physician, according to an account Tuesday in a local newspaper, Wenzhai Daily. But they couldn't reach her husband, an internist. Too much debris lay around him.

Xie only had superficial cuts and was soon joining relief workers tending to other quake victims, always returning quickly to encourage her husband to hang on.

Several more days passed before rescue workers could remove enough rubble to reach Tang and touch his back. They passed a tube in to him so he could sip water.

"He was very calm and very stable. When he was tired, he'd rest. Otherwise, he'd make some sounds," said Cui Jian, a nurse caring for him after his rescue.

Finally, on Saturday at 9:10 a.m., rescuers freed Tang from the concrete vise on his foot, making him one of the quake victims who spent longest under rubble — nearly 115 hours.

Attending doctors asked visiting journalists not to talk directly to the couple because of Tang's still fragile state. Tang's right ankle was crushed, and doctors are struggling to avoid amputating his lower leg.


Liu Rui, a foreman at a coalmine, was at the company offices in Hanwang in the mountains of northern Sichuan to attend a meeting with about 40 workers on the fourth floor. Then the 7.9-magnitude quake hit.

Liu ran downstairs. By the time he got to the second floor, the building partially collapsed. A colleague's body lay on top of his, and another fell off to the side. All was darkness.

"I was conscious. There was enough space not to feel claustrophobic. I could move my head and one of my arms," Liu said from his bed in the huge West China Hospital in Chengdu, the Sichuan capital.

Both of his legs were trapped up until his rescue 52 hours later.

The three workers made the best of the situation. "We were awake, chatting and making jokes," Liu said.

The worst moments were the follow-on tremors that came over several days.

"I was really afraid the aftershocks would bring the building down," Liu said.

Rescuers pulled out the man on top of Liu but could not immediately free Liu from the pinch of collapsed concrete. As rescuers freed the first man, he turned back to Liu and said, "I'm coming out first but I'll wait for you."

Unfortunately, the man died later in the hospital from his trauma.

Once Liu was pulled free, doctors took a look at his smashed legs and decided they had to be amputated.

Lying quietly in his hospital bed, his wife, Yin Yayan, gently moistening his arms with a cloth, Liu voiced quiet optimism. His 6-year-old daughter was unhurt in the quake. His wife is also unharmed.

"If I come out of this OK, I'll get another job," he said. "If not, the government will take care of me."


The quake was so violent that 16-year-old Sun Fuwei saw little choice but to jump out the fourth-floor window of his middle school as it began to buckle and collapse.

He landed on a pile of rubble, cracking his pelvis and smashing his head.

His father, Sun Huahui, was tending fields out in the open air when the earth jolted, so he survived unscathed and went immediately to look for his son at the Yunhua Middle School near Nanmo village.

He finally tracked his injured son down at a county hospital, where medics had taken him. The son's injuries were so severe, though, that an ambulance brought him to Chengdu for better treatment.

Looking tenderly at his hospitalized son, as intravenous drips and bags of painkiller hung from overhead, Sun said the quake straightened out his own priorities in life.

"He's our only child. I don't care at all about my animals and my property as long as my son is alive," Sun said.


Victims said unusual things when pulled from the rubble — often as television cameras were rolling.

Xue Xiao, an 18-year-old high school student in Hanwang, was rescued after nearly 80 hours without food or water.

"Please, I need Coke," he said in remarks broadcast on live state television, according to the South China Morning Post. "Iced coke."

Tang Xiong, the physician rescued with his wife in Beichuan, voiced a different wish. "I want to join the (Communist) party," he said, attributing his successful rescue after six days to the party that has ruled China for 59 years.


The mother of 2-month-old Mu Qianqi did the natural thing when the earthquake hit: She embraced the baby girl with her two arms and bent over.

When a neighbor found the mother and daughter in Longwan village, the mother was dead, her head smashed by a collapsed roof, but the baby was well protected with only a bruised head.

Now the father, 26-year-old Lu Jianfeng, wants to change his daughter's name to that of his deceased wife, Huang Jingyi.

Lu is a migrant worker living in Shanghai. As his own mother rocked the child, her granddaughter, Lu said he wanted to move his surviving family far away from the scene of the tragedy. He wants a new beginning.

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