Today I went to Billy Wong's funeral. He was 47, one of my patients at the
program for deinstitutionalized patients where I work. His name wasn't actually
Billy (all the names in this piece are pseudonyms). It was Ngang Hee Wong.
But no one could pronounce it, so everyone called him Billy. In addition
to his schizophrenia, he was very ill medically for many years. He had high
blood pressure, diabetes, liver failure, and serum cholesterol and triglycerides
so high (we are talking 600 here) that his serum, after his blood was centrifuged,
wasn't clear straw in color, but cloudy like buttermilk. He chain-smoked
4 packs/day (generic brand, of course). At one sitting, he could eat a large
bag of Fritos, a large bag of Doritos, and a large bag of Cheetos. All this
before supper, which consisted of a TV dinner and 8 cigarettes. He was a
challenge to the case manager who assisted him twice a day in shopping, nutrition,
He would enter my office, his thin black hair slicked down with its own natural
oils which had been present for at least two weeks. His eyes were swollen
shut with fluid from his liver and kidney failure. He wore a checkered sport
jacket, a striped shirt, and plaid pants. The third Czechoslovakian brother.
He was a wild and crazy guy. He smiled a lot.
"Doctah Gingoo, how ah yoo? Doctah Gingoo, vampire (plural for vampire) come
my room. Vampire from Hong Kong. Say bad things. Do bad things. Doctah Gingoo,
I open big Chinese restaurant. Make rots of money. Doctah Gingoo, medicine
work rear good."
He was a gentle man. Everyone loved and accepted him. His family took him
home for dinner at Christmas every year, but otherwise they left him to us.
They were an assimilated Chinese-American family, all except Billy's mother,
who spoke no English.
Earlier this week, Billy was standing at the dining room table, eating a
bag of Doritos so quickly that his pants fell down around his ankles. But,
as the ad says, "Bet you can't eat just one." He kept on eating. Then he
fell to the floor in front of his two roommates (also my patients). They
called 911. The police, seeing a Chinese man lying dead with his pants around
his ankles, began to give the third degree to the two roommates. Finally,
they understood and left.
The funeral took place at a funeral parlor on Broad Street, although the
family lives mostly in West Warwick. A number of staff and patients from
the program were there. None of them had ever seen me in a suit. Everyone
just sat in the pews, while Billy's mother wept loudly for about 25 minutes.
Billy was lying in an open coffin at the front of the room. He looked beautiful.
The Catholics went up and kneeled and said a prayer. But there was no service.
Just everyone listening to Billy's mother wail. Finally, I walked out into
the foyer and asked the usher, "Will there be a service?"
"No," he said, "the family just wants to sit here. Then we'll go to the cemetery."
I guess it was a wake. I went up to the family and introduced myself. They
all stood up for Doctah Gingoo and shook my hand, murmuring thanks.
And I left.