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Last Moments of Dosan and His Clinical Condition
By Chong Hui Chon, M.D.

On December 24, 1937, when I was a resident in internal medicine, Dosan Ahn Chang Ho, our national and spiritual leader, was admitted to the hospital. He was suffering from tuberculosis, a common ailment in Korean at the time, compounded by pleuritis and peritonitis. I recall him being short of breath and suffering from pain.

Dosan was admitted to Room 13 on the ground floor, which was the only room available to Koreans. Dr. Yong Pil Kim, our senior physician from the clinic, and Dr. Wan Kuk Yook, who later became a national assemblyman, were the attending physicians. There was a detective sitting outside of Dosan's room checking on everyone entering the room. Occasionally, one or two persons were nursing Dosan, but the room was too small even for them to move around. I remember Soon Won Kim, Dosan's nephew, who was attending Posung College (now known as Korea University), was attending to most of Dosan's needs.

I was boarding at Yong Eui Kil's house at the time; I told him that Dosan Ahn Chang Ho had been admitted to the hospital. Mr. Kil was a graduate of Hiroshima Teachers' College, and was teaching geography and history at Kyongsin Academy.

The next morning I dropped by Dosan's room before the professor made his rounds, and told him that Yong Eui Kil sent his regards and introduced myself. I told him that I wasn't his attending physician, but I would give whatever assistance I could to provide for his comfort. Dosan greeted me with a bright smile and grasped my hand. His grip was weak, but I could feel the warmth flowing through my arms. I was impressed with his high forehead and prominent nose; but, above all, his piercing eyes impressed me most. Nevertheless, he appeared frail and weak. Subsequently, I dropped by his room twice daily, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. Since I didn't want to disturb him, I mainly spoke with his nephew about his medical condition. Thereafter, not only the detective who was guarding the room, but the internists and the nursing staff, thought I was the attending physician, whereupon they never bothered me.

The hospital authorities had on staff nurse's aides to look after the patients, who were mostly middle-aged women with little education. It was difficult to find a proper nurse's aide for Dosan. The nurse's aides were unruly and many of them were trouble-makers. Dosan attempted to teach them the proper way of caring for a patient. He even told them how to set the table at meal times, but they ignored him. I tried to instruct them, to no avail. Dosan, as a result, had a series of turnovers of nurse's aides. The nurse's aides felt that he should not complain. It was a hopeless situation. Dosan was very strict with sanitary conditions even with the cleaning of utensils. The nurse's aides treated him as a finicky old man. The nurse's aides didn't know that Dosan was a national leader. After Mr. Kil and I told them of Dosan's activities, their attitudes changed. Once they understood why the detective was posted in front of Dosan's room, they became more attentive.

Dosan never told the medical staff what to do. I remember him once telling me how important it was to be compassionate toward others. He used to tell me how Koreans, as a whole, do not have any sense of law and order in life.

One day Dosan asked the two attending physicians and myself to come to his room. There were dishes of fruits and cookies on a table in one corner of the room. Dosan pointed at them saying that they came from America, and asked us to take them as a token of his appreciation for our services. We were surprised at this gesture. I was surprised to hear him presenting us with a gift in the American style, telling us how good it was, not in the Korean tradition of presenting it with a humble gesture.

Dosan thought that the three of us were the best of the crop since we were specially selected to attend to his medical needs. Herbal medication from relatives and friends was brought to his room, and at times medication arrived from America, but he never took any of them, only taking medication prescribed by his attending physicians.

Dosan's physical condition deteriorated rapidly. Eminent physicians sent by his relatives and friends were of the same medical opinion as the attending physicians once they looked at his charts. Dosan trusted and solely relied upon the attending physicians' opinion. He was getting weaker physically, but his mind was alert. When I stopped by his room on the afternoon of March 9, 1938, he seemed to be resting with his eyes closed; I left the room without talking to him. It never entered my mind that he was on his deathbed. However, the late edition of the papers on March 10 carried his obituary.

Three days later, at 10 in the morning at the Seoul University Hospital's slumbering room, a ceremony of the last rites was held among several friends. After leaving the two attending physicians, I was walking toward the morgue when I was suddenly stopped by a mounted policeman and a plainclothes detective to identify myself. When I told them I was once of the attending physicians, they let me pass by. As I returned to the slumbering room, I could see from the outside that there were several unacquainted faces in the room. A pastor and Dosan's nephew were standing with several young men. Also, there were three or four elderly ladies with Pyongando-style kerchiefs around their heads. Since I was standing away from the pastor, I could not hear his delivery at the service, but I remembered the hymn they sang after the prayer in silence: "Resting in peace after a suffering of hardshipˇ¦"

I began to understand the meaning of Dosan's life through this hymn; I, at times in trouble sing this hymn by myself. With the pastor's few words and a prayer without a proper funeral service, Dosan's casket was carried out to a hearse and left by the western entrance of the hospital for Manuri Cemetery.

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