Faces of courage
“Iha, pabili, gutom na ako galing akong dialysis.” The storekeeper, without any hesitation, obliged though the shop was closed for the day, and requested if the lady could pay the exact amount as the cash register was already locked. I happened to be within hearing distance and decided to buy a bottle of water and a pack of the same biscuits that she was having and do a good deed. She turned toward me and said, “Thank you and God bless you, Doctor!”
On the way out, I saw her again in the hospital lobby and this time we had a little chat. She showed me the multiple bumps from previous fistulas and proudly told me that she had been undergoing dialysis treatments for the last 18 years.
“Hey, how are you?” I hadn’t seen her in months and she readily answered me in the affirmative. She told me that she and her sisters had just come from Japan to indulge in some female bonding and what should have been a relaxing trip turned out to be an ordeal. She laughingly recounted how they almost “killed each other” from the numerous miscalculations that happened, from living accommodations to failing to take into account that all three of them had some form of disability. One had vision concerns, the other had knee problems, and she was still undergoing treatment. A sister had fallen ill with high-grade fever for two days and at the tail end of their trip, she herself had respiratory symptoms. We promised that we would see each other soon and she ended by saying that her hair was beginning to grow back.
“Sister, why are you a little orangy?” I looked at her hands and both of us laughed so hard. She sheepishly told me that it must have been from the daily intake of carrot juice which a sister in their household diligently prepares. A day before, her younger colleague had placed an urgent call saying, “Sister is not well and wants to talk to you.“ Perusing her laboratory results, it was a relief to see that most of them were unremarkable, save for one wherein imaging would be needed to help cement the diagnosis. She reassured me that the medicine prescribed by her physician had helped in remarkedly reducing her flank pains but any form of movement would definitely trigger it, so she preferred to keep still. Seeing her attempts to mask her discomfort, I shortened the visit, declined her offer to escort me to the gate, and told her to keep in touch.
“Mommy, ang dasal ko sana walang batang magsakit katulad ko. Ang sakit, sakit ng chemotherapy. ’Pag nasa heaven na ako, lagi kong ipagdadasal ‘yung mga bata sa kalye, ’yung may sakit and ’yung mga doctor ko.” This adorable little girl had been referred to my service for an infectious consult. Obtaining intravenous access was getting to be extremely challenging as almost all her veins had been used up. On one occasion, her attending had been at her bedside for three hours and was still unsuccessful. As I walked in, I saw her quietly offering her arm to him, after which she turned her face away and patiently waited. Though it has been years since she had passed, the memory of how she was drifts in from time to time. I remember that cherubic face, her bright smile, and that serene air she had about her. She was called to celebrate her seventh birthday in heaven and was dressed up for that occasion in the blue and white dress that she specifically had asked for.
Are we capable of being that brave and accepting? All of them have felt more than physical pain and to say that we know how they feel will never come across as words meant to comfort for we simply don’t. Confronted with the possibility of enduring more pain, living in the reality of forthcoming complications with no assurance of cure, all of them have chosen to face their fears, entrust themselves to someone bigger than all of us, and make the effort not only to go on living but to be present in the moment. This is always a conscious choice and it takes courage to make that decision.
As we face a long and unexpected holiday, take a lesson or two, from the stories that have been generously shared above. Maybe now is the perfect time to spend some moments reflecting on how we also have chosen to live our lives. May they also be your sources of inspiration and be that face that comes to mind if and when courage is badly called for.