The scorching summer sun is drilling through the cool breeze of the electric fan, ineffective despite blowing so vehemently. My mind was slowly drifting out of my body probably, to seek a cooler vessel to make home. The patients interrupt every now and then as the door opens forcing my mind to unwillingly crawl into its natural home if just to keep the sanity on the throne else we’ll both be hauled out of the facility due to lack of cohesion between the body and mind; insanity!
I was about to call it a day and fold the outpatient book when a thin, tall man with half-a-neck walked in. The throat cancer had ravaged his throat. To rid him of cancer, surgeons had removed the organs that occupy the lower section of front part of his neck, namely, the thyroid gland and the upper windpipe including his vocal cords, over a decade ago.
As is the case with with this kind of surgery there is a hole in his neck sitting right above his sternal notch. A hole the surgeon logically placed to help him maintain the vital function of breathing since the surgery had disconnected his lungs from his nostrils.
These textbook surgical jargon I can grasp. In fact he need not explain it, I can deduce it all right when he walked in. Weak from years of battling cancer and therapy-the war waged by his doctors to help him win against the cancer, he is a shadow of a man of his age. I welcomed and motioned him to sit. No sooner had he sat than he placed a blue folder in front of me. My eyes followed his thready hand to his throat up his face right through his eyes.
His stare was confusing. Rather than pain and defeat, as is the case with most cancer patients, his eyes carried a bottomless depth that stretch way beyond his pain and battles. In most people, especially those struggling with affliction such as a disease, there is almost always a mirror at the bottom of the eyes that reflects back all their grievances however deep they are buried. But his reflecting mirror is failing, either broken from years of constant work or his tribulations are just too heavy for any mirror to reflect. May be his mirror is confused, lost between his worries.
He presses his left index finger against the hole on his neck as he tries to explain by hoarse inaudible whispers what has brought him to a surgical clinic. Having lost his vocal cords to the surgery and with an escape route for the sounds he tries to makes he cannot make a regular sound.
I tried to catch what he says while simultaneously perusing his folder to piece together his story.Twelve years ago, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. A radical surgery and intensive radiotherapy was able to take away the disease and along with it his voice. But those were scars of a battle he won, or hope he did till a week ago. He seems content with no voice, with breathing via a hole in his neck, with a neck so thin it looked as if his head could collapse on to his chest.
Twelve years on,the cancer is waging another battle. He went to the doctor with difficulty swallowing and the doctor sunk blade into his chest with news that the disease is back. This time into the only organ left in his thin neck: his food pipe. He was sent to the radiologist but was told due to his past radiation the dosage required to rid him of this cancer will most definitely kill him. Yes, the treatment necessary to give him a fighting chance, not cure, will most definitely kill him. If the previous battle took a Hiroshima to win, this one may need the doctor to nuke his soul out of his feeble body.
However, compared to what he said next time he pressed index finger against the hole, all the realities of his battles were a shadow. As we explained to him what it entails to surgically rid him of the cancer that is back in his neck he hoarsely whispered, “Please doctor, you cannot let anything happen to me because I have a child with disability at home. If anything happens to me no one will take care of him.”
The mirror wasn’t broken or confused, it just wasn’t in his eyes. It shifted into the eyes of his helpless child at home. Here’s a man , possibly facing painful death, and all that is on his mind is his child with disability. I was lost for words, so was my colleague. Human beings are absolutely baffling alien creatures. The search for aliens up in the skies is absurdly misguided.
God has a purpose for all of us, He has his ways of instilling humility in his servants, more so those he has bestowed with responsibility. These can be parents or leaders. Only when they walk beyond the wounds and pain in their body does the society live on and progress.
This man has just had a thousandth arrow lodged in his throat by cancer yet despite all the pain when you look at him as a whole cancer is losing. Because besides the obvious physically scars and pain visited upon his body by cancer his heart and mind are not only intact but have won the war by stretching beyond the cancer-wall to hold the hand of his child living with disability.
That is the human touch that conquers all adversities enabling us to live on in lieu of giving in to our losses. Our resilience does not lie in our comfort, riches or favors but in our human heart, the invisible, impenetrable humanoid in us that no disease nor circumstance can get hold of. It is only this humanoid within us that can kill or make us. When it is dead an ant is too big an opponent, but when it is throbbing a herd of elephants is a mere frog in the water! We therefore have absolute power over our fate against all odds.
If the weed that is cancer sprouting right out of his scars, and possible lack of treatment option,surgical or radiologically, cannot shift this man’s mind off his child with disability onto his own losing body, then humanity as a race stands to win against all odds.
We just have to know sometimes the reason to live on is way outside our physical bodies; it is in our children, parents or even those in the greater society we responsible for. History relays even on his deathbed the words of the Holy prophet were “my umma, my umma.” The selfless urge to shield others against pain despite your own actual or imminent pain is our overriding survival weapon, not some selfish genes or organ imperfections.