Meet little Mialy, Mia, and their father…known simply as Baba. They—along with 15 other siblings—made up my host family during a time spent in the arid region of southern Madagascar, where I was doing research on the Antandroy communities.
I often think back to this family with bittersweet fondness. When I was there, I was profoundly inspired by their love for life and their appreciation of the simple joys it brings…while endlessly cheered by their wide grins and generous laughter.
But now, when I glance at this photo, their visage seems to reveal a truth much deeper…and my heart aches a little.
Nevertheless, the sound of their laughter will remain with me forever, and I am thankful to have met them…and grateful for the lessons they taught me in treasuring the simple moments in life.
I cared for you even before we met.
As letters meandering the page
sketched the contours of a portrait,
I looked forward to meeting you.
As I enter the room,
I sense a fragrance of time past,
of struggles endured years before–
silent whispers of a mind’s unrest
reflected through misted eyes.
As we talk,
of a soul’s facade you steadily disrobe.
Words of suffering and pain, joy and pride-
each syllable a silvered twine
weaving your life’s story.
I examine you.
that fulcrum deeply hinged.
A bittersweet thrum
of a battery strong but worn.
that which sing
their own melodious song,
a lulling carol
invigorated with each exhale.
From there a journey it becomes
to strengthen you, to make you whole.
A disease conquered, a valley bridged.
A hollow filled, a life restored.
We work together.
As ripples in a wake,
your life affects mine,
for the same heart that aches
when you suffer
rejoices with you
in your victories.
Because this is what I treasure–
the chance to care for you,
to walk with you.
It is a privilege.
So thank you for letting me.
Do you ever feel suddenly overwhelmed by things you need to do, or get that anxious feeling where you just can’t focus on anything?
You’re not alone.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to teach you four scientifically proven, easy-to-do techniques that you can do anywhere that will help you relax and focus better…
You already knew.
you told us to say the words.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
A. L. S.
Despite sparse questions,
your eyes revealed
an understanding far deeper
than our answers-
that with one moment,
robbed were you
of the years ahead,
of memories awaiting,
of stories belonging to you.
your conviction remains
each passing sunrise.
Each caress, each step.
For you know.
As your legs cease to support,
arms stop to comply,
you still feel
your child’s touch.
Absorbing her love.
you don’t care the roles
have been reversed
as you yearn
to return her embrace.
As its hunger ascends,
the remaining days.
Every word, every smile.
For you know.
consumes your voice,
drains your visage,
until all that is left is
of a vacant mask.
Unable to reflect
your thought’s grin,
your heart’s laugh,
your soul tears
as you blink away the moisture.
As your breaths
increasingly betray you,
you are not defeated,
for the flames
of your bruised spirit
are not quenched,
and you give thanks
for the time you had,
even as your body dims
and you fade away.
A hope for the future…
The search for strength…
Once when I was on a specialized heart failure service, I took care of a teenage boy. He had a form of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and had a big heart…in, obviously, more ways than one.
He loved baseball, pumpkin pie, and horses. His family owned a farm, so before he got sick, he would often go horseback riding. He also loved to draw.
We, a team of five physicians, took care of him for a month while he was waiting for a heart transplant. He liked us. We liked him. So he drew us as well.
I thought he was clever. He thought I was even more so. All because he liked my joke:
“What do you call a cow with no legs?”
That was it. He was just a great kid, trying his best to live the life given to him.
I found out recently that he passed away. And today I found the drawing he gave me. And I wept.
It used to be, that at the end of our visits, we would both say to each other, “Ground beef!” with a wink. It perplexed everyone else, but we knew exactly what we were talking about.
So here’s to you, dear buddy…
A bustling hospital. An unexpected arrival. A frigid Christmas eve.
I was saying goodbye to another patient when fate collided us.
“I’m sorry father,” I heard his son say, “you can no longer live with us, but here is a nice doctor who will find you a home. Merry Christmas, dad.”
Pretending not to notice his son’s exasperation as he pleaded for him to stay, I choked down the anguish from my own awareness of what was being witnessed and proceeded to examine him.
Bound to the prison of his seat—scared, bewildered, frail—he looked so lost. He asked why, what he did wrong, where his son had gone, not fully comprehending the chaos surrounding. A deep sigh escaped pursed lips as I searched within for an answer that failed to come. Taking his hands, contorted by disease, I gazed into eyes dulled by years gone by—their hope fading beneath a glimmer of fear of an iniquitous present and that of an unpromised future–and I made him a promise I wondered if I myself could keep.
“It’s going to be okay…you’ll see.”
But hours pass, and it was not okay—he couldn’t sleep, he wouldn’t eat, and the only sound I heard as I passed the door of his half-vacant room was the resonance of muffled tears.
Behind a mask, I also let myself weep.
* * *
Soon the day ended. I entered his room, prepared to make my final rounds. But instead of a bid goodbye, what came out was an exclamation of the first words that came to my mind.
“Sir, I think we should have a party!”
And that was what we did.
A 90-year-old veteran. A 30-year-old internist. A 20-year-old nurse.
Gathered around his bed, over reconstituted hot cocoa, he shared with us his history, his joys, his life’s adventures. Over paper cups of chicken broth, I told him my story. As the muted treble of holiday cheer dripped through the bedside radio, together we heralded in, with bittersweetness, the arrival of Christmas Day.
He then took my hand.
As I started to apologize for the late hour, he stopped me. Eyes still glimmering, I heard him laugh, and I believed I finally caught a glimpse of what was the real him.
“Thank you for a blessed Christmas,” he said.
A blessed one, indeed.
• Monteagudo, Bolivia •
This is where tuberculosis patients, including little Luis’ father, were kept, quarantined away from other patients. It is quite different from the standard isolation facilities seen at most hospitals today, but this is all they had, and they made the most of it.
Outside is where little Luis played while visiting the hospital.
And Puppydoc did end up getting latent TB after caring for the patients, but she took medicine and is now all better.
• Monteagudo, Bolivia •
Meet little Luis– otherwise known as Puppydoc’s partner in crime. He was a regular visitor to the hospital, as his father had tuberculosis and was undergoing a long course of treatment.
Since the hospital was a scary place for Luis, we always tried to make the visit pleasant for him. In short, what began as innocent playing quickly escalated to mischievousness as little Luis and Puppydoc discovered the treasure that was the hospital candy stash.
As you can imagine, the supply rapidly diminished into their tummies.
But don’t worry; Puppydoc later replenished the stolen candy with a fresh stock of Dum Dums.
• Mahantantely, Madagascar & Takoradi, Ghana •
Through my time spent abroad during the holiday seasons, I noticed something:
That despite our dissimilar lives, cultures, appearances, beliefs…
one thing never changes:
Our love and compassion for one another.
Wishing everyone much love this December.