Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All too human

It was in late December when a friend was rushed to a hospital because of an infection in her spinal cord. After learning of her condition, I immediately searched the internet of the symptoms and causes. I felt crushed to read that for some, recovery is generally poor. Some patients even show no signs of recovery at all.

As humans, we are not exempt from sickness or diseases. This oftentimes jolts us back to the reality that we, after all, are mere mortals and are subject to decay. But for some, this realization comes so sudden and unexpected.

I visited her in early January. In the wall of her room are posted routine exercises which are very easy and even negligible for us to perform, but for her was crucial in order to regain mobility. She was given doses of steroids that were perhaps beyond the normal dosages. But behind all the medicines and therapy, I saw someone determined to overcome her ailment. Not dismissing the miracle which God bestows to His people, and the prayers of her friends, I felt it was also her determination that made her survive the worst of her condition.

It must be this kind of determination which Viktor Frankl meant when he quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s words “He who has a will to live for can bear with almost any how.” In Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, he told of prisoners in the holocaust who, when all hope or faith in the future is lost, would eventually lead to their doom.

“The prisoner who had lost faith in the future - his future - was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment - not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends. Usually it began with the prisoner refusing one morning to get dressed and wash or to go out on the parade grounds. No entreaties, no blows, no threats had any effect. He just lay there, hardly moving. If this crisis was brought about by an illness, he refused to be taken to the sick-bay or to do anything to help himself. He simply gave up. There he remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him any more.”

Last Sunday, I was surprised to meet her along with some friends over lunch. Although I could not muster to tell her how ecstatic I felt to see her again, even with surgical mask in tow, sharing with us her story and laughing at our own stories as well.

In the same lunch however, another female friend shared to us a medical condition that she herself would have to undergo. A lump in her breast was found and she is pondering on the option of having the lump surgically removed through excision, or of going through mastectomy. The latter would involve a partial or complete removal of the breast while the former would have it conserved. In the first option however, a hefty financial amount may be necessary. As we bid farewell to one another, the glint in her eyes cannot hide her fear. I am not a woman, obviously, but I can feel her fear, albeit masked in her smile, as it must be in every woman who would be in her shoes. At the same time, I can also sense her stillness in such a daunting situation. We prayed for her before we left. In the end, who else do we turn to for help but God?

Both of them are dear friends. I have known them for so many years that I treat them like real sisters, blood-sisters. And as such, I admire their courage and strength. More than that, I admire their faith. If I, God forbid, would undergo a similar or even less trial, I hope that I would be as courageous, as strong and as faithful as they are. I can only turn to God for help.