Friday, April 18, 2008

Wisdom through Cause and Effect

It used to anger me when people said that "at least you had a chance to take care of him. Sudden deaths are a lot worst for those who are left behind." WHAT? And that comment was supposed to make me feel better? A loss is a loss at the end of the day, regardless whether it was sudden or through long illness. Tell me how looking after a person I love so much in his 4 years of illness makes it any better when he died? The rocky road of 'recoveries' and setbacks. He was getting better, then he wasn't....He overcame the acute infection, only to have complications from drug reactions etc.....and this journey towards his death was all supposed to make it better? It didn't make sense. I felt like yelling at the people who made those comments...and there were many!

But that was me going through the "anger" stage of mourning my loss. On acceptance now, I look back in a different light. It was a journey, a journey much cherished. It did prepare me, and I felt I had done all I can. We both did. There will be the occasion of "if only I had noticed that earlier, he might not have deteriorated so much". But as Allah had decided, even before we were born, the specific day, place and time of our death exact to the second. There should not be any regrets.

I digress....

Anyway, there is always the Hikmah of sudden death and that following chronic illness. In sudden death, there would not have been any hardship associated with loss of health, disability and painfully watching oneself/loved ones deteriorate by the day. That's a hikmah. In death following chronic illness, you get the opportunity to reflect, repent and learn to grow closer through hardship. That too is a hikmah.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Motherly instinct

As a mother and (was) a wife, my instincts tell me to protect the people I love, to make sure they don't get hurt physically or emotionally. I'd die for the people I truely love. I'd do anything for them, even if it means putting my own self interests and happiness aside. Today, I did something in my mind was to protect. I said a lie. Is that right? I have learnt today that any lie, whether it white or not, is never good. It ended up hurting the people I initially intended to protect. I am sorry.


The walls leading upstairs are filled with framed pictures I have put up of family, especially of my late hubby. Dating pictures, wedding, vacations, him with then the babies and just day by day stuff we used to do but were caught on that 'kodak moment'. It felt just like yesterday it all happened, but at the same time an eternity away.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Makcik oh makcik (translated Aunty oh aunty)

36 years old on Saturday. Alhamdulillah.
I forget sometimes that I am approaching 40 soon. I don't feel any different from how I was 10 years ago. I guess that must be good. The occasional gray hair (but I've always had a bit since I was a teenager.....I put it down to too much studying....) and the wee wrinkles I call smile lines and lines of wisdom. Nothing too worrying. I also have this 'babyface'......chubby and round, and being only 4 foot 10 does add to the effects of 'youngness'. I even got away as being a university undergrad student while I was at the mechanics a few weeks ago.....But I have days like the one I'm about to tell to remind me of my age......
Once upon an afternoon, as I sat on my swing with my daughter, enjoying the late afternoon sun and the light soothing breeze, my relaxing moment was disturbed by a rolling white object that came to a rest near my feet. It was a football. The neighbourhood boys were playing football in the field behind my house, and one extra enthusiastic boy had kicked it over the wired fence into the compound.
The boys, young teenagers, looked my way and waited for me to respond. Oh, ok. I guess they wanted their ball back. I picked it up contemplating whether I should kick it over the fence or throw it back at them. Since these boys are my son's friends, I thought I'd do the motherly thing and not kick it. I threw it over and the boys thanked me.
"Thank-you MAKCIK!"......ei? You talking to me?
"That's Makcik-ster United to you!"* I thought..... I suddenly felt 20 years older.......

*with special thanks to Aquamatt for making this story possible.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Unselfish love

People had asked me why I had brought him to hospital and not stayed home knowing that it would be his last few days. Would he not have been more comfortable at home? I wondered and pondered about this myself. Thinking back, it was a request from him, and I am glad he had made most of the decisions about his own end-of-life issues, though we did discuss them. He was a sharp man, knew exactly what he wanted, and knew exactly what I needed. I had been nursing / doctoring him at home for the past 3 weeks with intravenous antibiotics and fluids. We knew what the signs were, and it was worsening. I used to wake up many times in the night, checking to see if he was breathing, as I laid my hands softly on his chest and felt it move as he inhaled and exhaled. Family was always close by, but he was the type of person that did not want to trouble anyone, me included. When he saw that I was becoming quite warn out, he called for help. My sister and brother in law drove us to the hospital. Though I have come to 'hate' the hospital at that stage, it was still our comfort zone. We had spent many of our earlier years working, sleeping, eating, growing and basically living in this institution as working doctors. This was our safe haven, amongst collegues and friends that could share the burden of decision making and care. Amongst people that understood the illness in depth as we did. And so, I knew that my late husband had made that decision for me more than for himself, his unselfishness in caring for me was his priority, even at the end.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


By a turn of fate, I am currently working in the same exact hospital where I had spent many months traveling back and forth with him for his chemotherapy, blood checks, follow ups and the bone marrow transplant. I've been working here for the past 4 years now. My first day there was just a mere 6 months after his passing, and walking into those same front doors with so many painful memories was agonizing. I used to have to stop just before approaching the front doors, take a deep breath, give out a long sigh and recompose myself. Then I walked in, with my heart beat thumping in my ears, and a lump in my throat. I would pass a row of seats at the front door, where patients used to sit, waiting for whom ever is to pick them up arrived at the "pick up/drop off" drive through. Many were bald, had masks on indicating they were immunocompromised and needed extra precautions. One particular patient used to sit regularly at HIS seat, and sat there with the same body composure as HIM, slightly slouched and legs crossed. Each morning I saw this patient, it would trigger off so many memories, that at times I get startled thinking that it was HIM. But no, it was another battling the same ordeal. On some occasions, I may have stared too long at this person, that he notices that someone is looking at him. Initially, I would quickly look away, so not to give him the impression that I was looking. Its rude to stare.....
Many weeks went on like this. The hospital was large, and I worked in a different section from where my late hubby had received his treatment. But on occasions, I would have to go into the same wards as where we spent many nights together, me on the foldable chair, and him imprisoned in the ward. There were even times where I had to go back to the same bed where HE had passed on. "Be strong. Be strong" I kept telling myself. I did crumble the first time I went back to Bed 33 on ward U11. I had understanding collegues who took over.....but I couldn't keep crumbling everytime I was called to that ward. The next time, I did it. It wasn't as tough as I thought it would be. The nurses and staff there all recognised me, and asked how I was. The place looked a lot different too from those last 5 nights when I had spent near Bed 33. It was the High Dependency ward and had 4 beds in that cubicle. It looked a lot smaller than when I remembered it to be. It looked crowded and uncomfortable. But from what I recall 6 months ago, as I spent the last 5 nights with him there, the cubicle was very spacious. I was at ease and so was he.
The last night there, as HE was drifting in and out, mumbling words, and hearing him say the Syahadah in between his dhikr and reliving past memories, I had stayed by his side as much as possible. We were reciting the quran close to him, to give him guidance for the final journey. I heard him call my name asking for a hug. It was a very quick hug yet the most meaningful. It was also the last hug he gave me, and he quickly pushed me away. That gesture told me it was going to be soon.
Morning did come for us, and it was a very long night. He wanted a hair cut and asked me to cut his nails. I told him I'll do the nails, but the hair cut might be a bit too challenging, as I smiled at him. Unfortunately, I didn't even get to finish his nails when his breathing suddenly became shallow. The Consultant was there with us doing her rounds as I was whispering the Shahadah in his ears. She asked me if I wanted any form of active resuscitation. I shook my head and she understood. She left us for our last moments together. I whispered again in his ears to tell him how much we love him, and that we will miss him. But, we will see each other again later, as our bond will never be broken. I heard him say our little girl's name. I hope that the angels have come for him in the form of our daughter, a familiar figure he loves so much, so that he will not be afraid to follow.
He passed away peacefully with me cradling him. Surprisingly, I felt a tremendous sense of relief for him. His fight and suffering had finished and he will be resting in peace now, God willing. I also felt a relief for me, not because caring for him was a burden, but now, I no longer have to see him suffer.
4 and a half years on, I now walk into those same front doors with more strength than ever. I see the same patients sitting there, but this time, I do make eye contact and smile at them. I walk down the same corridors we used to walk along, remembering. But now, it is a memory of how much we love each other and the journey we shared.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Final wishes

We had a talk a week before he passed on. He told me he won't make it to the new year. He might not even make it to the end of next week. I looked at him, all teary, but I nodded. This wasn't us giving up. It was us discussing on how we should move on. POA- Plan of Attack. He loved waking up in the mornings and asked me, "Whats the POA for today?"
Both of us being doctors knew exactly what was going on....and we knew too much. Ignorance can be a bliss, a luxury we didn't have.
I've lived this episode many many times with my patients. This would be the time where you would tell the spouse to start preparing. We were staying in our rented house at that time, and our two young children sensed that something was a miss. They became very restless and it affected him. It affected both of us. So, with saddened eyes, he said he needed some quiet time to rest and requested the children be sent to my mum's house. People say that when one is about to leave this earth, they would want the most precious to be away from them so that they can leave peacefully, without hesitation....without the love of his children holding him back.
So, the POA was for the children to go to my parents. He asked for his mother to come over. I called, but she was not well, and couldn't make the long trip by bus on her own. She had to wait for the weekend when one of his sibblings could come over and pick her up.
Next POA was about resuscitation. Don't.
Next was about funeral arrangements. He didn't want to travel far from us, back to his hometown. He wanted to be buried in the cemetery that was just 2 minutes away, so that everytime we passed by his new home, we would say hello and say a prayer for him.
On the day of the funeral, he wanted his mother's well being looked into. Make sure she has a comfortable place to sleep that night and her meals are taken care of.
He wanted the children be explained about his passing, and to attend the burial. He wanted his brothers to send him to his final resting place. Even the one that he didn't get along with....
Then last, but not least, he wanted me to continue living, get on with my career, which we had to put on hold for a couple of years, be happy and look after our children. He wanted me to marry again. But I had to promise him that whom ever I chose must not only make me happy, but make our children happy too.
I sat there quiet, but I nodded.
Then he apologised for having to leave so soon.
Sayang, I've done everything on our POA list. (Except the last bit).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My flowers

My birthday is coming up soon. 36 years old.....and it'll be my 5th birthday without him (at least physically), but always there in heart and soul. I remember my first birthday card I got from him. It was my 19th, such days of naivety and not a care in the world! He gave me fresh flowers too. But me, being this shy girl, quickly hid them away from people to see. A gesture he misunderstood as something I did not appreciate and disliked.On the contrary! He had made me so happy I was blushing. But I had broken his heart that day. We had talked about it, and I apologized. He said he understood, and the event was much forgotten....Until the night before he passed away. He was in a state of delirium, coming in and out of deep sleep. He had been whispering past events and appeared to be reliving moments in his life. Moments that were significant enough to trigger off memories. One of which were the flowers event back in 1991. I noticed in between the mumblings of incomprehensible words were "flowers" and "wilted" and it broke my heart that these were the things he was remembering in the last few hours of his life.
"I loved them" I whispered in his ears. "I loved them very much".