Even Gloomy Hospital Rooms Get Sunlight

June 15, 2020

A thin shard of sunlight sliced through the pale blue curtains in the cold hospital room, burning against my throat. “Baba” was all I managed to say.

I could not tell if he was asleep or awake. His eyes were dazed and unfocused as if he could not see the room in front of him. The heart monitor and I shouted for help just as his heart rate dangerously began to fluctuate. Two nurses rushed in, each carrying a handful of wires. They began adding to the nest of cables, tubes, and wires, already tangled across his chest.

“Beep. Beep. Beep.” The only assurance I had that he was still with me. The morphine helped him escape from the excruciating pain, as long as he was asleep. Occasionally, I would stand up, pace around the room, then sit back down, reminded of my inability to make any difference.

My father slept as a means of escaping into the metaphysical, numbing his body after the dosage of chemotherapy. Escaping into the abstract allowed him to cope with the adversity beyond his control. I slept too. Countless times, I dreamt of my father in that small, cold hospital room. In those dreams, he would get up from the labyrinth of tubes and wires that tied him down and take me home. I woke up in a cold sweat, every time I had that dream.

I knew I couldn’t cure my father of his illness, but I was capable of prayer. I prayed to Allah, whom I had prayed to five times a day since I was six years old. I continued praying and when there was no answer, I prayed with passion hoping that any supernatural force in the universe would recognize my despair.

When my father passed, I learned that no matter what a person is capable of, they cannot change the course of fate; they can, however, determine how they will respond. For over a year, I allowed fate to destroy me, to diminish my every ounce of optimism, to defeat my purpose of existence. It was not a path I had chosen for myself, but rather something I felt I was incapable of changing. I was traumatized by the fragility of the world and the realization that it could all fall apart.

I want to pass on the philosophy that I am still coming to a deeper understanding of. The philosophy that every moment is a blessing that should be cherished. Overcoming disease is not the only circumstance that deserves gratitude.

This experience reinforced my decision to become a doctor because health care itself does not only exist to treat illnesses. Healthcare is the well-being of the mind, body, and soul. It is about accepting conditions, and endeavoring proactive decisions because the state of health and welfare is a privilege not everyone possesses.

Accepting the death of a loved one takes a lifetime, however, in the process, I learned to appreciate life, rather than allowing myself to take it for granted. Countless times, I had heard the phrase, “count your blessings,” but it wasn’t until I lost my father that I learned to live that way. In the same dream I was having, I started to see a beam of sunlight, shining through a pair of pale blue curtains. A beam of hope.

Alimurtada Al-Shimari