The history of pain

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/ax2mir/

Taking histories, writing them down, presenting them to your consultant — quite a tedious task as seen by us future doctors. But it’s so much more than that, isn’t it? Your narrative collides with that of the patients’ — like two meteoroids falling together, their paths colliding for a nanosecond in the eternity of time itself.

You’re taking a history of pain – any kind; abdominal, arm, any part of the body. You have a checklist in your mind that will help you reach a diagnosis and swiftly answer the consultant when he asks you to enumerate the differentials.

“Where do you have pain?”
“For how long have you had it?”
“Did the pain start suddenly or gradually?”
“Does it travel to any other region of your body? Yes? Where?”
“Tell me more about this pain. Does it feel like someone’s stabbing you? Or it’s a kind of heaviness in this area? Or it’s throbbing?”
“Does it get worse when you move about? Is it relieved by taking meds?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is it?”
“Does the pain come with anything else? Any nausea or vomiting?”
And a couple of other questions like these.

As a future doctor learning the basics, every time I see these patients, I wonder if aching hearts ought to be healed this way, too?

“My heart and soul are aching, doc”.
“Umm, I’ve had it for a while now. Ever since my son died”.
“It started suddenly. Like a strong current rising within my chest. Like something stopping me from breathing”.
“Yes, it travels all the way into the depths of my soul and then down to my legs. I feel very weak then. Like I can’t stand on my feet, you know?”
“It’s all of that, doc. It’s throbbing sometimes. And sometimes it feels like a heavyweight is placed on my chest”.
“Yeah, it does get worse. When I walk out of my room and I see his baby clothes lying in the laundry because nobody has the courage to pick them up, or his toys peeking at me from behind undusted furniture”.
“I came to you for the meds, doc! Make this pain go away!”
“1 to 10? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s 3, sometimes it’s 8. And sometimes, it’s 11. I don’t know”.
“Yeah, it comes with loneliness.”

So many pieces all at once,

in the blink of an eye,

in half a breath,

in a fraction of a second –

a little hole here, a bigger one there

because this is magnificent beauty; this wound

where the light enters you.

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Long before the oceans dry up, the lone traveller struggles to reach the shore

 

 

 

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Photo credits: Younis Bazai

 

Chaque homme porte la forme entiere de l’humaine condition.
Each of us bears the complete stamp of the human condition.
– The first principle of psychiatry as proclaimed by Michel De Montaigne in 1580.

 

Unbothered by the quick feet shuffling around her, carrying unknown faces down the corridors of what she has learnt to call her ‘home’, this young lady was lost in a world of her own. She paints a sad picture and reminds me of long, lonely hallways with high roofs, warmed by the yellow of the afternoon sun. A sad, sad nostalgia. The silence in the psychiatric hospital is as calming as it is unnerving; like the reminder on our cell phones that we keep snoozing because we just can not bring ourselves to finish the task. Did I like it there? I can’t be sure. It was another world altogether, mirroring how vicious the real world out there – the one I came from, the one where I felt safe – can actually be.

What if these people are far, far saner than we are? What if their insanity is a very welcome escape from the social rules and norms that you and I are bound to since birth? Is this sanity a burden that we earthlings will be carrying to our graves? Maybe somewhere far away, lying deep within the heart of another galaxy in another universe, is a world inhabited by beings where people like us home in institutes like these?

So I went home that day – relishing the warmth of the sun on what was supposed to be a chilly December evening – watching the traffic slip away as busy men and women rushed through life occupied by thoughts of their electricity bills and crippling taxes. And when I walked into my room, I wondered why I hadn’t noticed the slow spin of the fan. I wondered what it’s speed was. And then I opened my notebook and stared at the white pages holding a catharsis that was just a few days old:

Breath by breath the memories shed themselves,
uncovering the heart within; the statue dismembering.
Long before the oceans dry up,
the lone traveller struggles to reach the shore –
away from the embers of the world,
towards the awaited smile.

Truly, ‘So which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?’ (55:38; The Quran)

 

 

 

These little universes

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At the end of this year’s clinical rotations as a medical student, I realise that as future physicians we will soon be moving around hospital corridors, checking up on our patients; their records maintained meticulously by the hospital paramedics. How many of us will look beyond terms inscribed on boards like the one in the picture – ‘Bed No.’, ‘Patient’s Name’, ‘Consultant’s Name’, ‘Ref #’, ‘Company / Private’, ‘Age’, ‘Diet’, etc, etc – and think of the stories that each one of these people walked into our clinics with? How many of us will be healers and not just mere physicians?

So many of us want to see things. We want to see the future, we want to see how the universe ends, we want to glimpse the edges of time and space. So many of us want to see all of that and still be able to have coffee at home in the morning. So many of us want to live a thousand, thousand lives. And still be able to have a cup of coffee in the morning.
And as doctors, witnessing the end of a universe will be an everyday occurrence for us. You know how?
When you will tell a bereaved son that the father who sold his ancestral home to get him through college, is dying, you will see the end of a universe.
When you will tell a devoted husband that he just lost the love of his life, you will see the end of a universe.
When you will see a pair of young parents cradling a small coffin, you will see the end of a universe.
When you will see a loyal friend cry as he sees his friend lose the battle of life, you will be seeing the end of a universe.
Those are all tragic ends to what was a universe of its own, because, after all, as Rumi said, “We are the universe in ecstatic motion”, and as Sagan reminds us, we’re “made of star stuff”, aren’t we?
You’ll witness the end of those universes, and you’ll still be able to have coffee in the morning, in your own universe.

These people around us, struggling to make ends meet. The lonely kid at the school cafeteria wanting to share his mom’s sandwiches. The tired girl treasuring the silence of the night. The sick, old mother waiting for her son. These are all the salt and pepper, an entire cosmos of hidden emotions and beating hearts. And watching these universes disperse with a light that almost blinds your heart, is what makes Time so cruel, doesn’t it? It’s what I call the ‘Twenty-fifth Hour’ – that very intangible moment in the vastness of Time that will not be sorry for its existence as it will alter your perception of life, and love, and loss.

Smiling on the wall sits the ancient clock,
Chiming away – tick, tock, tick, tock –
The day attends to your curiosity
And the night courts your dreams
And between the hours on the clock
walk our insensibilities.
The Hand of the Seconds laughs at you,
And my mind spins a tale that is beyond
The imagination of the elves
And my heart beckons to the minutes
To explain the happening miracle,
And as we slide away on the island of existence,
Our gaze looks afar, into the infinite,
Towards the twenty-fifth hour.

 

The Twenty-fifth Hour

The Ziauddin University Atlas Blog

BY: ARFA MASIHUDDIN, M.B.B.S., BATCH XX

Smiling on the wall sits the ancient clock,
Chiming away – tick, tock, tick, tock –
The day attends to your curiosity
And the night courts your dreams
And between the hours on the clock
walk our insensibilities.
The Hand of the Seconds laughs at you,
And my mind spins a tale that is beyond
The imagination of the elves
And my heart beckons to the minutes
To explain the happening miracle,
And as we slide away on the island of existence,
Our gaze looks afar, into the infinite,
Towards the twenty-fifth hour.

About the Author:  Robbins for breakfast, Rumi for lunch, ArfaMasihuddin.WordPress.com for dinner.

WhatsApp Image 2017-07-02 at 14.54.51Dali’s Persistence of Memory. SOURCE: GOOGLE.

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Long time ago

Have you ever looked closely at a puddle that you’ve jumped over in hopes of avoiding dirtying your shoes? On one of those rainy days when the rain creates more mud puddles and washes few leaves? It’s like glancing at that reflection of yourself that you chose — willingly — to not create. It’s a strange reminder of all that you could have been and all that you are not and everything that you *are*. And then you suddenly, happily remember that new beginnings are a course of nature — the sunrise, the birth of a baby, spring, recovery from a disease, the feeling of relief, ‘Bismillah Irrahman Irraheem’ (In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.) And that, my dear readers, is how I felt when I wrote this poem on this sunny June evening:

“It was a long time ago,” she said.

A long, long time ago

when the petals of the dreams knew not to wither

and fantasies were a welcome reality

and the coolness of the Promised waterfall gave you wings…and you flew.

Fly again because the sky is waiting, the sky is waiting…

 

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Photo credits: Haniya Ather (https://www.instagram.com/lemonandscotch/)