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“They say he’s leaving, treat him merely as a guest of few days.” I heard Mum’s cracking voice from my dark bedroom around 2.00am. The early winter morning was hush, too hush rather. I heard her. I heard her words I prayed every night not to hear; as I peeked from behind the curtains, I saw her sobbing while my elder sister consoled her. It broke my heart.
“It’s not true Heba,” I whispered to myself. “The doctors are saying things without realizing the effect their words would carry. They’re lying, only trying to prepare us for the worse maybe… Don’t lose your composure.” I told this to myself, while my thoughts wandered off to how life would be without bhai. All the how’s and the what’s bothered me too much to speak or even think.
The year of 2008 was hard. My brother had become critically ill. Each day was a struggle and his health disintegrated more and more; to the point of no return by the end. We had no car then. My mother had to travel in taxis in the scorching summers of Ramadan while fasting, to get bhai to the hospital every now and then.
After God, we put our hopes in doctors to save him. But sadly, the system here is broken. There’s something seriously wrong with it. Mum had to put up with all kinds of mean and disrespectful doctors which made our ordeal all more difficult than it already was.
One doctor in particular, who was treating bhai at the time, wrongly diagnosed him with having tuberculosis and henceforth, put him on ‘Myran B’ capsules, or as I would like to call it, ‘the pill of death’. The doctor further performed painful procedures on him, so he got weaker and weaker.
On November 7, 2008. Maghreb had just been called and I was on the prayer mat. Mum had gone to the hospital with bhai. All of us four sisters were gathered in one room. “Ya Allah! Come to our aid for we are helpless.” I repeated in prayer when suddenly my aunt walked in. She wore a grave expression. I knew it had happened. It was over.
“What happened Aunty?” “Is everything okay?” My sisters asked, knowing exactly what was to follow. That’s the thing about disbelief, your mind’s telling you one thing and your mouth’s questioning another; they lose coordination. Aunty spoke nothing. She hugged us and broke into full tears. And so did we.
That was the moment I lost my composure for the first time in a long time, fully and completely. I was shattered. It was a traumatic experience for all of us. My mother lost her memory for two months. We barely ate, barely spoke… barely lived.
The days that followed, word had spread like a forest fire. Relatives to friends to people, to anyone we knew poured into sympathizing with us. “It’s going to be okay, it is a part of life.” But these were nothing more than just words for I knew they couldn’t relate even in the least bit. I wanted people to just leave and let us process it, deal with it in our own way!
It took us a long time to come out of that abyss of sorrow, to get used to living without him, to ever feel happiness again and to pull ourselves together. But when we did, we came out stronger than ever and became one close-knit family.
It’s hard to come to terms with the harsh reality of a loved one’s death. Hard to accept the fact that it’s happened, but we did. Knowing he was now at a better place, we let him rest in peace and resumed life again.
Bhai’s death was a lesson. It taught me how temporary this life is. One moment you’re here, the next you’re gone. Generally, we’re told so many times about this life being temporary and we believe it. Truth be told, you never believe it as much as you do when you lose someone close to you; nothing brings you closer to this reality than that ‘shock’.
Now that I come to think of it, that was the moment I knew what I had to do. That was the moment I “woke up”. My vision was clearer and I knew what I wanted to do with life. I want to become a doctor so that no one else has to go through what I had to so that more people don’t die in vain. So that people who can be saved (with the right knowledge of medicine) can live a little longer. I want to fix the broken system.
I want to fulfill unkept promises by other doctors. There’s a lot more to this profession than money. A LOT more. The unfair treatment of women and the underprivileged I witnessed at the hospitals (and almost everywhere else) nourished my feministic, humanitarian values and agenda. I decided I want to be an activist too. This was it, the defining moment.
They tell me I can’t be the jack of all trades, that I can’t pursue more than one professions, and that all of this will require years of study; well then let me tell you, I will keep working towards accomplishing my goals till my very last breath. Unfulfilled potential won’t put out this fire. Now every day my bones burn with passion, asking me to go out there and prove to the world that it’s possible and that change does, in fact, start with one person.
My faith lies with the coming generations to become better humans and better doctors. I’m not asking you to believe you can fix everyone because ultimately that’s in the hands of God, I’m asking you to give your all, to choose the profession of medicine only if you have the will to take the longer paths. You must know how it all works. Do not be like the vast majority of Pakistani doctors who chose this profession for money making.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”
In memory of beloved Ahsan Malik. Gone but never Forgotten.