But this post is not about such self righteous grumbling as all this. While I hope I'm not part of the problem, I know I am certainly not part of the solution. Not yet, anyway. Its just that its somehow harder to see sick children than it is to see sick adults. But such emotional agonising aside, what this post is really about is death.
You really cant escape thinking it over when you see ill people as often as some of us do. And while some deal with it by detaching themselves and training their minds to reduce suffering humans to lists of signs, symptoms and differential diagnoses and such (I'm not saying this is a bad method, on the contrary, I think this really helps in solving real world problems when you could easily turn into an inefficient snivelling morass, instead of a useful doctor), I deal with it by periodically trying to face up to the impact it makes on my psyche, by talking about it, thinking about it, instead of pushing it to the back of my mind. So, here goes.
A thirteen-year old asked me today if I believed in heaven. Now, this wasnt really a tricky or morally difficult question to answer since the child wasnt desperately ill or anything. I think it was just a question she was asking. Ignoring the potential minefield of my rational thoughts, I told her that I did and she said that she hoped it existed, too. Then, she said she hoped to meet her father there when she died. He'd died when she was six years old and in this very hospital. That is why she was scared of going to the hospital. Becoz people came here and died. I told her it was not so. That she wud get better and go home and grow up to be healthy. And it was on this note, I thought it wise to end the conversation and walk away to the next kid's bed to see what case my friends were looking at.
You see, I dont really believe in any kind of afterlife. I think this life is pretty much it. And when our brain dies, we die. I dont find this thought morbid or depressing in the least. I think it makes the time we spent with our loved ones, precious in the extreme. It also makes the value of lost chances infinite. Other people, however, probably find the idea of being eternally joined with their loved ones in some kind of Utopia for souls, comforting. A lot of the people I've talked this over with, wistfully long for second chances. A friend whose dog died was convinced she'd walk him again in heaven and called me insensitive when I jokingly told her there may be a separate dog heaven. I think I tend to use humour in situations where I dont seem to be able to empathise properly. But somehow, honestly, the idea of spending forever and ever, which is a really long time, with people we knew in one life is kinda boring. I cant stand my brother 24/7 and I sure hope I dont have to hang out with him for eternity. See, what I mean about the humour?
I know that the older I grow, the more I shall see people around me die. I realised it when I heard about my junior college botany professor dying of hepatitis. I accept it now. I know that the people I've loved who've died, my grandparents and my childhood friend, Tasleem, are lost to me forever. And while, I wud give anything to meet them again, I know it is not possible. And that makes me cherish their memory and the love we shared, even more. But perhaps, that is not enuff for everyone.
So, do I feel like I wilfully lied to a gullible child today? Yes. Do I regret it? No.
From a literary point of view, this little gem from you has all the makings of a prologue to a fine work of fiction. Don't know why, but this is my gut feeling :)
Coming to the heart of the matter, that certain degree of compassion and stoicalness that your profession demands is very much reflected in those lines...reminded me of Dr.Rieux in Camus' "The Plague".
And finally, as far as I'm concerned, this post is your best till date.
P.S. - By the way, don't you use social-networking sites such as facebook or twitter? Kindly give me an opportunity to associate with you, doctor!! :D
I agree with you, death does seem to be the end. But it was nice to hear what Jung had to say about it. Check out his video on death on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOxlZm2AU4o). Although death may seem like the end, but life seems to assume continuity. I think thats why it hard for people to imagine their own end. And assuming continuity may also make for better living. It doesn't have to be a specific thought system.
Rohith! Thank you for that wonderful comment! Praise coming from you means a lot to me, becoz I really admire your writing. :) I have not read Camus' 'The Plague', but now I'm curious about it and shall read it. And I'm not on twitter, but I am on facebook..Are you in Ketan's friendlist too? I'll go ahead and add you then! :)
Pankaj, thank you for linking me to that video. I found his answers very interesting.
Of course, when he says that the psyche is not confined by time and space, I think thats just Jung being Jungian, you know.
But when he talks about looking forward to every moment and every day instead of looking at the past looming behind you, he is being very correct in his assessment, that we shud not be thinking about death all the time, for we may die of the fear of it.
In a short story by Isaac Asimov, an alien being from an immortal species wonders how human beings can live so enthusiastically in the face of imminent death. He concluded that it is by self-delusion alone can humans live without sinking into depression. The self-delusion of the soul being immortal.
So, I guess the assumption of continuity is a self-preservation mechanism, and fear of death is just the side-effect of thinking that way.
I loved Jung's answer to the interviewer's incomplete question of "Do you believe..?" He talks about belief as separate from reason, reason that supports a hypothesis, totally debunking the thought that science is just another set of beliefs. Very cool!
My dad, like most psychiatrists today, doesnt really set much store by Jung. But this video tells me that he wasnt as goofy as they make him out to be.
Jung is associated with lots of "quaint" ideas i know. But i have read a bit of his work and he comes across to me as someone possessing a lot of wisdom, and understanding of the ambiguities of the human condition. Besides, i'm utterly fascinated by some of his theories.
I think he must've been a really good observer, you know, like Freud. An objective observer of the human condition. Which I guess, back then, wasnt a quality as easily found in most scientists plumbing the secrets of the psyche. I'm very interested by his 'collective conscious' idea but I havent really read his work. Any reccos? But I must say, I gave up The Interpretation of Dreams after like two chapters..
Afterlife? For heaven's sake! Hell no!
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