MY SILENT TEARS
By Dr Doris Ng, Obstetrics & Gynaecology Specialist, UMMC
“Don’t cry in front of patients.”
“Don’t ask about their experiences if you cannot handle it.”
“You have to be strong and give them hope.”
Even as I listened to the advice given during MERCY Malaysia’s volunteer briefing session, I knew I may not comply, knowing my inconvenient heart. “Try”, they said. So I did.
But as soon as I set foot at Cox’s Bazar’s sprawling refugee camps, I knew it was impossible. The patients we saw daily had so many unmet needs that it broke my heart. Ever so often, I had to turn my head to hide an escaped tear, knowing there was only so much we could do.
In order to tailor our care and treatment, it was necessary to ask what happened to them. And this, oft-times, was the most heart-wrenching part.
One day, a distressed mother brought her young son who had fever. She had just lost her older son to diphtheria, and was terrified her younger son was also infected. Although he was thankfully diagnosed to be fine, we couldn’t do anything to allay her anxiety then.
Another time, a 12-year-old girl came with a woman, whom we thought was her mother. When we asked the ‘mother’ if we could prescribe antibiotics, the girl started bawling because both her parents had died. The woman with her was just a kind Samaritan who adopted her along the way.
Would we have extended help to someone else when we ourselves are in desperate need for assistance? It was humbling to see so much kindness among the destitute, and I never felt so helpless, wishing I could do more than just treat their medical condition.
One morning in our Balukhali clinic, a small-built young woman brought her ten-year-old son to see us, carrying him on her hip. He was almost as tall as her, but could not walk as he was badly injured after a fall during their treacherous escape to Cox’s Bazar. She had lost contact of her husband since his capture by the Burmese military, and had to care for her two children by herself.
I suspected the boy may have fractured a bone during the fall which did not heal well, and thus decided to refer him to the Malaysian Field Hospital.
When we closed our clinic, the mother came to be sent to the hospital, carrying her son while another toddler followed from behind. As we walked to our van, the mother constantly looked over her shoulder anxiously to check on her little girl. Seeing them walk on sand, rivulets and puddles of raw sewage in their bare feet, something in me just broke.
The little girl was as old as my niece back home, but she probably had not been held much since her brother’s accident. Handing over the clinic equipment and waste in my arms to a colleague, I carried the little girl the rest of the way, trying my best not to let anyone see me cry. Her mother looked back and smiled for the first time since our meeting.
At the hospital, the mother took my hands in hers and squeezed them to express her thanks. Wordlessly, I nodded in reply, holding back tears.
Every little thing we did mean so much to them. I became stronger for them, because they needed me to be. We can all do the same, in whatever way possible.
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