Every day, I get up early in the morning to try to help other people feel better by the Grace of God. Every day, I get up early – and sometimes come home very late – to help someone else have a little less pain. Every day, I live a dream come true: being a physician, and it is a blessing beyond measure.
I work in the field of Pulmonary and Critical Care, and so – every day – I take care of people who have been ravaged by the destruction wrought by cigarette smoking. I see people who cannot breathe because their lungs have been destroyed by said cigarette smoke, and I try to help them breathe a little better. In addition, I take care of patients who are critically ill and must stay in the intensive care unit for a time. In many instances, these patients are so sick to be near death.
And it is my honor to work as hard as I can to bring them out of their life-threatening illness. Being a doctor is a tough life, and many times it is a struggle that can be overwhelming. But is a struggle that I am privileged to undertake. Most of the time, by the Grace of God, the medical team and I are successful, and our patients can live to see many more years of life.
Sometimes, however, despite doing everything humanly possible, the medical team and I are not successful, and our patients succumb to their disease. And many times, I unfortunately must give families the bad news and help counsel them through the profound grief at the loss of their loved one. Yet, one time, the tables were turned on my wife and me.
It was on the day our daughter passed away.
Our eldest daughter was afflicted by a crippling genetic disorder called Ataxia-Telangiectasia, and as a result of this illness, she developed Diffuse Large B-cell lymphoma. After undergoing six cycles of chemotherapy, she developed septic shock: an overwhelming systemic response to infection. And despite a truly heroic effort on the part of her medical team, she lost her battle and passed away on June 7, 2009.
Ever since that day, my heart has been searing from a pain that is truly indescribable. Ever since that day, my wife and I have tried to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and try to move on. Indeed, the Lord has not abandoned us in our tragedy. He has given us so much joy in the years since. Nevertheless, the pain of her loss is still so fresh, so acute, that I sometimes cannot breathe from the agony.
What’s worse, everything at work reminds me of her affliction. Every ICU room looks like the one in which she died. Every time a patient needs to breathe with the help of a special BiPAP machine, it can remind me of when she went through the same thing. When I stand at the bedside of a patient with a similar type of shock, it reminds me of those truly horrific hours when my daughter was clinging to the shards of her fragile life. And I when I try to comfort a husband, or a wife, or a mother, or a daughter, or a son -screaming out in pain at the death of their loved one – it gives me a terrible pain in my heart as well.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember my beautiful daughter and remember the terrible torture of having to watch her die in front of my eyes. There is not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t scream out in horror that I lost my baby forever. Sometimes, I want to literally scream out – to try to comfort the devastating torment I endure each and every day.
But I don’t, and that is my Jihad.
“Jihad” is Arabic for “struggle,” and in Islam, “Jihad” is the sacred struggle to bring good in this world. It can mean different things to different people. For me, my Jihad is to keep myself together and not shrink away into a world of grief and sadness.
I do this for the sake of my wife, to try to be there for her and help comfort her even greater agony and terror. I do this for the sake of my surviving children, so they can know a happy life and not one with constant sadness. And I do this for the sake of my critically ill patients, so I can think clearly about the proper treatment plan they need so they can get better.
But, it is really, really hard.
And so, each and every day, I reach out to the Lord for His help and His comfort. I reach out to The Lord for His grace and mercy because, without Him, there is no way I could have made it this far. But, even with God’s help, the pain is still there, for losing a child is the worst thing a parent can endure. And it is a Jihad I will have to endure for the rest of my life.