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Maria-Syamsi

From My Heart

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June 2015

The Inspiration to be Thankful

It takes a lot of effort to be thankful when so much of what you already have is being taken away one after another.

Your family, good companion, motivation, memory, energy, strength…

But when you start counting all your past blessings, and when you remember how all those good and seemingly-bad-but-actually-great things that has happened in the past made you the kind of person you are now, it gives you the strength to go on, one difficult day after another.

Nouman Ali Khan on 46:15

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The Festival of Knowledge 2015: Optimism At Times of Tribulation

Disclaimer: This article is mainly about my experience attending the conference, rather than the contents of it. I have shared some of the contents elsewhere, and I will, insyaaAllah, write a few more articles about the jewels that I managed to pick up from there.

I may have mentioned this before, but I’ll say this again. Ilmfest 2015 was held in Putrajaya in May, at the same time I finished my neurology posting. It was also held after two emotionally and spiritually challenging months for me. I had the worst (best?) emotional roller coster ride since 6 years ago. It was a ride that had me asking “what is the point of all this, really?”, one that had me feeling that something shattered me as if none that I have worked for all this while has worked, one that had me open my eyes to hope, to the sunshine after the rain, and that had me look back and say “the hard work I put in actually paid, alhamdulillah!”.

With the theme of “Optimism At Times of Tribulation”, it was definitely what I needed the most.

All of us go through difficulties in life, in one form or another. It is the nature of this life in this world. It has been promised to us that all of us would go through tests, and the level of difficulty would depend on our views in life, our faith in what is going to happen next.

It does not matter whether you’re tested with problems of health, finances, knowledge, authority, marriage (or the lack of it), friendship, work or anything at all, the answers in the Quran are the same. We may start wondering why, but that is not the only question we should ask.

We shall all respond in a positive manner – to find the solution, fully believing that Allah has the answer to every problem. We just need to find it.

We shall also look back into ourselves, what did we do wrong? Why did we, as humans gifted with forebrains and a complex limbic system, let this happen? So that we could learn a lesson and become better people, and not to learn to blame others (including God, or for some, the absence of God), for whatever is happening around us.

It is only when we look into ourselves, that we could remain upright. It is only when we correct ourselves, that we could move forward. Nobody in this whole world will do that for us. Nobody in this world will prepare us the right environment for us to thrive. We need to do it ourselves, then only we could be at peace no matter what life throws at us.

Whatever calamity that occurred to us has only one purpose: to build us up. They are not there to bring us down to despair, not to crush us that we could no longer stay upright.

“Everybody grieves, but you should not let your grief paralyse you,” said Sheikh Abu Eesa.

They also taught us to focus. Not to let any of the trials deviate us from our goals. In fact, those tests could be reminders for us to refocus, to stay on the right path. If we are focused on our targets, the trials will appear smaller and easier to handle.

* * *
The speakers.

They are such amazing people. To see them lined up in the stage was one of the most life changing experience.

Why?

These are the people who spent hours upon hours studying the book of Allah. They studied the Quran, they memorised the Quran word by word, they studied about the entire life of Prophet Muhammad SAW, they studied the books written by the people who studied the Quran, and there are thousands of those books!

These are not the only books they studied, some studied psychology, social science in college, some pharmacy, arts and design, chemical engineering and many more.

We could see that they are in love of what they are doing.

The was they smile when they were giving their lectures.
The way their eyes light up when they spoke about our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW.
The way their faces brightened up for just imagining having dinner with the Islamic scholars of the past.

The way their voice softened and that gentle gaze appeared when they mentioned their wives, who sacrificed by being thousands of miles away from them, so that the husbands could go around the globe and spread knowledge.

The way they joked with each other, those peaceful-no-trolling kinds of jokes that are funny but did not hurt anybody.

The way peace and serenity seemed to descend on this earth when Sheikh Yasir Qadhi gave the talk on the Parables of Light. It was an out-of-this-world experience for me.

The gentle, friendly way they spoke to each other, as if they were brothers from the day they were born.

Well, they are, and we are, brothers and sisters in Islam.

The different sizes, skin colours , original ancestries of each of them, each of us. We all look different but none of that mattered at all. We are one, because we believe in one God, and we believe that Prophet Muhammad SAW is Allah’s messenger.

I love the way they say their prayers at the end each lecture. Praying that we will all be continuously guided, that we will all be at peace with whatever life throws at us, that we will all become more united, that the world will one day achieve a peaceful state.

Most importantly, that we should all continue to increase our contribution to the people of this earth, and become better servants of Allah SWT.

* * *

I could not thank Allah enough for giving these speakers guidance, that they could spread the light to people like us.

I could not thank Allah enough for giving us the opportunity to attend this conference.

Words could never describe the gratitude I have for those who sponsored this event.

All praises and gratitude is to Allah for sending down the Quran, as the guidance for all mankind.

* * *

If you asked me, did the conference fulfil my expectations?

I’d say, it exceeds expectations. 🙂

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The Doctor’s Advice

When the doctor tells you to quit smoking,
It’s up to you to follow his advice.
If you do not, you might or might not suffer the consequences.
It’s your choice.

When the doctor tells you to lose that extra weight,
It’s up to you to follow his advice.
If you do not, you might or might not walk with painful knees, get diabetes, or have sleeping problems.

When the doctor tells you to give birth in the hospital,
It is up to you where you choose.
You may or may not bleed to brain injury, and your child may or may not suffer even worse brain injury.
Your choice.

When the doctor tells you to vaccinate your kids,
You may think it is up to you.
But you have to know, it is a social responsibility to vaccinate, never really a personal choice.

BUT

If the doctor told you to come back and see your ill mother,
You would better do it.
You don’t have a choice.

Because it often means she is leaving this world.
If she does, and you did not follow the doctor’s order, you will regret it in your entire life.

Doctors could try to save lives.
But doctors could not wake up the dead.

They Were Upset and I Wondered Why

As with other doctors, I am no stranger to taking exams upon exams, some more difficult than the others, at times passing, but sometimes not making it through.

With that, my colleagues, senior colleagues and mentors would know my results, good or not as favourable.

Thing is, whenever I don’t get through the exams, some of them would recieve the news with fallen faces.

It often seemed like their response is worse than my own, when I looked at my own results.

I was never comfortable with it.

I never understood why they should be so upset when I have yet to give up on myself, and when I was not as frustrated as they appeared to be.

Until one day I heard about a dear friend. I have not met him for about a year.

A few weeks ago I saw another colleague who came to my ward to look for cases. So I asked her about him and some other friends who took the same exam at the same time.

“Oh, all of us got through, except for him. He had to resit that exam,” she said.

I felt rather sad.

The news bothered me. The fact that he did not go through the exam resurfaced a few times on that day, in between seeing patients.

I hoped and prayed that he will make it soon.

He was one to encourage me to focus on my exams and get through it quickly.

From that day, I understood how it may have felt like for all those people to hear my news.

I’m not going to ask why anymore.

Neurology

Disclaimer: this is a story about my time spent with neurologists, and only a little bit about neurology as a field.

One of the reasons I asked to be transferred to the current hospital I’m working in is I wanted to do a rotation in neurology. I wanted to see whether I truly love this field.

I had interest in neurology since I was a student. I thought I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Towards the end of housemanship, with plans of building a family, I thought of becoming a lecturer in anatomy with special interest in neuroanatomy.

However, after discussion with a few important people in my life and career, I chose the clinical path to become a physician with some thoughts of being a neurologist later. Some thoughts. I didn’t know for sure yet.

So after two years being in this place, I was posted for four months (like other rotations), into neurology department. Like the other colleagues, I was nervous but eager to learn new things.

You see, neurology is not a favourite subject for many doctors, even among physicians. The structure of the nervous system is complex, the functions even more so. There are so much that human beings still do not know about the human brain.

Hence there are so many neurological diseases of which the cause has yet to be found, and worse, the cure is limited and the hopes of recovery poor.

What is damaged would often remain damaged, although some may improve with training and perseverence. Some diseases like epilepsy could only be controlled, and for some others like multiple sclerosis, we could only hope that relapses don’t happen.

With that realization, many would think that neurology is a depressing field to be in. You speak to the patient and examine him, by then you already have an idea of the diagnosis. You confirm it with many investigations, some take many months to complete. When you finally clinched the diagnosis, you look at the patient and the family, wondering how they are going to cope with that illness, the uncertainty of whether or not there will be recovery, and if he has no hope for cure, there’s no way of telling how long he has left.

Unlike cancers, I personally found neurological diseases a lot more difficult to prognosticate.

After four months in the posting, I had mixed feelings towards the field itself. But it was sister Yasmin Mogahed who made me realise how amazing neurologists are.

Ilmfest Putrajaya was held right at the end of my neurology posting, when I was already having some withdrawal symptoms by thinking that I was not going to work with those people again. So sister Yasmin was talking about her friend who had four disabled children, when it hits me that some of the most amazing people in this world are those who fight for the people who could not speak for themselves.

Then I had a flashback of my four months there.

They would speak kindly to the patients, even when all they get back was just a blank stare.

They would try to examine every single part that they need to, because they wanted to make sure they don’t miss anything, and to make sure no new problems arise. Even when, or more so when, the patient is bedbound and fully dependant.

They would try to relieve every single physicial symptoms a patient have, even when the disease is incurable.

They are the happiest when a patients show the slightest improvement, even when it’s from a blank stare to an eye contact. Even when it’s a flicker of movement from no movement.

As seniors, they listen to every single word you say, every single question you ask, and answer you, even at 3am.

As seniors, they are such good judge of character, that they appreciate the hardworking ones.

They remain dignified no matter what kind of behaviour others show to them.

They are such compassionate people, they work as hard on weekends as they do on weekdays.

Their eyes are so keen and pair that with good hearts, they could see your pain and would try to help as much as they could.

They are such gentle people, I have never heard them shout. Perhaps only some firm voice when needed but nothing more that.

Combine compassion and perseverance, they have the patience to wait for patients to recover their function, of course after multiple physiotherapy sessions.

They would be the happiest people when the patients recover from not being able to swallow, to move, to speak, and a few tortuous months down the line, the patients would be talking and eating like they did before.

As seniors, they would make sure we get something out of our stay there.

“Maria, are you okay?” would be the question whenever I was in clinic, every time I was finishing with a consultation. Lengthy teaching would come after each patient, which I have so much gratitude for.
I know my fellow colleagues had that too.

* * *

I went into neurology posting to learn about neurological diseases.

I got a lot more.

Thank you so much for showing me patience, perseverance, dignity, gratitude, and compassion.

Thank you for your listening ears, and concerned eyes.

And of course, thank you for all the knowledge poured on to us. We all did learn a lot from you.

Thank you.

Your Health, Your Choice

You see,

When us, doctors, advice people not to smoke, they mock us and say “oh, my father smoked for 50 years and he had cancer only after he quit smoking.”

When we advice them to control their sugar, they whine and say they can’t stand looking at all those food.

When we ask them to not bring their young children visit their ill grandparents in the hospital, they look at us like we’re being overly rigid.

When we promote about vaccination, they laughed and belittled us for “blindly following Western medicine.”

When we promote safe labour options, everyone starts fighting and nobody in the media asked the opinion of a consultant obstetrician.

* * *

Of course, you might want to say it is YOUR rights to choose whether you want to smoke, drink, eat whatever you may want, have all the sex with any prostitute, give birth anywhere in any place you like, expose your kids to any life-threatening infections, or drive as recklessly as you want.

You think it’s your choice.

You think doctors will not have a job if nobody falls sick.

You are WRONG.

There are so many people who are unfortunate to get severe, chronic illness, without even asking for it.

There are so many people who get cancer, lupus, thyroid problems, epilepsy, lung fibrosis, asthma, antiphospholipid syndrome, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, infertility, multiple sclerosis, myasthaenia gravis, muscular dystrophies, mucopolysaccharoidoses, acute glomerulonephritis, and so many other diseases.

You know what, these diseases (and many others) have no cure, and for most of them, no cause is found. That means anyone could get them no matter how they care about themselves. People who have these diseases will need to go for frequent follow up in hospitals. The medications they take may cost thousands or millions of dollars in their lifetime.

Thing is, the psychosocial impact of the above (and many other diseases) are huge. Doctors need time to tackle these issues, on top of explaining to them about their diseases, the treatment options (or lack of it, at times), the medications and their side effects, and a whole lot more on patient education.

We sincerely wish we have all that time to spend with such unfortunate patients.
We really wish we could listen to all their worries, give them words of encouragement so that they could go through this difficult life in the best manner possible.

But we don’t. We simply could not.

Because there are people out there selfish enough to say, “my body, my rights.”

By getting into trouble, choosing to not care for themselves, they crowd the hospital emergency departments, wards, outpatient clinics, specialist clinics, together with the above unfortunate people.

They mock at doctors first and come back later begging for help. For oxygen, for pain relief, for money.

And yes, we do help them. Some sincerely, some not as much (as weak as a human may be). We give oxygen, pain relief, and “referral to welfare”.

At the same time, occupying the doctor’s time that could have been well spent for those who did NOT look for trouble but fell ill anyway.

They selfishly took away the time and resources that the doctors could have spent on those unfortunate patients, because it’s their body, it’s their rights to damage it the way they wanted to.

* * *
Dear fellow colleagues,

This is more of a reminder for myself than for everyone. But I’ll say this anyway.

I know we have encountered very challenging attitudes from people around us, including the one-sided media. I know it is so easy to lash out and be as emotional as those “lay people” out there.

Many of us have spoken out in various manners, including myself.

But I guess it is true, we must not stoop down to their level. We must not reduce our educated minds to their random guesses. We shall not fight recklessness with rudeness. When people seek the opinion of the unlearned, we must continue to learn from the true experts.

We are way better than that.

Indeed, wise people of old times said, we may be able to win an arguement with an intelligent man, but we will never win an arguement with the ignorant.

So let’s stop arguing, because we’ll never win.

* * *
Perhaps it would be useful to hear this Sheikh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture on part of the surah Al-Kahfi. This part spoke about the importance of preserving life, and the sanctity of our lives.

“We shall be brave, but we shall not act foolishly. Why should one die pointlessly, when he could stay alive?”

Sheikh Yasir Qadhi: Tafseer Surah Al Kahfi, part 6.

The Volkswagen Beetle

Road trips.
Usually I love them.

Driving slowly through small state roads, often following large lorries carrying timber, petrol or palm oil.

Passing through villages, small towns, some jungles and rubber estates.

Up and down the hills.
Fogs lifting.
The sun peeking.

The chats.
How dad used to travel at least once a month through these roads, to be with his parents and big family.

He’d leave his hometown in the middle of the night to avoid heavy traffic.

The kids, that’s us, would be asleep by then, so he could have a peaceful drive.

From east coast to hometown, he’d ask the policeman about which route is best, clearest in terms of traffic, so we all could arrive as early as possible.

There were no Waze or Google Map 30 years back then.

He spoke about some roti canai place along the way.

Little sister perhaps felt a bit left out because it was not during her time.
Or because things have changed too much since back then.

Yes, there are things that we wish would remain the same.
There are things that we could not understand why.
Perhaps we will never understand why.
But life has to go on.
And we need to give it our best.

We’ll never know what awaits in the future.
* * *
Like that old Volkswagen Beetle many many years ago.

It used to go from PJ to Kuantan, and back.

One day it skidded, and fell down the hill.
And it burst into flames.
Right after the driver escaped the wreckage, almost unscathed.

After that he drove another car. Which also perished in another accident.

Those cars have gone through these roads.
Mentakab.
Temerloh.
Jerantut.
Kuantan.

He used to speak about the Orang Asli family, whose children were all named like his one classmate.

Or those days his father used to drive him very early on Monday morning, and would return by bus on the same day.

Or the way he used to wake up early and go to the beach to watch the sun rise.

Or when he used to take the bus to Kemaman to have breakfast at that cafe under the big tree.

About the Japanese couple that used to sell home-cooked Japanese food. Obviously the nicest you could find.

He spoke about those people he used to spend time with.
Even the people he did not like.
Or the people whom he thought did not like him.
Whatever.

But yes, you don’t know what life will bring you in the future.
If he has perished with the Volkswagen Beetle, if he did not survive the crash, my life would have been entirely different.

My views of life would not be like it is now.
I may have met different people.
The way I respond to challenges in life would not be the same.
I would not have spent 3 years working with the dying.
I might not be able to help as many people as I have.

I would not have even known myself the way I do now.

* * *
Often we don’t understand why things happen the way they do.
Most of the time we don’t like them.
But those are the things that build us up.

* * *

When our partners spoke about their past lives, I guess we tend to internalise the stories as if they were ours.

No wonder grandma always spoke about grandpa’s past experience, even those before they were married, as if those memories were hers.

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