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Erasing the “why us” syndrome

Image credit — Google images

Max Hospital — Scene I

“Are you from Deepshika’s* batch?”, asked a middle-aged lady as she saw me walking into the chemo ward. “Ahh, you’re Deepshika Di’s mother? I’m her junior from school.” “Deepika’s* batch?” “No, the middle batch between the sisters,” I smiled and told her. This lady was the mother of two of my high school acquaintances, a senior and a junior to me. I had met her so many times at school, she was one of the few parents who would really interested in your science project at the exhibition and ask you the much dreaded questions on it. But I liked her. She was keen, smart and actually listening to the answers that I gave her. And getting a positive nod from someone’s parent at school for your work, was always welcome. Her elder daughter and I were in the same house at school, and would often meet for science quizzes, sports events and other house activities.

I’ll admit, the moment I saw her, I recognised her. Despite the age and perhaps the weight gain due to steroids, her features were instant recognition clues. I had seen her multiple times at school and in photos on Facebook. Ideally, I might’ve said hello, nodded and smiled, had I met her somewhere else. Made her feel recognised and acknowledge that memory.

However, we both were inside the chemotherapy room, and I chose to let go of my recognition skills. What if that wasn’t her? What if she didn’t want to have a small talk? Is it really okay to ask a probable chemo patient if she’s here for her routine cycle? What if she was for some other reason?

All these thoughts blighted my mind, long enough for her to approach me and say hello. I was surprised, and at the same time, ashamed. I should’ve gone ahead and asked her how’s she doing. Maybe even discussed her prognosis, told her about Dad. Made her feel comfortable, relaxed. After all, that’s what really matters, to have a comforting someone around in a hospital? But then, would she be okay in discussing her illness if she met someone so outside her circle of acquaintances?

Max Hospital — Scene II

“Have I seen you somewhere?,” asked a young boy whose father was getting chemotherapy done in the adjacent bed to Dad’s. I knew who he was, another junior from high school. As I grinned, and said you’re Dhruv* right, he remembered. Mariyam! “That’s what I was wondering, she’s from school. I just can’t be so sure though.”

And so Dhruv and I started talking about our fathers and their illnesses. We discussed alternate treatments, second opinions, other cancer hospitals and new discoveries. The costs of drugs and the costs of therapies. The success rate of surgeries and their recovery periods. Our fathers’ jobs and the support mechanism in place from their respective workplaces. We even discussed our careers, what lay next for us, our families, and how would be take on life. There were jokes and discussions about school, whom was I touch with, whom I had no clue about, etc etc. As the day’s regime for both our fathers was drawing to a close, we wished each other all the best, and speedy recovery for each other’s Dads.

So many times, Dad, Mum, my sister and I, end our conversations by saying, why us? Why our Dad? There’s never an answer to this why. It irritates you, it brings tears to your eyes, it saps you of all energy to move forward. And it overwhelms you, pushing you into loneliness. You start having a singular outlook towards others. You measure every person’s success and new moves, in the light of your own problems. You belittle others’ problems. Often unknowingly, you victimise yourself, and blind out to others’ difficulties.

And this is where acquaintances help, when you see them in a similar situation. When you cross paths with them, and they are undergoing a similar transition in their lives. They make you feel normal. They show you the mirror to see your problems in a similar light. They pull you back from the isolation of your misery. They help you focus on the present and not what is gone.

They help you get the “why us” erased. You normalise that pattern with empathy. I understand how hard it is go through a parent’s illness. But that knowledge and experience can help transform someone else going through a similar problem. And meeting someone you’re familiar with, should be an opportunity to do so.

Listen to them if they want to discuss their illness. Ask them questions, answer them at the same time. Show interest and perhaps offer them some new information that you might know about the hospital or treatments. Familiarise them with the place if they’re unaware. Hospital corridors are notoriously confusing, when looking for water filters and washrooms. Do not offer unsolicited advice. Give them privacy if they seem disinterested. In a shared chemo ward – draw the curtains, dim the lights, lower the volume of the television, ask their attendant if they need anything as you make your way to the cafeteria. In doing so, you’re helping yourself come out of the fallacy that you’re in this problem alone, and at the same time, help someone get through a tough day.

Also, make new acquaintances. So many times, I’ve met strangers in hospital lifts and had conversations about their patients, often getting or rendering new piece of information. Information related to doctors, hospital administration, medicine costs etc, and more often than not, such details have helped.

And then those strangers turned acquaintances have smiled while crossing at the reception, often stopped and asked how Dad is doing. Walking through a hospital is not that solitary after all.

That day, as I saw Dhruv hold his Dad’s hand, guiding him through the reception gates as they waited for the driver, I hoped to see him again. I hope to sent a text to Deepshika’s Mum and offer any help if she needs.

There should be no “why us” when dealing with such a difficulty in life. Because, we’re never alone, in happiness or sadness. And we should never let anyone feel so.

*(Names changed to protect identities)

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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