There was this man who had his nose completely removed after being diagnosed with nasal cancer. He has been walking around with a plastic nose prosthesis tied to his face with rubber straps. When he came in for his follow-up appointments he would take it off for us to examine, revealing an uncomfortable big triangular hole in the middle of his face with the six delicate bony turbinates clearly visible, and their pink glistening mucosa extending into the black, unlit cavities of his nasopharynx.

It all started about a year ago when he was playing with his little daughter. Somehow she hit her dad’s nose, and it became immediately swollen. In retrospect, he must have had a pathological fracture with bone already unknowingly eroded by the then-insidious cancer, but initially he thought it was just a bruise. Not only did the swelling not resolve, it grew larger and yet larger, until anyone would know something was quite wrong.

He was a blithe person who liked to pull off jokes all the time. After being diagnosed with cancer, undergoing surgery and then radiotherapy, he was still in good spirits. He would joke to his daughter now and then — “Look what you’ve done!!” or “It all started with your punch!” he would say, and then laugh heartily. I’m sure he didn’t mean any of them.

But during the times when he brought his lovely daughter along to see us, it was apparent that the little girl had carried some guilt with her.

Despite our reassurances that her dad’s condition had nothing to do with what she did, I’m not sure if she’ll ever let it go, even as she grows up. Not all jokes are funny.

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Grandpa passed away

Grandpa passed away on the day I arrived home just before the last Christmas. It was a weird week that followed, beginning my holidays back home after several years overseas.

Weakly could he still nudge his head when he saw me standing beside his bed that morning, but it was a swift deterioration, and he passed away – so quickly – about nine hours later.

In retrospect, should I have spent more time with him earlier the day? Should I have insisted more strongly for him to be admitted to hospital earlier? I don’t know; in retrospect there will always be many what-if’s and if-only’s. But I’m thankful I arrived home in time when he still had enough consciousness left to recognize me. I know he had always wanted to see me for the years I was away.

In the week that followed with the funeral service and relatives visiting, I realized, too, that there are many things so close, yet not usually talked about.

What other times in our lives do we talk about finding a good and suitable cemetery to buy a spot, in preparation for the future? What other times in our lives are we so open, even in the extended family about life, death and the next generations?

So I suppose I have grown up, my friends are getting married, my parents are soon retiring, and my young cousins now able to walk and talk. The people I have around me – many so very dear – are changing, and will not be around forever. Sometimes this is closer than we think.

Indeed we are all but a mist, that appear for a little while and then vanishes. Yet God has set eternity in the human heart. It amazes me, but I know many avoid the topic.

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Three wishes

This is a story during my week of attachment with the Paediatric Outpatient Clinics… (names anonymized, of course)

Clarice’s aunt was her carer. She had brought Clarice in due to concerns about her oppositional behaviour at home – trashing her scooter into windows, hitting her brother, skipping school, coming back home late without informing her aunt, and so forth, according to the referral letter.

But walking into the room was a surprisingly rather demure young teenage girl, dressed in pretty pastel colors with a little flowery handbag on the side. Perhaps she was just more reserved around strangers, especially before the doctor?

Her mom was in prison for drug abuse. Her dad had been gone for several years to somewhere nobody knew. Her aunt was single, but was taking care of two more children in addition to Clarice, all whom had to be taken away from their parents for child protection issues. She was really running quite tired, she said in our discussion, coming to her “end of wits” in trying to manage the behavioural problems in her house.

But we didn’t think that Clarice had any “medical problem” such as ADHD that we could address with medicines. The most we could do is to recommend her to give counsellors and child psychiatrists another try. I felt a little bad for what seemed to be like pushing the onus away, but it was perhaps the right thing to do.

At the end of the consultation when interestingly not much else could be said from us, the paediatrician turned to the teenage girl sitting quietly on her seat. “Clarice,” she said, “if there were three wishes you could make and they would come true, what would they be?”

“That I could have a hundred wishes more,” Clarice replied without too long a delay, but she laughed when she realized it was a silly answer.

“Um…, that I would never grow old,” she added with a self-conscious grin, “andddd….”

“… And that mom, dad and I can be together…,” she said after a pause.

(There are 10 responses to this post.)
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