In basic medical training you are told that your body can focus on only one pain at a time. In moments of severe body trauma, your brain sends messages to your body to home in on your most extreme pain.
The same can be said for emotions. No, I am not a doctor and no, I haven’t saved any lives but I have been through my own share of personal trauma, for I have witnessed others and myself in severe emotional and physical pain.
Not many people know but when my father died I was working as a journalist in Kuwait. I had a feeling something was wrong as we didn’t speak for a few days and we spoke daily. In the stillness of the blistering afternoon I felt a panic, pacing outside trying to get a signal with my satellite phone but it was no use.
I went to the corner store where I used the shared phone for the neighbourhood. The shop was staffed by a poor family from Pakistan and the phone was used by many domestic workers who were unable to pay for their own phone contracts.
It was then that I heard the news that my dad slipped in a coma and he wasn’t waking up. I was 24 – he was 61. By that time it was the evening and I was beside myself. My best friend at the time, Sue (Samar) from Egypt came and got me in a taxi as she heard my cries – her family looked after me before a friend in the army paid for my flights to get back to Cairns to see my father.
I wasn’t there when he died, I did not know how gravely ill he was despite a 10-year battle with liposarcoma. Just only a couple of years before he died the cancer spread to his pancreas and the doctors removed his pancreas rendering him a type 1 diabetic as his body could no longer produce insulin.
By the time he died, the cancer had spread to his brain through his bloodstream. Had I known he was so sick, I would have never left him. The last words he spoke to me were “come home Elizabeth.” To which I replied “I will soon dad, but not yet.”
Within the next few days I was scheduled to go on one of the exhumations of the bodies on the border of Iraq and Kuwait due to the Gulf War. I had made very good friends with the Commander of the Kuwait army who was in charge of the dig. I never went as I left to Australia not long after to be with my family but I didn’t make it in time to see my father.
The pain stays with me – I never got to say goodbye to my father. I never got to hug him one last time, and smell his hair. I never got to hold his hand.
The man who I admired and loved so much had left my life. The only person in my family that was like me, was gone.
Fast forward seven years later and I was hit with the devastating blow of being diagnosed with cancer. When I found out the news I was absolutely devastated as I knew the long road ahead of me – I didn’t want that for my husband and not for my daughter.
I will never forget at the age of 19 witnessing the DNR (do not resuscitate) form of my father before he went in for another one of his cancer surgeries. The feeling to know that any attempts to save his life were “just delaying the inevitable” as he would say.
Yet, surgery after surgery, he persisted. When he was conscious enough he would be counselling patients from his bed (he was an amazing psychologist) as he fought off the effects of strong opiates to dull his pain.
Yet – like father and daughter, we made it, one pain at a time.
I will never forget the words of nurse Nicole Taylor at the Canberra Cancer Centre as she said to me when I was scared about going through treatment. “You just put one foot in front of the other, take one step at a time.”
So I did. Before my surgery in May and in between various treatments, scans and injections. Times of extreme pain and fear, I held my own hand and dug my fingernails so deep that all my mind could focus on was the bleeding of my hand. I did that so that I could focus on one pain at a time.
Now, almost a year after this whole ordeal with me being diagnosed, my dear brother in law is fighting for his life after having a motorcycle accident. He sold his car so that his mum could fly to Australia and look after me whilst I recovered from my surgery in May.
My dear husband has been through expecting to be a widower and raise our daughter without a mother – yet I pulled through. I am alive and here today.
I don’t want my husband to go through the pain of not being with his brother as he fights for his life back in his homeland of Egypt.
Sometimes I feel so guilty that I took my husband away from his family, then I got sick and I can’t travel and be there with him, to hold his hand as he goes through the pain of seeing his brother in a lifeless state.
Only last year, three weeks before I was diagnosed with cancer I had to do the same for my (older) brother. He was in a coma for a week due to an accidental overdose of his medication. So I dropped everything and caught the bus from Canberra to be with him in Sydney and sit by his bed side.
I am praying with every ounce of my strength that my dear little brother pulls through and I hope that his body can fight this – one pain at a time.