HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, September 9, 2007
I have just gone through the wringer, health-wise. On August 24, on my way from Sydney to Melbourne where I was going to do a workshop, I suddenly fell ill with high fever. I was still able to run the workshop successfully the next day, but with great difficulty. The fever continued unabated. All the time, I thought I was merely going through a bad case of the flu, which is quite prevalent here in Sydney these days.
But after seven days of high fever and debilitating headaches, I began to see signs that what I had could be something else, maybe even dengue. I checked into a hospital and after many tests and observations, was admitted with the possibility that I had dengue.
Not too strangely, the doctors here were not familiar with the virus since there are no dengue mosquitoes in New South Wales. It was my wife, Lydia, who has had dengue before, who told them that I had all the classic symptoms of it. Dr. Raul Amor, a Filipino cardiologist, also visited the hospital to help explain to the staff what dengue was.
I stayed in the hospital for five days where, at last, the debilitating headaches and fever were stabilized and finally subsided. I am now back home to further heal and recuperate.
The whole experience of suddenly getting very sick, becoming delirious, incoherent and physically dysfunctional has left me in shock. How terrifying it is that one day, I can be okay, and the next moment, have a complete change of circumstances. I remember talking to the doctors in the midst of my stratospheric temperature readings and quickly losing my thread of thought in mid-sentence. I had to rely on Lydia to finish what I was saying. It was as if there was nothing solid I could hold on to. I was too distracted and removed from present reality because my body was totally out of whack and could not be host to anything coherent that my mind had to say. Those were scary moments when I felt I was losing everything, including my mind.
The next few days were spent trying to stabilize my physical condition. On my end, while I was slowly recovering, amazed at the fantastic health care I was receiving under the Australian system, I could not help but be saddened by the cruel fact that many people in the Philippines, the poor especially, will never have access to medical resources like I was getting here for free. My sorrow also extended to all the suffering that other people everywhere in the world were going through.
Sure, I was fighting for my own life, but I felt the insignificance of my own pain compared to the infinitely worse cases of physical discomfort that many were going through everywhere — the child in some remote area of the Philippines whose chances of surviving dengue are practically nil, the “terrorism” suffered by those who do not have enough resources to take care of their loved ones who need medical help…
I was profoundly affected by the contrast of the realities that were playing before me. It hit me more than ever how suffering is hard to understand unless one is suffering, too.
While I was not exactly surprised at where the compassion was coming from, I was amazed at the intensity with which I was feeling it. I have experienced feeling compassion before, and have “dropped out” of the feeling many times. Call it “compassion fatigue,” wherein one might have the intention to help but cannot summon the spirit to do it due to the overwhelming dimensions of the problem at hand.
Perhaps because I had gone though a life-threatening situation, I decided during my stay in the hospital that I would fight against the apathy that can easily engulf me when I feel the weight of the problems of mankind pressing on my shoulders. There is always something one can do — any small thing to help, even if at that very moment all one can do is feel oneness with the rest of suffering humanity.
When I got home from the hospital the other day, I was still engulfed in profound sadness about the whole experience. Sure, I was glad to be home, but I also felt that no matter what wonders modern medicine can come up with to sustain life, there are things that will never change. We will age. We will die. And yet, as cruel and cynical as that may sound, I also know that these very realities can give one the meaning and the purpose to keep going in life and improving it not just for oneself but also for others.
Yes, life is a mess and it can be terrible. But the scene can change dramatically when one accepts it as such and lives in the middle path between the opposites! One can only awaken to beauty when he has seen ugliness.
Without suffering, would we ever know real joy?
As I lay on my bed last night, I felt the fatigue in my bones, and the tiredness of my spirit. And yet I knew I was alive — and that was something. I smiled at the thought and mustered enough gratitude to thank God for the strange gift of compassion: the realization that I am every man, woman and child who suffers.
And, since this enlightenment had to come from the awful experience of riding out dengue, I said thank you as well.
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