The Healer

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The mother had only been asleep less than an hour when she was suddenly woken by a terrifying sound next to her. It sounded like an invisible hand was strangling her baby as she slept in her cot, but this time it was worse than ever. Her baby’s dry, chapped lips started to turn purple, and her forehead was sweating profusely. The mother held the baby close in her arms, but she still wasn’t breathing. She was running desperately toward the window when her involuntary scream woke her husband. He ran into the room and switched on the light. Suddenly, the mother heard the baby wheeze while holding her tiny body toward the open window. This was followed by a puzzled crying sound. It was time for the mother to take a deep breath. Overjoyed, she stroked and kissed the poor baby’s lips, nose, and hair and pressed her to her breast before her husband interrupted her by saying, “Calm down, darling. Let the poor mite breathe for a while before you smother her.”

This wasn’t the first time this had happened, but these events were growing increasingly difficult to endure. They visited the doctor several times. It was diagnosed as “Fatal Adenotonsillar Hypertrophy,” which basically means having enlarged adenoids and tonsils. She was only two years old and needed surgery. When they went to the university hospital the last time, the doctor informed them that surgery was necessary to open a passage in her throat, but the risk of death during surgery was high. This dissuaded them from choosing surgery, but now the risk of her dying in her sleep was even higher than during the surgery.

The next morning, they decided to see the ear, nose, and throat specialist at a clinic where the mother’s sister worked as a nurse. They desperately wanted to find another choice. While they explained the situation to the doctor, he kept looking at the little girl with a sideways glance. The girl was uneasily wandering around the room and murmuring unintelligible sounds. She was also trying to play with the doctor’s stationary despite her mother’s efforts to stop her. The little girl’s noisy and wheezy breathing was so striking. Her mouth and lips were constantly open, almost like a fish. She should have been even worse in her sleep, and it would be even more dangerous if she caught a cold. Her tummy was bigger than it should be, yet her arms and legs were so skinny. It was obvious that the parents had been struggling to feed her. She couldn’t even stand the sight of a spoon, let alone eat, because she constantly had to take antibiotics and other drugs to help keep her breathing passage open. Her bulging eyes and face showed how she had been suffering considerably. After his inspection, the doctor admitted he had never seen anyone this young with such large tonsils. It would be extremely difficult to intubate her trachea (insert a tube into it to ensure breathing), let alone perform the surgery. Her blood markers were also on the borderline for greatly increased risk. However, the only option was to accept the high risk and perform the surgery anyway.

The parents were impressed by the doctor’s confidence and positivity. Because they were related to a nurse there, the doctor kindly offered to waive his usual fee. This helped them decide in favor of surgery, because although the mother would sacrifice anything for her daughter, they were already struggling financially.

However, the doctor himself was not so confident. He was about to perform the riskiest surgery of his career so far. His mind was urging him to cancel it, and he knew he could change the parents’ minds by subtly changing his words. He could even refuse to perform the surgery, and no one would blame him for his decision. Yet his conscience told him not to be indifferent to the words of the mother when she said, “We have been considering surgery for a long time and seen several different doctors, but we want you to perform the surgery. We trust in God first, and then in you.” The doctor remained apprehensive until the day of the operation came, and a voice inside kept urging him to cancel it. The hospital anesthetist rang him and informed him about the high risks based on her own examination of the patient, but he was fully aware that the poor girl had no other choice.

The little girl was totally unaware of the events going on around her. She looked like a hand puppet when they put the surgical gown and hat on her. It was time to get the surgery done. The mother accompanied her all the way to the doors of the operating room. As if she hadn’t kissed the girl enough through the previous night, she continued to kiss her on the way to surgery as well. In contrast to the mother’s concern, the little girl was very calm and cheerful. As soon as the doors closed, the mother burst into tears. She was being comforted by her husband when the surgeon arrived. The surgeon smiled and relieved her with a few kind words. As he was about to enter the operating room, the mother said, “Excuse me, doctor. Could I have a word with you please?”

The surgeon paused while the mother continued, “Bahar is our only daughter, and we will never be able to conceive again because of a complication during labor. Please, put yourself in my shoes and think of her as your own child. Keep her alive.” She held the surgeon’s hands firmly and looked into his eyes beseechingly as she pleaded with him before turning away to hide her tears. Her words and pleading expression would stay with the surgeon forever. He was now feeling even more responsible. Before entering the operation room, he pressed her shoulder softly as he said, “God will find a way.”

*****

As he entered the room full of energy, the surgeon exclaimed, “Morning, guys. How is everyone? Everything okay?” Despite this, Fatma, the nurse, quickly recognized an uneasy tone in his voice. As the anesthetist opened a vein and started the process, the surgeon checked his equipment, put on his surgical cap, and washed his hands. Just as the nurse was helping him with the surgical gloves, the female anesthetist suddenly screamed, “Oh my God! Oh God!” as she tried to remove the surgical gown from the small patient. The regular pulse had turned into a shrill beeping sound, and there was a flat line on the heart monitor instead of the normal peaked pattern. The heart was not beating at all, and every second was crucial now. The surgeon immediately started performing CPR on the tiny body. The others stopped the flow of anesthetic and prepared the oxygen equipment. There was a real rush in the operating room as they brought the adrenaline and defibrillator to the operating table.

The surgeon had to perform CPR with his fingers rather than his hands. He suddenly found himself picturing the sad story that would follow: the painful ending of a short life, his inability to keep his promise to the mother, and delivering the tragic news to the parents with no way of comforting them. He imagined the story unfolding over and over again and wished it could just be a bad dream. There would be regrets and a lot of talk about ifs and buts. Maybe the newspapers would even print cruel headlines about the surgeon who tried to operate on a tiny toddler. Maybe there would be similar pieces in the TV news, and his reputation would be irreversibly tainted. Most of all, though, he remembered his Hippocratic oath to do anything to save a life. He would give anything to hear the beeping sound of the patient’s pulse again. “Oh God, please…” he thought as he heard the beeping sound pulse again, one after another. He looked over and saw her pulse on the heart monitor. “Thank God! What a relief!”

“Thank God. She’s back,” said the anesthetist, “I think we should bring her round and return her to her parents.” The surgeon remained silent as he watched the toddler gradually turn from purple to pink. As the nurse mopped the sweat from his forehead, he realized the anesthetist was waiting for his consent. He asked, “How is she? Is she okay?”

The anesthetist replied, “Her pulse came back after 75 seconds. She’s stable now, but we need to bring her round and move her to the recovery room. Don’t you agree?”

“Could you keep her like this for another ten minutes? I promise I’ll be done quickly! If we stop the operation now, her parents will never have the courage to go through another operation. The poor girl will die. I know the logical course is to stop now, but what about our consciences?”

“Very well, it’s your call, but please consider the huge risk you’re taking.”

From that point on, everyone became very focused in the operation room. No one said a word unless it was essential, and they constantly listened to the heart monitor for any changes. Twelve minutes later, the operation was complete. They waited for the girl to open her eyes. Her breathing quickened gradually, and her eyelids started to blink. Her pupils were also reacting to light, thank God. They removed the tube from her windpipe, and there was a deep breath, a cough, and then a faint crying sound. The whole team became ecstatic with this sound, as if she had been born for the first time. It was great news because it meant there would be no need for intensive care.

The surgeon remembered the proverb hung on his office wall: “The world doesn’t care about the storms you encountered. It only cares whether you brought the boat safely back to the harbor or not.” These words now sounded more meaningful to him. He left the operation room still wearing his sweat-soaked medical gown and gave the news to the parents, “I have good news. The operation was successful.”

“Were there any complications?” the parents asked.

The surgeon replied, “None at all. Everything went fine.” What more could he say?

When they brought the little girl for a checkup a week later, she was perfectly fine. She had even put on some weight and weighed nine kilos now, even though patients usually gain weight after surgery. Little Bahar ran around cheerfully now she could breathe properly. Her voice was much clearer, and it was much easier to understand her words. The mother told the surgeon with glowing eyes, “She sleeps so quietly. In fact, she was so quiet I would worry about her at first and need to check on her during the night. But now I can sleep comfortably because I know she’s fine. Thank you ever so much for what you’ve done for us.” Words like this can make a surgeon more than happy.

*****

I remember Prof. C.D., our rector, giving a speech at my graduation ceremony. His speech went something like this: “Today you have reached the end of a long and difficult education. You successfully passed all your exams and rightly deserve your degrees as medical doctors. Yes, you are medical doctors now, but from this point on, you need to work even harder to become good healers.”

I should probably define here what I mean by the word “healer.” Although the word could technically apply to non-medical practitioners, I’m limiting it here to those with a medical degree. They are doctors with a more humble and humane approach to their patients. Some languages even have a name for these doctors, such as “hekim” in Turkish.

Although many people don’t distinguish between them, a doctor and a healer are not the same thing. In fact, although the word doctor is often used for medical doctors, people from a range of professions can become doctors as well. Lawyers, vets, economists, politicians, and nurses, for example, can become doctors by studying for a PhD, writing a thesis, and passing the final examination. Healers are much more than that!

Although it is hard to differentiate between these two notions precisely, we can define some basic differences. A doctor refers to a person equipped with up-to-date knowledge, cutting-edge technology, the latest innovations in a specific subject, and the skill to use them in an efficient manner. This is undoubtedly a brilliant thing, but doctors can sometimes miss the bigger picture because they only focus on a specific area. I don’t mean the scientists devoted to humanity or the inspired doctors trying to discover something new. I also don’t mean the new graduates who are caught between heavy financial burdens and their ideals.

What I would like to mention is the mediocre doctors practicing medicine in today’s world, especially in big cities. These are not likely to be regarded as healers. Such doctors have to be geared with detailed professional knowledge, acknowledged by professional authorities, and work accordingly without violating any ethics. Nevertheless, their careers’ development depends on these authorities. Plus, when personal factors, financial expectations, ambition, and a fear of failing come together, their ideals may fade away over time. Pleasing patients, satisfying the authorities, and making material profits then become the most important things to them. These kinds of doctors want to advance their careers while only caring for prominent, wealthy patients, enabling them to live comfortable lives in accordance with their very natural human desires. They rush to utilize their knowledge and skills in order to make money. Some doctors even ignore the Hippocratic Oath when there is no profit to make.

True healers, however, serve people at all levels of society. As well as treating patients and illnesses, they try to discover the reasons behind the illnesses and even try to remedy social problems. They prefer the most economical treatments for their patients, sometimes even promoting preventive medicine. They consider events, people, and the universe as a whole. Complete healing is a complicated process, just like illnesses, so a full recovery is only possible when the illness is treated in all its dimensions.

As well as being good observers, healers are good listeners, good psychologists, and good friends. They know they won’t be able to help anyone unless they help themselves first. Therefore, they try to live a life they love and believe in and act as role models. In contrast, doctors care more about the data because they don’t want to risk their careers. They avoid risky procedures, preferring to conduct more examinations using the most expensive and up-to-date techniques. This is actually not such a bad thing, aside from the financial cost to the patient of course, but doctors can become dependent on these facilities over time and lose the ability to function without them. They also don’t want to jeopardize their professional reputations, so they try to minimize the risks and favor safer options. They may even leave crucial decisions to the patient, despite very few patients possessing the training and knowledge of a medical doctor. Nowadays, doctors focus on the apparent symptoms and try to relieve them as quickly as possible. They don’t spend time on discovering the real reasons behind the illness.

When a doctor gradually becomes a healer (although this doesn’t always happen), he becomes more interested in other factors and alternative solutions. A doctor may not be able to provide a full cure to his patient, although he usually manages to relieve the symptoms. A physician, meanwhile, can restore somebody to health without using painkillers or other drugs. Therefore, with reasoning alone, it is quite difficult to understand who heals with which method.

To a doctor, success is defined by having a long resume, displaying various medical certificates and award plaques, working at a top-notch hospital, or earning great money. To healers, however, it means enjoying the inner satisfaction after doing the right thing and winning the hearts of their patients. They are not that interested in earning huge amounts  of money. They believe that all sorts of illnesses arise from a patient’s soul and subconsciousness, and they know very well that a patient is, first of all, a unique and special living soul housed in flesh. They also know that healing comes with love and affection, and little can be done for someone who doesn’t really want to recover. They know it is not their place to say “never” or “undoubtedly,” so they don’t make certain judgments. Healers also avoid despising their colleagues. They don’t like exaggerating their achievements, nor do they court publicity. Generally speaking, healers’ decisions always depend on love, because they know how to make a difference and take risks that go beyond the normal boundaries. Healers are also intellectual and patriotic people. They appreciate hard work and enjoy the arts. They try to improve themselves in every field. They give more than they take, and they don’t refuse to treat patients who cannot afford to pay them, so their self-sacrificing nature is often exploited by colleagues and even patients.

You will likely see successful doctors featured in newspapers and magazines or on TV quite often. They generally live in affluent neighborhoods and frequently attend international medical seminars, while good healers mostly live in the hearts of the people with their silent blessings. You can see these healers in schoolbooks and memoirs. Despite their exceptional wisdom, knowledge, and skills, they generally live modest lives. Despite the corruption in society, they tend to think differently to most with their unshakable goodwill, sometimes even being considered a little weird.

I would like to draw an analogy here if I may. Generally speaking, a healer is like your friendly local shopkeeper, while a doctor is like a merchant in a luxury shopping mall. Both have their own customers (the patients), but one prefers to maintain the traditional sincerity of the good old days, while the other reflects the fine movements and modern style of today’s world.

The best thing is to be both, a good doctor and a good healer, but I fear these two rarely come together in today’s world. A doctor, just like other professionals, can easily become caught between idealism on one hand and the dazzling opportunities or pitfalls of the modern world on the other. The only qualities that turn doctors into good healers are their conscience, love, respect, and good characters.

Yunus Emre, the famous Sufi mystic, once said, “Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge. Knowledge means to know yourself heart and soul. If you have failed to understand yourself, then all of your reading has missed its call.” A healer is one who knows he is part of the family of humanity, so he shouldn’t serve people who want to invent deadly chemicals, biological weapons, or profitable but ineffective cures.

Anyone who successfully passes the right exams can attain the title and authority of a doctor. However, it takes longer to become a healer, and only people who have benefitted from the healer’s treatment can grant this honor. As well as graduating from medical school, a healer has to show goodwill, devotion, and common sense.

I think I could formulate the relationship like this:

A Healer = A Doctor(neutral) + (wisdom and goodwill)

You’ll find it difficult to use the word “healer” in a negative sense, while the word “doctor” has lost some of its reputation lately, just as many other professions have these days. Therefore, a healer is definitely more than a doctor. A healer might be regarded as a demi-god, unlike a doctor, who is entirely mortal. Above all else, a good healer is a good person, and good people are all that are needed for world peace.



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