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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

it’s not what you lost that counts but what you are left with….

It is perhaps, the right time to listen to Dr Christiaan Barnard, the famous South African cardio-thoracic-surgeon, who made medical history 50 years back by performing world’s first human-to-human heart transplant on December 7, 1967 at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

Once, he was in a pediatric ward. Hearing a noise, he looked up and noticed a breakfast trolley of the hospital being commandeered by two kids. One kid pushed the cart while the other sitting in the lower deck of the trolley guided it by scrapping one foot on the floor.

Now interestingly, the boy pushing the cart was blind. It seems one night his parents gotten drunk and fought. In the heat of fury, his mother threw a lantern at his father. But it, missing the intended target, broke over the boy’s head and shoulders.  The flame blinded him besides disfiguring him for the rest of his life.  The boy who guided the trolley had recently had his leg amputated because of bone cancer. Even then, both the boys put on quite a show for the other boy-patients, before the staff nurse came on the scene chiding them to stop it.  

Recalling the experience Dr Barnard, said: “Suddenly, I realized that these two children had given me a profound lesson in getting on with the business of living. Because the business of living is joy in the real sense of the word, not just something for pleasure, amusement, recreation. The business of living is the celebration of being alive. I had been looking at suffering from the wrong end. You don’t become a better person because you have experienced suffering.”

And, echoing in a sense what Dr William Osler, the father of modern medicine once said, “The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely”, Barnard went on to say:   “We can’t appreciate light if we haven’t known darkness. Nor can we appreciate warmth if we have never suffered cold. These children showed me that it’s not what you’ve lost that’s important. What is important is what you have left.”

What a profound insight! This pioneer of heart transplant surgery,  as though charged by this dauntless spirit, conducted the very next heart transplant within a month from the first one on Jan 2, 1968—Dr Philip Blaiberg, a dentist, being the donee—who survived for 19 months and 15 days and thus paved the way to make heart transplants a standard therapy.

It is this wiseness that should have enabled him to see the reality and be bold-enough to say, "The prime goal is to alleviate suffering, and not to prolong life. And if your treatment does not alleviate suffering, but only prolongs life, that treatment should be stopped."

Are there any takers?


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