Monday, May 19, 2008

Wesak, Buddhists & Natural Calamities

Today on 19 May 2008, in Malaysia, Buddhists celebrate Wesak day. Throughout the country some millions of Buddhists will offer their prayers and thoughts on this auspicious and holy day, to commemorate the birth of Buddha, his enlightenment and his teachings.

This year's celebration has been toned down to sympathise with the sufferings and huge human loss of lives wrought by Cyclone Nargis which inundated Myanmar and the 7.9 Richter scale temblor which rocked central China--Sichuan.

More than 150,000 people have lost their lives in these twin catastrophes, natural only in its sudden, indiscriminate destructive powers--which left so few with so little chance to avoid, to survive, to escape. Millions of displaced survivors would have to live out forever sorrow-etched lives, some as orphans, many others as aggrieved possibly permanently scarred (PTS'd) people with lost children or relatives.

As medical and health personnel move in to offer life-saving surgeries for a limited number of rescued, others begin implementing public health measures, which would undoubtedly save more lives from possible epidemics of food/water-borne diseases.

Yet despite the heroics of some, disaster medicine is one of triage and rationing (according to prognosis, immediate needs and availability of local therapeutic access), often very difficult choices for many a fledgling or even the most experienced of doctors.

As I contemplate on how a medical person can function under such circumstances, I also feel relieved that I am so far away from the epicentre of such demanding health concerns--grateful distance that can help numb and salve our finite sensitivities and ameliorate our gut-wrenching feelings...

I am also always cognizant of the fact that as a clinician, we often treat our patients, one at a time. At such times these can appear inefficient, inadequate and hopeless, but where we can perform to our utmost skill and trained expertise, we can also offer the best to that very individual who necessarily must expect nothing less.

So as Mother Teresa had said so poignantly before in another context (when catering to the dying or neglected masses in Calcutta slums) : I must begin, one by one by one... Our calling as medical professionals must therefore always reignite that love to care, to relieve suffering, to cure perhaps, but mostly to offer some hope and compassion through our limited touch of healing...

So I salute all health care volunteers who venture into such darkness to offer so much to those who are now left with so little or nothing at all. To our homegrown MERCY volunteers, I say "Syabas" and Godspeed, and most of all, keep your benevolent spirits flying high, and keep our prayers by your side--knowing full well that while we cannot be there physically--our prayers and thoughts are with you...

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