A Notebook of Thoughts
inspired by Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning
by Reiner Lorenzo J. Tamayo (12/25/12)
While I was on my way to St. Paul’s Cathedral across the busy Bluehill Avenue, I’ve met this long lost friend who happens to be the founder of the well-known law firm, Pearson Hardman and Associates. It has been years since we’ve last met. I invited her to have coffee and maybe some doughnuts over the coffee shop next to the Cathedral after hearing mass.
“I thought you weren’t a coffee person? You were more like a tea person. Aren’t you?” asked Hayley. I replied saying, “People change, Hayley. What’d you like to drink? Black coffee? A Frap? Anything you want. It’s on me.” I looked at her straight in the eyes and I can see that she somehow feels nervous or something else I cannot put into words. I held her hand, “You seem nervous. What’s bothering you?” She immediately pulled her hand back and went to sit on the farthest corner of the coffee shop. I followed her with my eyes and she looked back saying, “Mark! A Frap…as always. And Mark, some cinnamon. ” She smiled and I smiled back at her. “Yes, Madam! On your table in a few” I’ve purchased our orders and joined the troop of people exiting the line.
“Here’s your Frap and cinnamon; freshly made, freshly baked!” I sat opposite her in a mini round table next to a bunch of teenagers who are reviewing a pile of books and notes for their final exams perhaps. “You’re still THE Mark I’ve known years ago. You’re still the funny, gentleman and handsome Mark.” We both laughed after the last sentence. “Still handsome? I like that! What have you been up to these days? I heard you’re targeting to be the country’s number 1 law firm. How’d you beat Defensor Santiago and Associates?” She sliced a cinnamon and gently placed that bite-sized cut on her tongue. “It’s simple. You know I don’t play dirty games, Mark. But when I know somebody who plays that kind of game, I do everything to control their game and win it with honor…and sometimes with prestige. I’d like to show to the world that their firm has been violating our law since its inception.” She sipped some Frappuccino while looking at me in a serious way” I laughed and said, “Strong. Strong as ever, Hayley. Pearson Hardman? Indeed, the country’s best.”
We went on talking about her firm and her personal life as well. She told me that she was engaged with a former classmate of mine named Paolo. She handed me an invitation and told me that she’ll be glad if I could attend the ceremonies. I told her that I am very busy but then I’ll try to cancel out appointments just to attend. “That’s pretty sweet, Mark. You may want to go with your girlfriend. If not, anybody you’d want to come with you. Just check the option you prefer and send at the given address not later than next Friday. I really hope you can come,” she said while slicing the cinnamon. “I think I’m checking +1 and give it to you right now.” I put on a flat smile and pulled a pen from my shirt’s chest pocket and checked the box adjacent to “+1” and handed the paper to her. “Thank you so much, Mark. I’m looking forward to see you at the ceremonies and of course at the reception. Our friends will be there. Maybe it’s time for you to show them who you had become.” I slowly nodded in agreement.
I have been up to no good back then. They’ve known me as someone who lives life in a happy-go-lucky manner. They’ve doubted me and my chances of becoming a professional. Never did I answer them back. I was certain that I only needed time. I needed time to find myself; enough time to search for a meaning in my unplanned, goalless life.
I suddenly imagined seeing all those who never thought of me becoming successful. I’ve grown better and maybe even brighter. I was in a crossroad. I didn’t know which path to take. However, it came to me that whichever road I take, it is my abilities and capacities that will help me make it through every possible challenge man could ever imagine. I realized through my long journey in search of my life’s meaning that one must stood the test of time; the test of life. I chose not to be maladaptive. In a sense, we find meaning in life in many ways. I got mine from three sources.
After some time I heard Hayley as if waking me up, “Mark? Are you okay? Mark?” I faced her and said I was all right. It seems though that I’m beginning to be emotional once again. It’s not the kind of Mark they usually see. However, there’s a part in me that keeps me afloat on top of everything. She told me that she heard about me having breast cancer some years ago. She even apologized for not extending support and not sacrificing some time to visit me in the hospital. I hastily said that it was fine. It didn’t really matter to me. What’s important is that we get to see each other and the rest of the class once more.
“So what happened?” asked Hayley. I said in reply, “I felt a nodule-like thing on my chest just below my right nipple a few years back while I was on the showers. I consulted a doctor in St. Cecilia’s Medical Center and there they found out that I have breast cancer. It’s Stage 3 when I was diagnosed. It is not that good and not that bad also. Though, it had cost us a lot!” She was listening intently and I continued the story until it reached to the point when I was confined in the hospital.
“Oh son, I pity you for you are suffering. If only I could ask God to transfer that to me, I’d do it. But do not worry too much. I am here, always, beside you.” My mother began pouring tears wetting my hospital gown. She is but an emotional and at the same time sentimental woman. She belongs to those who easily get carried away by various drama shows on television. Maybe I got that part in me from her. I took her hand and said, “Mom, this too shall pass. Hold on.”
I remained in the hospital for several months. They’ve resorted to chemotherapy and the surgical removal of the tumor. I spent the passing days in agony, grief and pity of my own self. I felt like I was imprisoned in a cell and that there’s no right to hope for a change in that. I cried almost every single day. I cannot describe in words the suffering that I’ve been through all those days.
Each time the nurse or doctor enters my cozy private room, I always think of them as prison wardens ready to put me on the death list. It was as if they were looking at me like a pig; a pig who’s ready to fill the stomach of consumers.
But what made the suffering ease is the fact that it had strengthened my faith. It had helped me appreciate all the simple things in the past. I understand now why certain moments in my life happened. I know ‘how’ they happened. What I knew recently is ‘why’ they happened. I have come to think that everything has its purpose in life. Some will show their purpose in life later than expected; others right away. Appreciating the small things that matter in life is a pre-requisite in appreciating (and more on accepting) the bigger ones. It’s like looking at a painting in one of the many galleries of the National Museum. They say it’s the details that count. I say, it’s both the minute details and the entire big picture that matters.
During non-chemo days, I sit up on bed and stare blankly on the window overlooking the city and the magnificent Montreal bay. I could hear voices outside. Some were laughing. Some were crying. Whenever I have the strength and courage to write whatever my feeling is on that certain time of the day, I take note of it on a small notebook. I thought of doing this at the day of confinement. I told myself that this suffering and trial in life will make it easy for me to explore myself, my inner self. Indeed, after all that I’ve been through, whenever I go browse my small notebook, I feel that same emotion I had while writing it.
“I need more time, my Lord. More time in order for me to prove myself to others. More time to look at my life in another perspective. More time to discover what I want and how I want that to be. More time to be the person I must be. More time to find meaning in this mortal life” Tears fell down my cheeks. I lay flat on bed holding a Rosary given by my mother. Minutes later, I was deep asleep.
“Mr. Barnes, how are you feeling today?” asked my lovely nurse. I cannot talk that much. I just had chemotherapy. I painted a flat smile on her signalling that, in some way, I’m feeling grateful and happy that there are people who care about me. The nurse took my vital signs, checked my IV fluid and then injected a medicine in the port. When the nurse turned her back and was about to leave I told her that I was thankful. She turned and said, “No, Mr Barnes. Thank you.” I do not know the reason why she thanked me. I did not dare to ask her about it.
Right before I was about to sleep, my doctor, Mr Shirk, knocked gently on the brown wooden door. “Hey, Mark! How’s it going? Are you ready to rock the world?” We laughed and shook hands. “It’s nice to see you here Doctor Shirk. I think I’m not THAT ready to rock the world. I’m weak and fragile?” We laughed again. “Fragile? What are you? A glass? Ha! Ha! I was just thinking about you lately. You’re currently in Medical school, right? It’s hard to cope with the lessons. It’s whether you survive or simply die in med school.” I became teary-eyed. I told myself, “This is it. I’m dying.”
Mr Shirk pat my shoulder. He opened my charts and started explaining what happened and what will happen to me in the coming days. He gave me a piece of paper and I scanned it as if I understood the words printed on it. “I cannot understand a thing here. Doc, I just started medical school.” He smiled at me and joyfully said, “Mark, you are one lucky bachelor! You’ve got more time to find a mate. Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m thinking of discharging you after some weeks. You have a few weeks LEFT in this hospital. The latest findings on you are all on the positive side. The therapies are working. They’re combating your tumor cells. It’ll not be too soon and you’ll fully recover from the condition. Congratulations Mark!”
I was dumbfounded. I don’t know what to say, what to feel. Mr Shirk bid good-bye and was still laughing on my description of being fragile. “You got me there Mr Barnes! See you around.” He left me alone inside the room with a cheerful smile on the face.
“Wait. Wait. You mean they removed your right…?” Hayley laughed at that fact and sipped some Frap again. “Indeed. Want to look at it?” I jokingly said. “Oh no! I might die here laughing at you! Just kidding.” She finished her cinnamon and Frap. I was sipping my black coffee when she told me she had to leave. I told her to come with me and I’ll give her a ride. “No. It’s okay. I’m heading to the town center a few blocks away from here. I can walk. It’s exercise, right?” I grabbed her hand and said, “I insist. We’ve not seen each other like forever. Make this time quite memorable. Okay?” She smiled. “Well, I think I don’t have any exit point here.” She laughed and grabbed her things. “After you,” I said extending my right hand and arm pointing at the shop’s exit door.
We reached my car which was sitting on the shop’s crowded parking lot. I opened the door for her and I seated on the driver’s seat. “Nice car, Mark. Is this new?” I started the engine and said, “Yes. It’s the second gift I bought for myself. The first being a condo unit at The Fort.” We both fastened our seatbelts and then I turned on the music player at a slightly low volume. “Wow! You’re the man. OMG! Is this Frank Ocean? Are you a fan? I super-duper love his songs! It’s slow, soft, emotional…and sentimental.” She closed her eyes and sang the lyrics of the song. “A friend in the hospital where I work introduced Frank Ocean to me. At first, I did not like his songs because, as you already stated, it’s sentimental. However, I find the music relaxing and so I play this collection whenever I try to think or take a rest.”
We passed by 3rd Street and crossed the Blant Avenue. I reversed and parked the car in front of a boutique. “The botique’s inviting you Hayley. They’re on sale.” She looked at the rear view mirror and said, “As much as I wanted to go on shopping, I can’t. It’s not a top priority for now. I guess I’ll see you when I see you.” I went out the car and opened the door for her and said, “I’ll see you when I see you.” She made her way on the busy shops and looked back then shouted, “Mark! I’ll see you at the wedding! Thanks for the ride and the Frap!” I waved and mouthed “good-bye”
I rode my car and checked my phone for calls and e-mails. I’m quite amused because there were only a few missed calls. Maybe they knew my routine of going to the Church on Fridays. I appreciate that. Though, I know that my patients are patiently waiting for me to come and deal with them. I ignited the engine and drove myself to St. Cecilia’s Medical Center.
“Good day, Mr Barnes! How are you today?” greeted the ever cheerful guard. I saluted and told him I was fine. I went straight to my office. I saw a cup of coffee on my table and a box of chocolate chip cookies. A note was written on the box that goes this way, “We cannot think of another way to thank you, Mr Barnes. May this simple gift prove our sincere gratefulness. We’re but blessed to have you. Hope not to see you again in this way (a joke). God bless!” I kept the card on the drawer and picked up a cookie. It tasted good. I held the box and shared it with the rest of the staff in our department.
After talking with some of the hospital staff about the newest release of The Cecilian Journal, a nurse called me. “Doctor Barnes, here’s the chart of your patient in Room 207. Is there anything else you would like me to do?” I scanned the chart and looked up at her and ordered, “Please do a CBC and monitor VS q4h. I’ll write them down on the patient’s chart. Call me when the results are out and/or when the vital signs are not that stable. Thank you.”
I visited my patient on Room 207. She was sleeping when I went in. I did not bother to wake her up. I just looked at her. She was young, beautiful and full of potential. I am certain of that. I seated at the chair next to the bed and thought of ways on how to manage the condition and treat her in the easiest and less time consuming way. But, science and medicine hasn’t discovered anything more than what’s available now.
I was reading the patient’s chart when she called me, “Doctor Barnes, how am I? Am I gonna die soon?” I saw her tears fell. I handed her my white handkerchief with my initials embroidered on one of its corners. She was sobbing. I cannot tell her anything at the moment. I was silent. I listened to whatever she was saying.
“I do not know what to do. I’m in pain. I think about school, my friends and my family. How will I go back and start again? This has taken all my time in this world! I’m losing hope…”
I recalled the days when I was the one lying on the hospital bed. Yes, I agree with her. Trying times like this serve as a ground for many possible outcomes; be it positive or not.
“You know what, Kim? Someone has felt the same way as you are. At first, patients like you deny the fact that you have the condition. I find that normal. It is part of the process. However, not being able to accept it for a long period of time is not that normal. Take it nice and slow, dear.”
“Let me tell you how it was for this friend of mine.” I narrated my story in another person’s point of view. She was listening attentively. At times, she turns emotional and pours down tears. She laughs at occasional jokes. I do not know if I was therapeutic or not. Still, I am happy to share my experience and let her learn from it.
“What did he do when he was alone in his room? Being alone in this room aggravates the pain,” said Kim. I smiled at her. “He thinks of the past. Contemplates. Reflects. Imagines. He did not let his condition take over his life. He took control of his own life. Emotions overwhelm us too often.”
We started to talk about how she’s feeling. I asked her how she perceives herself after all the procedures that have been done. “It’ll take me a long time to refurnish my self-esteem. Today, I feel like I’m one useless, incompetent individual. I cannot…”
“I cannot see the Kim that I was before.”
(voice over) “Doctor Barnes, please proceed to ER. Doctor Barnes please proceed to ER”
“I think I have to go, Kim. I’ll check on you again soon.” I got a picture of a pair of shoes and gave it to her. It has a proverb printed on it that says, “I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet”
I left the room and hurriedly went to the Emergency Room.
I was washing my hands together with the grief and pity I am feeling right now. I failed to help a man regain his life. Did I do something wrong? Am I not that competent enough to be a doctor? I went back to my office and started writing down the experience on my small notebook.
“Hey, Mark! How’s the surgery earlier?” asked John, a fellow resident doctor in the hospital. “I failed John. I think I’m stupid. This is the first time in my 6 years of medical practice that I’ve lost a patient.” John poured water on a glass and said, “We cannot always be the superheroes, Mark. Sometimes, we only have to be the assistant of the superhero. We do not have the capacity to save all lives. Dying…is part of the life cycle. It’s just a matter of time.”
John left me and I thought of what he said for a while. Truly, my profession has its way of teaching me lessons. Life, in its very nature, leaves us hungry in search of its real meaning and value.
I decided to roam around the hospital. I observed how people go to and fro, how they talk, how they handle things, and how they manage their lives. I like doing this. I like observing people. This, for me, is the best way to know people in a way they do not feel violated. I see happy couples carrying their sons and daughters out of the hospital. Others were crying and grieving for their loss. The hospital may be one of the best places to release emotions. Isn’t it?
I bought a soda from the vending machine near my office when suddenly someone called me, “Mr Barnes! Mr Mark Barnes!” I looked for the person who was calling me and found an old woman standing near the elevator holding a basket of fruits. I approached her.
“Good afternoon, Miss…”
“I am Mrs Monde, Mr Barnes! Don’t you remember me?”
“I’m sorry. Do I personally know you?”
“April 18, 2001. Room 305, St. Cecilia’s Medical Center,” said Mrs Monde.
I suddenly remembered that moment when she happily announced that my doctor has finally decided to discharge me from the hospital. I asked her, “What brought you here? How are you?”. “I’m good. It feels great to see you, Doctor Barnes!” she said in reply. She told me that I was one of those who kept her weeping during lonely nights. Not that she had the same condition but because she was too attached to me as her patient. She claims herself to be one of those who “truly care”.
“I wanted to tell you this long time ago but I was afraid that I’ll get fired.” I asked her what it was that she kept from me. She confessed that she was tempted once to read my journal (referring to my small notebook of thoughts). She thanked me for inspiring her to be the person she really wanted to be and that she will be ever grateful for being able to find meaning in her life. “You taught me how to value small things. You taught me, Mr Barnes, how to love my life no matter what.” My profession as a nurse consumed me that every day it was normal for me to see people dying. But when you came, I understood that these patients are people too, that they have feelings like us. And…and that they serve a unique purpose in this world just like anybody else.”
I hugged her tightly and said I was thankful to have her as my nurse back then. She gave me the basket of fruits as a token of gratitude and left immediately after.
Saturday of the same week, I agreed to visit Kim again. I personally checked and recorded her vital signs. I studied her chart and the results of the several tests and procedures that were done. She was awake when I arrived at her room.
“Doctor, have you ever been in love?” asked Kim
“Of course, yes. But my last relationship was not that good. Why’d you ask?
“My boyfriend and I broke up yesterday”
She started to weep. She still has my white handkerchief and now she makes use of it to wipe her tears. The nurse who was with me during our morning rounds left us. I told her that I’ll be right beside her and I’ll listen. There was a long pause. I let her cry it all out.
“What’s worse is that we broke up not because there’s a third party nor we’re out of love. It’s because I cannot be with him in his gigs and whatsoever.” I was still quiet, waiting for her to tell more.
“No one loves me. It’s because of this disease! It’ll take it all out from me! School! Social life! Love life! Everything that I have in life!”
I waited for her to calm down. When she has recovered her senses, I talked to her. We exchanged ideas of what love is. We even talked about how a person regards a gesture as an act of love. Seriously, what is love?
“Love is something that only the person who experiences it can describe. It is sometimes subjective. Some may look at it objectively. I’m more on the subjective side. When this friend of mine knew that he had cancer, he felt like he was the only person in the world aside from his mother. He felt what you are feeling now. Betrayed? Lonely? Sad? And yet, he gathered enough courage to emotionally combat those feelings. Remember what I told you before? Emotions overwhelm us too often.”
She looked at me and asked, “There’s no love when there’s no one who will give it to you.”
“May I quote my professor way back in college? Professor Mejico said in her book, (nonverbatim) ‘Love is something that is not always reciprocated’ I bet that’s how you describe love today. On one hand, you may not be the only person who feels the same. Some may feel that their love for you is also not reciprocated. Have you ever thought of that?”
“No,” she started weeping again, “and yes I get it. I was selfish. I never thought that there are people who selflessly offer their lives for me. I chose not to recognize them and I regret that.”
“Kim, what matters in life is not how you love. It is why you love. Also, it is not how things happened. But why things happened.”
She talked about her past relationships and begged to differ each of them. There was one who only liked her for pleasure. Somebody else “loves” her because she’s rich. Another claimed to “love” her because she was the girlfriend material that his family wanted. All of which she called “fools”.
“Look around Kim. They are neither the only ones who have the right to love you nor the persons you need to be with in order to feel how it is to be loved. Look, Kim. Explore your world.”
I left her with that final message hoping for her to realize that love is just around. In my case, it was in love that I’ve found the meaning of my life the most. I initially thought it was only my mother and I, alone, living together in this world. But our world is diverse. We have what we call love of and from friendship, love of and from work, love of and from many more. It is from these where we receive and give love.
The alarm clock rang at seven. I immediately got up, entered the shower room, put on clothes and drank coffee. When I was all set for work, I gathered up my things and drove my car to the hospital. Nothing was new today. The guard greeted me as part of his routine. The nurses and other employees did the same while I walk several wards on my way to my office on the 5th floor. After reaching my office, the head nurse of our department came to me panting. “Doctor Barnes, Kim.” I stood up without second thoughts. We ran towards her room. A resident doctor was trying to revive her.
“Time of death 8:04AM”
The parents were there and they both looked at me. I do not know what to say. I knew they knew I did everything I can to free her from being imprisoned by cancer. But it’ll be hard for them to accept it. Kim was an only child. Her parents, though wealthy, are now too old.
“Mr and Mrs Richfield, Kim grew stronger each time I visit her. I am deeply sorry for your loss”
“No, Doctor Barnes. Thank you,” said Mrs Richfield. It sounded like the nurse who took care of me years ago.
I silently went out of the room.
“Doctor Barnes”, called Mrs Richfield. “Kim told me to give this to you moments before she left us. Once again, thank you.” She was crying while saying this. Mr Richfield came and hugged his wife tightly and cried with her while looking at their daughter’s remains.
I wiped a couple of tears before I opened up the letter…
“Dearest Doctor Barnes,
I finally found out what you were trying to say in the past days. Thank you because I realized that my life served a purpose. That purpose being the true meaning of what, how, and why life is, was and will be that way. And lastly, I knew you were the “friend”.
Together in suffering, deed and love,
(short story requirement for Hum1, inspired by Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning)