3. THE UNFORESEEN
I look at the screen of my iPhone, and re-read the newly received text. Looking at the sender, I recalled Im’s first message to me, after the incident near the common room last December.
“Assalamualaikum, Nadhia. I’m sorry if I disturb you with anything. Got your number from Syaz. I just want you to know, you don’t have to be insecure with me if we have the chance to “meet” again. And I don’t mean to be busybody but the bruises that I saw last Saturday were very serious. Are you alright? Have you gone to the medics? Well, I think it needs some treatment. Hope to hear from you soon. Im.”
No one could tell how my feeling at that time was. He sort of showed his concerns in me. But the feelings were indescribable. I thanked him, and replied that I was fine. I lied saying I got the bruises from the marathon trainings; well it makes sense if you run to a light pole. I know lying to him won’t make me feel better, won’t change anything, and simply just add my sin. O Allah, please forgive your slave. And I don’t know the causes, then.
We exchanged texts a few times in December, mostly in the matter of studies, asking on certain matter of topics that he claimed he did not comprehend, which surprised me because Im is no ordinary student. Well to compare with me, he is. He was the President of the Medical Students’ Council back in Matriculation Center. He talks as if he is a law student. But I don’t want to get my hopes high, and so I disapprove all the thoughts that as if he really cared about me, and that he wants to know me better.
I don’t have much time for that kind of hopes. No, not much time. Im’s first message of the New Year, really motivated me, but in other way, I tried as hard as I could to take his message as a friendly text, and not more than that. After all, looking at how he greeted in the message, I assumed it's a New Year wish for all of his friends. The message was before we stumbled into each other at the stadium- yes, the awkward moment.
“Assalamualaikum to all my friends. May this January leads us closer to Him. Let’s not forget our responsibilities as duats. Being twenty sooner or later would change the fact that time doesn’t gets slower in its pace. I remember my BTQ Sir said that ‘who are going to spread the true message of Islam, if it’s not all of you (referring to us students) who learn about it quite thoroughly here. What can you do for Islam? You should ask yourselves that question every day when you wakes up in the morning…’ Well something like that. I hope each of us would not let go of our responsibilities that we have. Let’s strive harder each and every day to become a better Mukmin. In (63:8): ‘And the greatness (only) belongs to Allah, and His Messenger, and the Mukminoon’. J Im”
Not shortly after we met coincidentally at the stadium, I got a text from Im. It was dated 2nd January and the time was 4 pm. He asked why I cried that morning. He asked if I got hurt again. He asked again where I’ve been these entire long. And to the extent, saying that I shouldn’t keep everything to myself. Also asking whether Syaz knows about my condition, well we being best buddies and all, because Syaz isn’t telling anything to him or to anyone. Well I made her do that. I replied;
“Wassalam, Im. This morning was very awkward and odd. I know. No, I wasn’t crying because of what you said, somewhat hurt? I wasn’t. (Well, I wasn’t really crying because of the bruises I’ve got) Don’t, worry. Syaz knows about whatever that is happening to me. And it’s not like I prefer to keep everything to myself, it’s just that sometimes, things are better left unspoken.
Please, just don’t bother about me. You could just imply that I’ve got problems that I don’t wish to share it to the world. And that’s why I’m not the same anymore. All the best always, Im. May Allah ease everything for you. Nad “
Three days have passed since I showed my red-rimmed eyes to Im at the stadium. Three days have passed since my Converse stepped onto the red pavement of IIUM’s entrance. And three days have passed since I left home and got re-admitted to the hospital. Today marks the date January the 4th.
And the text? Of course he replied back and asked more questions that I know he could guess I’m not going to reply them. I never bother to reply it. I turned my head to the right side of the room, and look at the calendar that is placed next to me on the side table. 20 more days to go and I’m officially 20 years old. I heard the door creaked open, and a medium-height, good looking guy came towards me, behind him, a woman of mid-thirties is carrying a tray, on it a small cup of tablets.
The doctor smiled at me and said, “Are you ready for the treatment, Nadhia? You have to take your pills first and after 2 hours Miss Husna will administer your medication.” I just nodded. I took my pills, and lie down again. Mom is at work again after taking care of me overnight, but dad will join mom later to accompany me undergoing my first “treatment”.
I suddenly remember the memory of 3 weeks old; the last time when I ran away from Miss Lisa, the last time when I finally understood the reasons behind those bruises.
I was home shortly after my mom called me she would fetch me from my hostel on that day Miss Lisa found out about my bruises. “Miss Lisa called me and told me what happened. We’ll deal with her later but now let me see the bruises.” Obediently, I allow my mother to examine me.
Worriedly she said, “There really are lots of bruises, honey. Are you sure you don’t where you got them?” “No, I don’t. Its okay mom, I feel fine. It’s probably the flu.” But mom wasn’t buying it. She then grabs the car keys and said, “Get ready, we’ve got to go and see the doctor.”
I touched the glands in my neck and realized they were swollen. I can’t get sick now I’ve got a major debate competition coming up in less than 6 weeks, not to mention the new semester is starting in a month. After 45 minutes’ drive, we’ve arrived at the General Hospital. Dr Mila, welcomed us with her warm smile, a pretty woman in the late thirties, has always been one of my favourite doctors.
Our last meeting was when I was 10, I’ve got viral fever, and she took care of me with so much attention. Dr Mila’s examination was routine. She checked me with sure, confident fingers, feeling my swollen glands and bruises, and then takes my blood sample. I squeezed my eyes shut as the needle pricked my right arm.
“It’s just flu, isn’t it Doctor?” I asked as Dr Mila secured my puncture with a bandage. On some point I felt that mom’s idea of bringing me here is a good one, because I could never been less than curious ever since I got these bruises and just now realized that my glands are swollen too.
Dr Addin gave me a professional non-committal smile. “It’s something. We can’t be sure with that yet.” “What do you think it is?” My mom asked uneasily. “I don’t like the look of those bruises. And you young girl, should’ve told me earlier. Dad is going to be cross with this and worried sick too.”
Mom looked at me with a sad face. I never meant to worry her; I don’t want to become a trouble in our “new” family. Things were getting fine since two years ago, but now? I just want to go back home and have some rest, while hoping that tomorrow everything will return back as normal. Normal like a month ago.
Dr Mila breaks my thought by saying, “It could be as simple as anaemia. That is common in girls as early as sixteen.” “Then I’ll take iron pills,” I said, relieved. “Nadhia made the International Debate Competition,” my mother said, as if that might influence the doctor in some way.
“I can go back to the college, can’t I?” I asked. But Dr Mila didn’t respond to either of us, instead she made her way to the peach coloured door and said, “I want to check a blood smear under the microscope. I’ll be right back.” I turned towards mom and said, “It’s going to be alright mom,” and I put my arms around her neck and hug her.
Frankly, I had been feeling bad about this, worried about myself and been asking what has been happening to myself all along. “Insha Allah, let’s hope so.” My mom reassured me with another long and big hug. Dr Mila returned her expression unreadable. She positioned herself in front of me. “Your red blood count is low…”
I gave a quick relief smile. “Then just write me a prescription on iron pills. I’ll take them truly. I promise” I said while gesturing a “scouts’ honour”. She held up her hand. “Whoa it’s not that simple. Your white blood cells on the other hand is rather high, Nadhia.”
“So?” I asked, puzzled.
“So, I will need you to stay here for a few days for testing.”
I think my heart might have stopped beating. The hospital? “The hospital, doctor?” My mom said my thought aloud. “Is it really necessary? Is it really serious? I can’t afford to leave college now. We’ve got preparations before the debate competition. And it’s less than 10 weeks from now,” I protested.
“Is this absolutely necessary Dr Mila?” Mom’s voice sounded tense. The doctor with the black rimmed-spectacles answered, “Yes. It’s imperative that we find out what’s ailing Nadhia.” I wanted to ask what is she testing for, but I could sense that Dr Mila won’t tell me.
Instead I asked, “When do I have to go Doctor?” “The sooner, the better. My receptionist will call and have your admitting papers prepared by tomorrow.” She said and gave me a comfort pat on the shoulder.
The next thing I know I’m admitted to the hospital, got a pint of blood a day, Syaz going crazy because I never confide to her about me not feeling well lately, and the biggest thing that became less bigger after I found out what bugs me is the bone marrow aspiration on the 7th day of my stay at the “Hotel General”.
I nervous-laugh whenever my parents or my sister asked about my condition, and Syaz kept treating me as if I’m a little girl who needs full attention, I acted all courageous whenever they were around. I even reminded Syaz to take all notes that I’ll miss during lectures, and keep all of my assignments. But when visiting hours were over, I was left alone, I plucked the bed sheets and the bravado drowned with the night sounds that echoed around me. I was scared.
My lips can’t stop from reciting dzikr, and like my dad always said to me when things are tough, “do lots of dzikr of Ya Haleem (The Most Compassionate), Ya Muhaymin (The Guardian) and Ya Salam (The Source of Peace) besides keep reciting Ayatul Kursi and the three Quls (Surah Al Ikhlas, Al Falaq, An Naas)”. And I found out the right side of the pillow was drenched with my tears the next morning.
The D-Day; bone marrow aspiration. The technicians came for me early in the morning. The first thing that they did was electrocardiogram. This was to rule out the rheumatic fever, the woman in the blue lab coat said. I asked, “Rheumatic fever causes heart damage, isn’t it?” But as soon as I uttered the question, the thought terrified me.
“What causes it?” I asked again. Although I might have a hunch because I remember Fik asked about in in our last lecture to Sir Rahman. “Untreated strep,” the nurse said. I swallowed against my scratchy throat. Could I have had strep throat and overlooked it long enough to have caused rheumatic fever to develop?
However, the bone marrow aspiration was not less pleasant then the electrocardiogram. They placed me on the examination table on my stomach, with a pillow tucked under my pelvis. The nurse cleaned my hip area with iodine and next, she applied a cooling spray which she explained “this is a local anaesthetic, Nadhia. It will numb the site so you won’t feel anything while the needle is going in. We’ll insert it in the spongy part of the bone where your marrow is manufactured and don’t worry, it won’t take but a few seconds to withdraw the cells we required for the lab analysis.”
It annoys me a little that she had to explain this basic knowledge. I clutched the metal edge of the table, determined to hold my pupils focus on the cream coloured wall in front of me and not being distracted with the syringe that looked a foot long. I gritted my teeth as pressure, then pain, overcame me. It felt as if a vacuum sucked something from inside of me. It was horrible.
“If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it” I slide through my iPhone and saw this quote from someone’s Tumblr. The next picture said, “Allah won’t burden you with something you couldn’t bear.” I realized this quote is taken from a Quranic verse. Tears drop slowly from my eyes as I browse through the pictures that eventually motivate me. Ya Allah, I don’t know if I could endure this test, this seems unbearable. But I also don’t know what’s Your plan, and I surrender everything to You. Ya Rahman, Ya Raheem, please give me strength.
My lips trembled as tears kept flowing, and I couldn’t stop recite the istighfar as I recalled the conversations I had with Dr Mila and my family in the ward just half an hour ago, after we have the results from the bone marrow test.
I laughed a nervous laugh. Dr Mila sounded irrational and my family, hovering around my bed with disturbed looks, which reminds me of a silent movie. “I don’t believe you. You have been mistaken. I’m going twenty in less than a month. I’m still young, how could I possibly have leukaemia?”
Dr Mila slightly squeezed my arm and said, “The bone marrow aspiration confirmed it, Nadhia. Leukaemia is a blood disorder. It occurs when young white blood cells reproduce abnormally and crowd out the normal ones. They take up the spaces of red blood cells and platelets. Platelets cause your blood to clot normally and because your supply is low, that’s why you get bruises easily. Without enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, you become anaemic. That’s the reason why you’ve become tired all the time, and you always look pale.”
Tears weld up in my eyes, and as dad touched my arm, mom approached me and hugged me, and Nasuha, my younger and only sister, looked at me with sad looking eyes, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling anymore. I cried, hard, and I never thought I could cry as much as this.
I heard dad almost whispered ‘innalillah…’ Mom wiped the non-stop flowing tears on my cheeks, and comfortingly said, “Insha Allah, we will fight it Nadhia. We’ve got the best medical help available. We will fight it.” Dr Mila cleared her throat. “Over the past few years Medicine has made great advancements for different kinds of leukaemia treatment. Despite the fact that we have no cure for the disease, we do have sophisticated ways of dealing with it, insha Allah. The vital thing now is Nadhia should begin treatment as soon as possible.”
“What kind of treatment?” Dad and I asked at the same time. “Traditional treatments include chemotherapy. Once we initiate chemo, we’ll expect an improvement. It will take several days to establish the right combination of drugs, but our goal is to get you into remission as quickly as possible. Remission is a decrease, sometimes a reversal, of your symptoms. After we achieve remission you will go on to maintenance.”
Dr Mila continued, “Once initial treatments do their job and healthy blood-forming tissue begins to regrow, you’ll take oral medication. You only have to come to the clinic every few weeks for testing and possible further IV chemotherapy. The longer you remain in remission, the better your chances for complete recovery.”
“And if there is no recovery?” My mind was spinning, but somehow the question popped out from my mouth. Dr Mila’s expression grew sombre, and she touched my arm; her eyes are filled with deep empathy. “I believe in being honest with my patients, Nadhia, because being truthful is necessary for them to actively participate in the treatment of their disease. I’m not going to lie to you, but I won’t be leaving with you without hope either. If you remain in a continuous first remission for five years, we considered you cured.”
“And if I don’t?” “We shall try for second remission. We also consider a bone marrow transplant. That’s mean we graft healthy marrow from a biologically compatible donor into your marrow.” Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed by too much information from Dr Mila and my head felt like it’s going to split into two. Ya Allah, why me? Tears kept flowing and dad grab a hold of me. I shield my face onto his chest, and keep on sobbing on his shirt.
I couldn’t stand anymore information from Dr Mila. Mercifully, my mother interrupted. “What are you going to do with Nadhia right now?” “Today we will do a lumbar puncture. We’ll take fluid from around Nadhia’s spinal cord and examine it to determine whether the leukemic cells have invaded your central nervous system. That test will also help us to decide on the best drugs combination to begin fighting your leukaemia.”
I suddenly realized that my body has become a war zone. My internal defences no longer controlled whatever happens inside me.
“When will you start the drugs?”
“Clinically, the disease progresses rapidly. We must begin the test immediately.” The warmth of Dr Mila’s hands on my bare arm caused me to nod almost subtly. “Do it, so that I could be as soon as possible at home.”
2 hours has passed, and Miss Husna came in with Dr Mila and the handsome doctor, Dr Hafiz. “Okay Nur Nadhia Rania, your treatment shall begin now.”