Yes, NSTP meant free time. But not so free. One Wednesday morning, they brought along F, a former drug addict, and his wife to give a talk. They do that every year.
It was my first time to come face to face with a (former) drug addict. More interestingly, it was my first encounter with a self-confessed addict-alcoholic. And to think that until yesterday, I would have been more interested on say, rapists or serial killers (though I’m just not as inclined to meeting either one, mind you). But something that F, in all simplicity and directness, said yesterday really captured my attention.
“Addicts are not bad persons; they are sick persons.”
Upon hearing this, many people would immediately disagree – or even regard the speaker with a certain level of distaste. After all, addicts are into illegal drugs – and anything illegal has to be wrong, as society dictates. So, how can someone who patronizes something that’s against the norms of society still be considered as ‘not bad’?
In the first place, it was a rather weird setup. Upfront is a man who may (to the narrow-minded) seem to be boasting about his escapades with drugs; later on, his equally skilled story-teller-of-a- wife romps her way onstage with her side of the story and struggle. And there we were, budding medical students, listening to one man and his wife’s ornate battle with drugs told in the cheeriest way possible.
But, in more ways than thinkable, the setup wasn’t weird at all. It was… right.
For how do you summon the guts and nerves to admit to your frail, “miserable” wife that you already have a second spouse who happens to be banned by society, and which by the way, you’ve kept secret for more than the last decade? Or how do you live out a year, each day praying for God to kill you, only to emerge victorious in your journey towards rehabilitation? Or better yet, how do you tell such a story to the whole world with utmost pride, with the purest of intentions, and with that matter-of-factly, no-joking-around, this-is-a-lesson-for-us-all voice?
Drug addicts don’t differ that much from the child with dengue fever or the old man with lung cancer. Like the most severe medical cases that we may encounter, drug addicts deserve just as much attention and care. As (future) doctors, it is not only our job to dig up our brains and cure the patient to the best of our abilities. It is also our responsibility to become a friend – and more importantly, a companion to the patient. It’s not enough to be a brilliant doctor; what we need are compassionate doctors.
My viewpoints did change after yesterday’s class. It taught me that beneath the sick, uncaring façade, is a soul waiting to be freed from an illness. Addicts are not bad; they are sick… and they need to be cured. Few people have as much will power and strength as F, and as much compassion and loyalty as Rachel. And if F and Rachel survived their battle, then we (future) doctors can surely help many more survive theirs.