CANCER WARDS

Sean Coghlan S.J.

During the past few weeks I have been called several times to Queen Mary Hospital by the Catholic Pastoral Team to attend to some patients. As a result I have become quite familiar with the patients in two children's cancer wards. The children range from about three to twelve years in age. Many of them are going to die.

At times, of course I feel upset at seeing so many children in discomfort and pain, loosing their hair and in some cases their hearing and their sight. However any sadness I feel is more than balanced by the extraordinary resilience of spirit that pervades the wards.

I think that at least some of the children know that they are very ill and that they may be dying. They seem to accept their illness and even their approaching deaths. Their serenity communicates itself to their parents. The wards are bright and cheery and there is a jolly atmosphere as the children play games, do puzzles and watch cartoons on T.V.

The love and dedication shown by the parents is very moving. Some stay from early morning to late at night with their children. They encourage one another and form a kind of community of mutual support. They are most grateful for any interest a visitor shows in their children. Their hearts must be breaking, but they appear cheerful, even joyful.

I am deeply impressed by the gentleness and warmth of the nurses, doctors and amahs. They run a relaxed regime. I am sure that they are being very much influenced by their young patients.

Most of the parents and children are not Christians, but the experience of sickness and approaching death seems to open them to religious values. One mother has just had her three year old daughter baptized. even though she herself is not a Catholic. The girl is dying. The mother was very struck by how calm and serene a boy of twelve became when he was baptised. She said, "I have done all I can for my child. Now I'm going to hand her over to Jesus."

I have got to know some children better than others. One is a girl of eleven called Ga Yi. She has lost all her hair because of her chemotherapy. She is blind due to a brain tumor. She will die soon. Sometimes she shivers with fever. She is a beautiful girl. She has an enchanting smile which lights up all around her. She has an infectious laugh and a great sense of humor.

Jonathan, aged 4½, is from Indonesia. He is a Catholic. He is undergoing Chemotherapy. His parents are with him all the time. He is grave and serious but shows flashes of a quick temper. There are often tears in his mother's eyes but she prays a lot. Jonathan has a good chance of getting better.

Tin Tin is a 12 years old. As I write he probably has only a few days to live. He is from a small village just across the border in China. Somehow or other his parents managed to get him into the Queen Mary. His father is a driver and can't come to Hong Kong. They have spent all their savings and Tin Tin is now being supported by a Hong Kong newspaper. He has been in hospital for four months. He is in great pain and is on morphine. He was baptized two months ago and receives Holy Communion regularly and prays. He is extraordinarily mature. He tells his mother not to be sad. His mother has sat by his bed and slept by his bed for four months. She dries his perspiration and changes his pyjamas. He lies with his eyes closed, but sometimes opens them and his big eyes roll over to see than his mother is there. He is a gallant boy and she a gallant woman. Sometimes I hold his hand when it isn't too painful for him. Tin Tin's mother is not a Catholic but she tells Tin Tin to suffer with Jesus and says she will look for the Catholic church when she gets back home and become a Catholic.

When I leave the hospital I walk down to Victoria Road, to look out over the Lamma Channel, the ships coming up and down the channel and the islands stretching in a line into the South China Sea. I do so to reflect. Sometimes, I do so, to regain my balance and composure. More often, however, I walk in a certain peace, thanks to an experience of the goodness of human nature and the love of God reaching out through the Catholic Pastoral Team to people in crisis.

I have just read part of an essay written by a colleague on Post Modernism, an abstract and abstruse mode of thought popular nowadays in some intellectual circles. Its proponents virtually reject any possibility of reaching the truth. Post modernism seems empty of hope. Followed to its conclusion it would seem to lead to a world, dark, empty, meaningless and void of compassion. Logically nobody would have any reason to do anything for anybody. I wonder what extreme post modernists would say when confronted by the religious faith shown by some of the people in the Queen Mary, by the serenity and cheerfulness of the children and by the nobility of their parents who accept that they must stand by one another and the kids in their pain, in their weakness and in their dying.