By Mira Khatib
Many of us go through life hearing about other people’s ordeals and might think that painful experiences won’t happen to us.
That is what my mother believed. Yet now, she knows how far from the truth that is, as she realized that there are no guarantees in life.
It started in April of 85 at the age of 42, my mother Janet was a healthy young career woman; working as an Executive Secretary to the General Manager of a large company in Kuwait. She had everything going her way, with a loving husband and three healthy daughters aged 12,7 and 2. Life seemed so perfect until the unexpected struck the family.
It started with a simple numbness in her toes, and innocently enough she thought it was from her shoes, but even after buying a new comfortable pair, the lack of feeling in her feet began to spread.
Frightened and confused, my mom searched for the cause and the cure, from one doctor to the other all giving her different opinions and different medications. Yet, nothing seemed to help. It became so severe that she eventually lost feeling in both her legs and became suddenly paralyzed, unable to move.
After being admitted at the hospital and with many tests, they discovered the inevitable. She had a virus so rare that only one in a million suffered from it, known after its founder Gillian-Bari Syndrome. Doctors knew little about this virus and did not know the cause or the cure. They said that the virus had to make its way through the nerves starting from the feet and working its way up, paralyzing everything as it spreads until it either reaches the heart or the lungs. If it gets to the heart first, then there is no hope and it will cause death immediately. But if it reaches the lungs first, and somehow the patient’s systems manage to fight it, there is a very slim chance for survival. But even then, the virus will leave the body with its mark causing paralysis or blindness or even loss of hearing.
We prayed daily for our mother. We, as three little girls didn’t quite understand why mom was away in the hospital, and watched our father slip slowly into depression, as the doctors reminded him constantly of his chances of becoming a widower.
Weeks passed, and my mom couldn’t eat without the aid of machines, or even move her upper body and slowly she went into a coma.
I remember feeling scared, yet I had to act brave for my younger sisters. I believed I was in charge of taking care of my two little sisters and my father, and all I really needed was mommy at my side.
During this ordeal, my mother was trying to understand the meaning of life and the reason for existence. At the time, she was a faithful Christian and her beliefs never stood in the way of her marriage to a Muslim man. My parents loved each other and found ways to respect and overcome their differences. They brought us up to understand both religions and enjoy the solid knowledge of both. We would fast Ramadan and celebrate Christmas. It was a wonderful combination of love and faith.
Janet (my mother) in her youth
There is a day that my mother recalls vividly as she was coming out of her coma. She realized her chances and tears slid down her face, and then she understood the test of faith that God is putting her through. She prayed, crying out deep from her soul, asking God for a second chance. ”If only you let me see my little girls grow up, if only I can see them as brides happy and safe, then take my life away.” She promised if God gave her that chance she will become a Muslim and do what she believed that was right for her and her family.
Time passed and our father stopped taking us to visit; he didn’t want us to see our mother hooked up to many machines in the Intensive Care Unit. But after many days of tears and pleading, he gave in and took us to see our mom.
A day that I can never forget as long as I live, I remember feeling so happy and excited as we approached her bed. I couldn’t help but notice how much weight she had lost; more than 20 kilos that made her look like a small child. But suddenly, and before we even were able to get close, her weak and fragile body started gasping for air. The time has come to say goodbye.
White coats came rushing from all directions pushing us out of the way. All we wanted was to kiss her. We cried, terrified and confused not knowing what the doctors were doing to her. I wanted to scream and throw myself into her arms, but I was carried away trembling home.
Everything fell silent what seemed forever. We didn’t know but we could feel it in our hearts. They lost her, she didn’t make it. She felt her soul being lifted up towards the sky and drift between the clouds. She could see and hear the doctors around her, as if looking at it all from outside her body. She kept repeating to herself “ I am dying, I am dying”. As the doctors exchanged looks of defeat, her eyes began to flutter. She was coming back, fighting for her family and for her right to be part of our world.
The doctors were stunned with her strength. They worked on her for hours until she was stabilized again.
She did it. With God’s will, she was given a second chance. The doctors now waited to see her progress and nurture her back to health, although they knew that the virus must have left its mark.
But as my mom tirelessly did physical therapy and regained her body’s strength, the doctors couldn’t find any damage done from her illness. She could walk, see and hear perfectly. It was finally time to go home and continue where she left off.
As she made her way out of the hospital, she stood for a moment and looked at the skies above, admiring the beauty of it all. She smiled to herself and remembered the promise she had made to God; it was a promise she meant to keep. Before going home that day she went to the Islamic Court and converted from Christianity and became a Muslim. She cried tears of happiness and appreciation feeling reborn. She thanked God for what he has given her, a new life, and a second chance.
She took some time off before resuming her career; she wanted to re-bond with my sisters and myself. We cherished every moment and realized the importance and pleasure of having our mother back in our lives.
Eventually she went back to the job she loved, not for the money but for the joy of being able to give, which to her is the greatest reward of all.
A miracle? Maybe. Today, my mother is residing in Jordan and enjoying her retirement with her three daughters and grandchildren, more thankful and appreciative we surround her happily. She taught us how meaningful life is and you can only know by having faith and being connected to God.
I personally learned how precious life is and how important every moment can be. I also learned to value even the little things that might go unnoticed, like a beautiful sky in a warm summer day, the scent of a flower, or a smile from an innocent child. Everything has a special meaning, a miracle. Today, I teach my children how to understand the significance and beauty of life, and how to be grateful to it all. My mother learned this the hard way. We will never take life for granted again.
Janet (my mother) today a survivor, a warrior