Thursday, January 06, 2011

smug




recently i was involved in a discussion with a guy that was explaining how we should understand criminals. the emphasis was on farm murders but we touched on murderers in general, rapists and child molesters. my point of view was that i did not understand them and felt that he was justifying their actions. in the end i was informed that i was smug. apparently that is the word for people that couldn't see the point of view of the poor misunderstood murderers and rapists and molesters.

so smug is what i am, it seems. you see the fact is i can't understand his beloved murderers. i just can't. i also in my smugness wonder how he can, but i think i know.

it has to do with not being in the trenches. it has to do with not being faced with the blood and the tears and the guts and the screams...mostly the screams. it is probably easy to be nice and philosophical sitting snugly (not smugly apparently) in a nice air-conditioned office, philosophizing on the reasons people point a gun at people and pull the trigger. or worse...

the thing is i can't forget. i am scarred. i remember the patient lying in a pool of his own blood, looking up at me and asking, beseeching even to tell him he is going to be ok. i remember wanting to tell him that it would all turn out just fine. i even remember wanting to hold his hand because his mother wasn't there to take care of the emotional side of things. in the end i remember not telling him he would be ok because i wasn't sure he would. i also remember not being the mother he needed in the last moments of his life because that is what it turned out to be. after we had plough through the blood and feces floating around in his abdomen, violated by the bullet fired from the gun of someone my friend feels i must understand, the patient died. he did not die well with his mother or wife holding his hand in love. he died alone in some icu ward with adrenaline being pumped into his veins and oxygen being pumped into his lungs with a scarred doctor who felt that his time may have been better spent holding the patient's hand rather than pouring time and energy into a futile attempt to save his life. you see the reason i can't see the side of the killer is that the killer is still alive and has the sentiments of my learned friend to feel for him. my patient is dead and there was no one next to his bed when he died. there is no one to state his case now.

i remember the baby violated by her uncle. i was just a house doctor, but i had to examine her. the pediatrician couldn't face it. it is quite a thing to see the perineum of a four month old after it has been ripped apart by the penis of one of the people my friend understands so well. feces runs out of the vagina. it leaves a mark on the soul. but worse than that is the cry. the child did not scream anymore. i think it used up all its scream for its entire life during the deed. all that was left was a quiet constant moan. it is the ghostly moan of someone who has learned in her four month existence that there is no one who will come to her aid. there is no one to understand her. it will never leave me. my friend who is quick to understand the violator will call me smug, but may i suggest i might just be jaded?

the women raped is difficult to examine. somehow you feel you are violating her again. you feel you are making the whole ordeal worse. they don't resist. they are already broken. anyway, rape in our country is so commonplace, it may be the one area where i understand that my friend mat have sympathy with the perpetrator, but, sorry, i cannot. for me to examine those women tears me apart. it leaves me with a feeling that my own soul has been violated. that i am forced to do something because someone else destroyed a life. i refuse to see the point of that someone else. if that makes me smug, then smug i must be, but again i suspect i might be jaded.

a bullet can do a lot of damage. physically i think i might have been a witness to pretty much all of it, but there is another side to the story. i remember an old man, shot in his home when he tried to defend his wife from the killers that broke into their house in the early hours, people that my friend chooses to understand. we did pull him through, but not without a massive operation and the obligatory icu time. i remember when he came to me for follow up some time later. i was so proud that he had made it. but somehow he was the shell of the man he used to be. he was alive, but broken. his confidence was gone. he lived in fear. he felt helpless because he knew he could do nothing against the lead of the people who i hear from my friend i must understand and sympathize with. but who sympathizes with my patient whose peace has been stolen from him? the smug or the jaded?

recently i enjoyed my christmas eve over the open abdomen of a woman shot in her bed by strangers, strangers whom my friend has endless sympathy for. i did not enjoy my holiday period, but more than that, my patients didn't either. hopefully my friend, while maybe enjoying a beer with the killers he understands so well had a really festive time. i do not understand him.

44 comments:

Ruby said...

Thank you for your post. I started reading it to my husband but only got half way before I got choked up and had to stop.

Paracelsus said...

Thanks for this. If people that have a say in this world would have been obliged to spend some time in the trenches, and I'm not speaking only of the things a doctor has to deal with, but about the entire spectrum of real-life human experience, I believe the world would be a very different place. Better, I daresay.

rlbates said...

You speak so well for all of them. (in tears as I read)

Cal said...

This was a very strong post, really touched my soul. Hard to read, but thank you for writing it.

mamagrainne said...

Thank you for this, and for what you do - so far from my home, across the world from me, yet still we are all connected.

anne said...

You, Bongi, must continue to be the voice of reason for all those people who cannot speak anymore.
This is one of your best posts--and one of the most difficult to read.

geena said...

All I feel after reading this is a murderous feeling towards the uncle. I can only hope he got what he deserved but I can't think of anything awful enough to make up for what he did.

I wonder if you would be able to understand that man's murder at the hands of the baby's mother.

If that were the 5 month old baby who is currently sleeping on my chest as I type this, there are not bars of iron strong enough to keep him safe from me.

Mal Content said...

Gee...who knew...I'm apparently also 'smug'...who knew?
Just hope I stay this way!!

PS said...

Appreciated, Bongi. I hope this friend of yours that you find so difficult to understand is not any friend of mine... I don't have any friends like that... Regards, Pink and Purple

SeaSpray said...

Oh Bongi!

This should be in the editorials of newspapers.
I didn't cry. I read through it.

And then I had to walkaway ..even tho I intended to blog.

You should mail this to your friend so he has it in writing ...to perhaps refer to at sometime in the future.

Smug? has he ever personally witnessed the horror inflicted on innocent people that he seems to be in denial of. perhaps the horror is so great ...he has to only see the misunderstood criminals. I wonder what he would say if he witnessed the baby's injuries and horror.

that rips me apart. that the depth of pain and horror in an infant would be so great that only moans could release the level of pain. I think there is a level of pain that kills the soul ..that words can't touch.

My heard goes out to you and all the people that have to be on the front lines that face this horror.
As a Christian with great faith in a good God ...even tho I know there is evil in the world ..I ask why? How could you not be jaded? I hope you do things to counter it. I hope you talk about it with professionals or trusted friends. And writing is cathartic.

Criminals a scarred sick people that would do these things or maybe just pure evil... with no soul. I can appreciate that they need help. And yet I'd have no problem with castration. I wonder tho ..would someone like this just find another outlet for violence?

Did he go to jail?

I've also heard this is common in Africa in some areas. that men think if they have sex with a new baby they will either prevent or cure aids. is that true?

You are not smug Bongi. It is your friend that is smugly misguided.

I cried before I finished this comment.

All the crimes with their pain, loss, degradation and horror are awful ..but the sexual ones go beyond. And how is it even anatomically possible with a baby? Obviously ..as you wrote ..they are torn up. And torn up beyond the physical.

How are they prosecuted for these crimes in Africa? Will the babies have normal lives again? What is their prognosis?

The only thing I will say about understanding criminals is that understanding them could lead to educating people before they turn into cruel monsters and alert innocent people to the dangers of such predators ...so that they will be more guarded and protective.

I am linking this. maybe your post will be seen by someone who needs to read it. maybe your post will save a life somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr,
Now that you have purged your soul with this post (more than a month since your previous one), I wish you a humane 2011. Keep in mind, however, that the place where the sun rises will never see the New Jerusalem. Hasn't the time come for you to board your Mayflower?

Volunteer said...

Our South African rural surgeons see such terrible things - I hope that overseas readers realise that these are not rare occurrences that you speak about.
How well would your friend understand if it was his/her wife or partner or child who was the victim?

Jayne said...

Bongi, please may I put excerpts of this on my blog? It's such an excellent post & I feel others should see what happens here. (with the link back to you)
Where the hell, or more like, what the hell do you guys do to unwind & forget about the atrocities you have to deal with??
I wish you well hon.

Ishouldbeworking said...

I found your post via Jayne. It moved me tremendously. I'm a psychotherapist who worked for 15 years in the public health system, dealing largely with people who had been traumatised by events like the ones you describe. I only heard their stories, I never had to physically sew them back together, but there are different types of scarring as I'm sure you know - the ones you can see and the ones you can't.

I hope you are well-supported and cared for away from your job. And for a supposed 'friend' to make such a comment to you...do you not think in their idiotic, uninformed judgementalism, they may just have forfeited the right to be known as your 'friend'? Just a thought. Choose your friends carefully.

Bongi said...

anonymous, there is no mayflower for me. i'm here to stay. despite what you think i do make a difference for the good to these people. it is interesting to me you would deprive them of that. i'm sorry to admit it but i don't get your new jerusalem reference, but then i am only a simple surgeon.

jayne please feel free to reference, with link of course.

ishouldbeworking, i think a lot of the people i work with suffer to a degree of post traumatic stress. we do not devote nearly enough focus to this. sometimes this blog is where i debrief, so i suppose it is my therapy.

Spear The Almighty said...

This is one of the best posts I have ever read. Absolute brilliant.

Jayne said...

OK, I've spat my dummy (on my blog)
Thanks :-)

Ishouldbeworking said...

Bongi, you're so right. Secondary PTSD affects many medics, shrinks like me and care/nursing staff. And we're not always the best at looking after ourselves. Keep blogging. Your writing is invaluable, to you and those who read it.

Teresa said...

Deeply moving post - these images are not leaving my mind anytime soon. Thank you for being smug - and human.

Carol said...

What your friend doesn't understand is that the perp does not need or want sympathy. He has knowingly reverted to a state of nature, when rape and murder was the norm, and he awaits their fate - what we used to call justice. It is our job to show that we still expect and demand civilized behavior.

To believe as your friend does is a perversion of Christian mercy common among the left. (Is this person real?)

Brian John Murphy said...

This was a powerful essay. There are 1001 excuses given by the evildoers for their killings. Childhood abuse. Poverty. Discrimination.
From the point of view of the doctor trying to keep a violated human being alive, there is no excuse. This should be the point of view of us all. When society's penalty for murder is 20 years to life (New York) we have nearly decriminalized killing. Murderers, rapists and pedophiles don't need understanding, they need, at the very least, close imprisonment for life.

Bongi said...

carol, this person is real. in his defense, however, your reference to the left is an american reference and has little bearing to us here.

wh would just say eish or tia. his absolute disregard for human life is common here in africa.

stop smoking said...

The trenches are a tough place to be. My non-medical friends don't quite understand the stories I tell them (think large metro, county hospital in the US). Their response is always the same..."No, you're kidding. Nobody would do that." Sadly, you can't make up these stories, but you do have to live through them.

Thanks for the post. It's easy to get jaded or numb to these things. Glad to see you haven't.

Hajari said...

Oh, Bongi. This is one of the most moving things I've ever read. I do not understand them either.

drcharles said...

I'm holding my breath against the ever-looming tragedy.

Good post.

Lynda said...

Oh Bongi - I've read this post a few times now and I really didn't know how I felt. But I have to say something. I don't know where your friend was coming from but you know yourself how many, many children grow up in complete poverty, no love, no food, no guidance, no care. People in the First World really don't have a clue as to the poverty and desperation. What did we think they were going to become - model citizens? I think a bit of understanding would be a good thing. Of course the violence and crime are shocking, unforgivable and of course not every criminal was a street child. But a society that neglects so many is going to pay some sort of price. It's never simple....

Rita P said...

Bongi, thanks for sharing albeit difficult, painful, a deeply heartbreaking. I hope getting some of this pain out was cathartic and puriffing to your soul. There is little I can say that will heal, but I can listen and I will share. I'll keep you and those you detail in your post close to my heart and will pray for their spirit and better times.

My only other thought, while not very companionate, is truthful...I'd advise you to get a new friend.

Be stronge and never questions your humanity or your generious heart.

Stefanie Bill said...

Your post was really touching. I wonder if what he will say and do if he witnessed the baby's injuries.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've been lurking for a while, but this post really touched me. I spent just a year in a country as troubled as yours, and that year changed my whole outlook on life. How could the same species that could be so cruel and heartless as the criminals you describe also be so lofty as to create sublime works like Mozart's Mass in C? People like you ennoble the human race even more than people like that uncle sully it.

Anonymous said...

I must be a smug, too. Because I totally agree with you. I am a doctor, living in Lisbon, Portugal. Everything you say makes me feel entirely with you. And it seems to me that a smug is a very nice thing to be, because those who understand criminals so well must have lost their souls a long time ago. :)

Greg P said...

Whether or not one believes in capital punishment, those that commit such acts at the very least should lose the right to live in society. Permanently.

This is really an OMG post, bongi.

Apple Lopez said...

Perhaps it's really tough being a medical doctor. You've got to fight the emotion or just try to live with the reality that you can always see dying people or witness death while doing your job.

Greg P said...

Apple:

I don't know ho bongi takes your comment, but my own perspective on your comment is that this post by bongi is meant to create a window for others to see the world as physicians end up seeing it, irrespective of the morality, the politics, the callous and impersonal reactions that people may have to the uncaring, violent world we live in.
We suddenly have someone plopped in front of us who may be a victim, a perpetrator, a bystander, someone noncompliant with recommendations, or just someone who unknowingly had some biological time bomb waiting to go off.

So I am aware of these social/criminal/political/psychological/moral issues, but at the moment these are either contained or ignored as I assess the medical problem confronting me.

Bongi said...

greg p, great comment as always. thank you.

Caroline Anne said...

Thank you for this post Bongi. It must be so hard to deal with these poor victims. A heart rending but excellent post.

Frankly said...

Thank you for this post Bongi. It must be so hard to deal with these poor victims. A truly heart rending but excellent post.

Eutopia said...

Hi Bongi

I hope you don't mind, I shared your post on my blog, as well as an older one. I have indicated that it's from your Blog tho and have posted links too.
It's just so relevant and so pertinent that people see the point of view that you have put across.
Keep going - you have an amazing talent with writing.

Mandy said...

Wow, excellent post. Namaste.

Kelsee Stoner said...

Wow! Just Wow! This is amazing. I couldn't agree more with your entire opinion. Thanks for Sharing.

Medieval Or Modern said...

:'(

lilybug said...

I watched a documentary on South Africa concerning HIV. It was too painful too watch. I cannot understand how people could believed raping a baby would cure them of the disease.

SailingAway said...

Amazing post that truly tugged at my heart strings. I admire your spirit and willingness to help these people in their darkest moments. As bad as you might feel, the fact remains that you are using your talent and energy to help and heal these people when they need it most. You are their savior and I cannot fully express my feelings of respect and gratitude to you. I know they are beyond thankful for your kindness and generosity. God bless.

Anonymous said...

To speak a little for understanding:

This post makes me think of a quote that has always stuck with me. "The french say 'To understand is to forgive', but they are wrong. To understand is to understand."

Sometimes a person A needs to understand murders etc. Not because the murder B needs to be seen with Judgment waived, but because person A *needs* to Understand.

I am such a person as person A. I feel safer and more secure when I understand what drove people to do things I cannot imagine doing. I feel anxious when I cannot figure it out. It can never be figured out so long as the labels are left intact. When I can understand what might drive a person not very unlike me to do terrible things, I imagine I can better recognize the danger in others. That I can work to see a better world were less potential murders etc. are consummated.

Seeking Understanding of the general cases without Judgment is not the same a believing the particular cases should be excused from Judgment. It is an exercise to increase the accuracy of the armchair sitters predictive capacity.

Anonymous said...

if you understand what makes people do the most horrible of horrible things, then maybe, maybe, you can fix it so less people feel driven to do such sick things. if you don't understand the problem, you cannot even hope to fix it...which is what you need to do to prevent more of the same agonizing horrible things you have witnessed.