“I do so much for them and they don’t realize that all the stress they put me through makes my psoriasis worse.” The scaly, silver plaques shy-fully hid under the frill of Mrs. Steri’s white skirt as she narrated her story of frustration. Her psoriasis plaques were more aware of the pain they were causing her than her children. Her elder daughter had over-dozed on heroin the past week. Mrs. Steri spent the succeeding days hugging her six-year-old granddaughter with a weeping heart and listing in her mind all the ways to tell her grand-daughter that she was left orphaned. Sitting in front of me in the dermatology clinic, Mrs. Steri counted her blessings because her daughter her survived the over-doze and had promised to never take up heroin again. But Mrs. Steri wondered how long her daughter could fight the evil of heroin addiction. She wondered how long her granddaughter would have someone to call mom.
Her son was also moving in with her with his five-year-old boy because his wife was also a victim of heroin addiction. Mrs. Steri had been looking after her grandson ever since he was born. Every time he visited his parents, her heart would go with him, constantly praying for his safety. She had pleaded her son to divorce his wife so her grandson could be freed from his mother’s influence. Her son had finally submitted. She was now spending all of her savings to gain guardianship of her granddaughter out of the hands of her daughter and help her son gain custody of her grandson out of the locks of her daughter-in-law. She had raised a son and a daughter and was now raising her grandchildren as her own. Her love was limitless, extending beyond her own progeny to that of her children’s offspring. In all of this, her scaly, silver plaques that had started on her ankles and elbows his extended to cover her shins and arms. They bled as did her heart.
As I learned more about Mrs. Steri’s story, I thought of my own parents who had left their medical careers in Pakistan to create a fruitful future for my brother and me in the US. I thought of all those nights when my mother, a gynecologist by training, would collapse in bed snoring her lungs away after a tiring day of teaching Arabic at a local school. She had made a complete career change, now pursuing a license to teach as an Arabic at elementary to high school level. I thought of those days when my dad, an ophthalmologist by training, returned home to see us. He was working in another city as an ophthalmic technician because that was the only job he could find remotely connected to his field of expertise and passion. In those moments of exhaustion and loneliness, all they sought from my brother and I was any simple gesture of appreciation. The glitter in their eyes when they saw me bringing them water and the extended smile they gave my brother when he massaged their legs made their efforts worthwhile. The tragedy of Mrs. Steri’s life was not that she loved. Her tragedy was that she didn’t feel appreciated by them who she loved.
We all have heroes in our lives who we feel are selfless in their heroism. But truthfully, often times, our heroes feel shattered. Their confidence is battered. They feel lonely. The world leaves no chance to humiliate them and their limited physiological capacities leave their bodies crumpled. It is we, the souls they work so hard to save, who can make them heroes again. A “thank you for everything you do” can fill their bodies with life again. An “I feel so blessed to have you in my life,” can fill their spirits with hope again. An “I love you,” can give them the strength to exit the door and continue their fight. Our heroes are vulnerable and we, who they fight for, are their strength. Mrs. Steri’s grandchildren are her strength. She knows that even if her children may not appreciate all that she does for them, her grandchildren will. Her grandchildren will grow up away from heroin, in the stable home of their grandmother. The stress she constantly lives in makes her psoriasis worse. But her grandchildren are worth the fight she puts on every day against the world and against her painful, scaly, silvery plaques.
***Disclaimer: All names used in this writing are purely fictional.***