I bet you thought I’d dropped off the end….

….of the planet/page/line. But I didn’t, I’m still here and adjusting to life in the real world again. It’s amazing how good a full night of sleep feels.

I have been reading Yannick Haenel’s book, “The Messenger” . It is a fascinating combination of historical fact and interpretive fiction. The book is about a man called Jan Karski, a Polish Resistance fighter who played a vital role in the Polish Underground during WWII. Mr Karski was rescued from the hands of the Gestapo and charged with a mission to carry a number of messages to the Allies on behalf of the Polish Government in Exile and the Jews of Europe. He was to become The Messenger and, ultimately, the message.

Y’all know this is a particular favourite concept of mine, and that what happened to the Jews during WWII is something that fascinates me for a number of reasons. This book is a unique take on both of those subjects. It intrigued and irritated me in equal proportion.

I watched the footage of Jan Karski’s testimony for Claude Lanzmann’s benchmark movie  about the Holocaust: Shoah. (Thank God for You Tube.) It is hard not to see a man tormented by what he saw in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and the Izbica Lubelska concentration camp, a man tormented by the messages he was sent to deliver tot he Allies; messages they chose to ignore.

This book raises more questions than it answers. There were questions I never thought to ask, answers I never thought to question. For example, why, when the Allies had sufficient evidence of the mass extermination of the Jews of Europe, did they fail to respond. Why, when the war was over and 6,000,000 Jews had been exterminated, did the Allies hold the Nuremberg trials where they passed Judgement on the Nazi’s for these crimes against humanity at the same time as perpetrating an equal crime against humanity by dropping atomic bombs on Japan. I am ashamed to admit that the hypocrisy never once crossed my mind. And yet there it sits, mocking.

I’m not a particularly political person, but I am fascinated by the idea of what it means to be human, and how humans behave and think. This book is a disturbing exploration of whether or not such a thing as Humanity can still exist in a post-WWII world.

Another unanswerable question.

People still slaughter other people all over the world for no reason than their otherness. The rest of the world still looks on despite evidence of these inhuman crimes. We argue against war, we rail against laying the lives of our sons on the altar of foreign wars, we preach against the slaughter of animals for food. But men still kill and rape and torture other men and women and children. And all over the world, we turn away those who seek refuge from us, those whose lives are under threat, those who fear what history has taught us humankind is capable of. We turn them away, and fail to act. All for good reason, all in defense of our own rights as humans. In the name of humanity, we do the inhuman.

“[I often thought of a sentence by Kafka]:’Far, far from you, world history is unfolding, the world history  of your soul.’ This sentence was intended for me, as it was for all of my students, and for you. We think that world history is happening far away from us, it always seems to be occurring without us,  but in the end we realise that it is the history of our souls.”

Jan Karski carried messages that he was faithful to deliver, but the world was unwilling to hear. He delivered messages that carried the hopes of millions into the ears of the powerful. The messages themselves were powerful.  The hope of the desperate was powerful. But the power of those who had the most potential to act was impotent. Jan Karski delivered his messages and then became the message: if we who have the power to act fail to, we have lost our humanity, lost our conscience.

The book infuriated me. And challenged me. And grieved me.

There are more questions than answers, and that is a little uncomfortable. good, but uncomfortable.


The light at the end…

The dumbest thing you can say is this: I don’t think I can take any more.

I said it, and then I found out how much more I could take.

Last week I blogged (in a state of utter exhaustion, I must add) that I couldn’t watch my four year old writhe in pain any more. I was wrong. I watched helplessly for all of twelve painful nights as he screamed, pleaded,  moaned and whimpered, I held his little body as it went rigid with pain until his arms and legs shook.  I took him to four different doctors and had two come to me. All of them told us nothing serious was wrong, to ride out the pain. I believed them…for the first few days. But as five nights wore into six…seven…eight, I began to doubt. I was averaging four broken hours of sleep a night. I cried myself to sleep helpless in the face of his suffering.

After the ninth consecutive night of screaming pain (pain he had despite the three different medications I was loading him with as per the doctor’s prescription) I cracked and took him to the Emergency Department to see a paediatrician. She insulted me by asking why I hadn’t gone to my GP (they didn’t have any appointments and their answers didn’t satisfy me), so I told her it was because I wanted to see a paediatrician. She asked me why, if I was so concerned, I had waited this long. I wanted to tell her where to go, but I needed her help, so I told her I didn’t come earlier because the doctors she would prefer I had seen, told me he had to ride out the pain. She rolled her eyes. (ok, maybe I imagined that part. I also imagined making a big scene in her department when they finally did an ultrasound and found out that there was something wrong, but I didn’t.) She did a blood test, palpated his stomach, did a urine test and an X-ray to rule out appendicitis, constipation, urinary tract infection and a twisted gut. I could have told her all those things were not the issue, I did tell her all those things were  not the issue— I had come to her because I needed her to look a little deeper into the problem, to find a solution. I expected her to look outside of the box. She didn’t. She sent us home to ride out the pain even though I told her it was not normal for a four year old boy to have this level of pain over this length of time. I wanted to tell her to come spend the night at our house and tell Gabriel to ride out the pain while he shook his little fist in the air, his legs rigid and shaking as he begged, “When will the pain end.”. I wanted to, but I didn’t.

Within 12 hors I was back in ED with him. We waited four hours to see a doctor, but this time, they saw him screaming…everyone did (they stopped me in the halls of the hospital the next day  to ask if he was ok)…and the nicest, kindest nurses and doctors restored my faith in their profession as well as their humanity, and admitted him. By that night, we knew what was wrong…mesenteric adenitis…a condition where a child’s abdominal lymph nodes swell (in response to an infection somewhere in the system, in the same way your glands in your throat swell when you have tonsillitis) and cause considerable pain sometimes equalled with the pain experienced with appendicitis. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to treat the swollen lymph glands, but something can be done about the pain.

Another two days later (a total of twelve days after the pain began), Gabriel slept through the night. I am so relieved I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry. I’ve done enough crying, so I think I’ll laugh.

Thank God for doctors who recognise that a mother knows her child better than an x-ray can, who realise that a four year old cannot be expected to put up with pain just because they can’t tick one of four convenient boxes. To all those doctors who poked and prodded, stuck things down his throat and up his other end, who looked down on me and questioned my motives…I forgive you. It’s not about me at all, it never was. Your brush offs were more than made up for by one Scottish registrar, one red-haired, tattooed nurse and a bespectacled, matronly doctor who cared enough to see the boy behind the symptoms. It is to them, that I am indebted. You might strive to  be like them. I will.

To all the friends who made meals, sent texts, picked up the kids from school or spoke kindly to them, to the friends who prayed for us from afar, or sought us out to do so in person, to the friend who cried with me…thank you. Your friendship is worth more than words can describe…may you always reap what you have so lovingly and generously sown.