The girl with cancer and the butterfly
I was spending a couple of days in the new palliative care training center at Saroj Gupta Cancer Center at Thakurpukur, Kolkata, with those undergoing a six weeks certificate course in Palliative Care. When I returned to the group after a lunch break, there was animated discussion around the white board. Malati, a young nurse, was trying to create Somnath’s (medical social worker) idea in a picture. They were about to wipe it off hastily, when I stopped them and asked them what it was about.
The girl in the picture, they said, has cancer and is chasing a butterfly. So what are you going to do about it, I asked. Now there was a difference of opinion. Somnath, the owner of the idea, felt that it was important for a palliative care person to help chase that butterfly for the child. He felt it was not important what the girl wished; whatever it is, it was important to fulfil the wish if possible. The artist Malati, who translated Somnath’s idea to the board, now voiced a dissent. To her, the butterfly is a symbol. It depicts life, which the girl is seeking, possibly a futile pursuit. We need to understand the girl’s emotions and be her companion in grief or pleasure, Malati thought.
Somnath and Malati, I agree with both of you so totally. Whether the girl seeks a real butterfly in front of her, or whether she is seeking something that is flying away from her – like life itself – you both got the point that our role is to be fellow-travelers, holding her hand when we can, chasing the butterfly with her when she feels like it, but also allowing her to rest on your lap when she is tired.
Somnath, Malati and everyone else in the vibrant group including members of the organizations “South Kolkata Sanjeevani”, and “We with you”, I would consider myself lucky if I have one of you caring for me when my time comes.