I had always known her as a very cheerful person. Rosa was ebullient, bubbling – always in high spirits. Today is however different, her eyes are puffy from crying. She has been crying for the last three days and hasn’t eaten anything since then. Dehydrated and with sunken eyes she cuts a picture of misery itself. She looks like death! “What’s the matter?” I asked her.
Sobbing, sore and almost inaudible, she explained how her only child had died mysteriously without any previous illness. He had been robust and hearty and played with his colleagues the day before.
He went to bed after having his bath as usual. When he didn’t get up to get ready for school in the morning, she went up to his room to check on him. He was stone dead!
“Doctor, I have cried my eyes out. Now I can’t see clearly. My vision is blurry. It’s worse in my left eye. It’s like there is a sheet of cellophane in front of my eye,” she said in between sobs.
Consoling a bereaved person has never been easy for me. You have to keep your composure otherwise you’ll find both of you crying and that would be no help! What can I say to console her? I know her story from the beginning to the end.
How she had lost her husband in a road traffic accident just a month before her son was born; how she almost lost the baby at birth owing to delay in getting to the hospital and how her son as a toddler survived a bout of cholera. And then her battles for survival – how she struggled to make ends meet. As these thoughts passed through my mind, her phone rang.
The ring tone was “What a friend we have in Jesus.” I know the story behind the song; the cruel fate that befell its writer, Joseph Scriven.
It’s a great music with a perfect story to console anyone of any faith with such a big burden. I quickly seized it as the theme for my discussion with her. It worked like magic.
But my real job was not yet done! I still had the task of examining her eyes to determine if indeed she had any visual impairment and if crying had caused it or contributed to it in anyway. In my several years of practice, I had never come across any such case. I know that emotional or stress related tears help us through difficult times in a several ways.
First it is generally accepted that people feel better after a good cry. It could be to mourn the death of a close family member, a friend or the frustrations of a bad day at work. Once you wipe the tears away, it is like all the broken pieces are back together again.
Now research is coming up to suggest that tears could actually be a way of flushing negative chemicals out of the body and doing you a world of good.
“Rosa, please sit on the examination chair,” I said to her. I watched as she moved sluggishly into the chair. Her usual confidence was gone. She was looking so fragile having lost a lot of weight.
I was alarmed when I asked her to read the Snellen’s chart and she could only see the first letter with her right eye and barely count my fingers at one metre with her left.
I took out my pen torch to examine the anterior part of her eyeballs. I wasn’t too happy at what I saw. My fears were increased. I could almost hear my heartbeats. Looking at the inside of her eyes, my findings confirmed my fears.
Rosa’s problem is serious. Why is this happening to her? Why now? How do I explain my findings to her? How do I tell her she is danger of blindness?
“Rosa,” I said again, “you must see your family physician today. I’ll call him to see if he is in his office.” Fortunately he was. I asked my driver to take her down immediately.
On her way out she paused and asked, “Doctor, am I going blind?” I took a deep breath, hesitated a minute, trying to determine how much information I should provide at this stage, knowing fully well the implications for her delicate state.
“You definitely have a very serious condition that may result in blindness if care is not taken.” I was glad she didn’t ask me the dreaded question whether her problem was caused by excessive crying? My answer would have been non-committal or perhaps “No.” Neither would I have been able to answer if crying had made it worse.
Why? I couldn’t say because that was my first time of examining her eyes. I would have been in a better position to answer that question had I seen her once or twice before the bereavement.
Research however suggests that crying is good. About 90 per cent of people feel better after crying while about 10 per cent actually feel worse. Women on the average cry about 45 times a year and men about seven.
The admonition to children, “Be brave and don’t cry” is not helpful because it has been found that crying does in fact help to reduce pain. Therefore, cry if you must but like in all things ‘moderation’ is the key.