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At the Gates of the Labyrinth

A Meditation on Suffering

Paul A. Komesaroff

After the tsunami, Seenigama, Sri Lanka, 26 January 2005; © Prakash Singh;

I want to tell a story that arose not out of a natural or social catastrophe but, at least on the surface, out of much less spectacular circumstances: the last illness of an old woman.

This is the story of Kakima Oqil and her children. Mrs. Oqil was an 85-year-old woman who was dying of bowel cancer after a long, difficult illness. She has three surviving children: her daughter, Sebati, aged 55, and her sons Askhar, aged 59, and Chajim, aged 57.

Mrs. Oqil had developed abdominal pains two years ago, which caused great distress. For some reason the cause of the pain took many months to diagnose, during which repeated—as it turned out incorrect—reassurances were given that there was no serious underlying problem. During this time her physical suffering was considerable. She had been admitted to the hospital on several occasions with severe, unrelenting pain, but attempts to control it were ineffective. When the diagnosis of metastatic cancer was finally made, the family felt deceived and betrayed. Their trust in their medical advisers was never restored.

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