Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

Golf and Fatherhood: Like Oil and Water, Sometimes

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I can always tell that Father’s Day is coming when the newspapers become suddenly full of ads for golf products: clubs, shoes, shirts pants. That’s because quite a few dads play golf–including yours truly. I discovered the game only about two years ago. In fact, I found God on a golf course. I also became hooked on the game. I try to play a few links at all the staff outings at the hospital where I work, and I also try to play with friends and family when I can.

If I can watch golf tournaments on television, I do. I also talk golf all the time with friends and colleagues at the hospital. I even took some golf lessons offered by my village park district and found them enormously helpful. Don’t even ask me about the driving range. I try to hit at least one bucket of golf balls there at every opportunity afforded me. In fact, if I come home early and my notice that my wife and children aren’t home, I don’t even pull into the garage. I put my car in reverse and head to the driving range.

I have never felt this way about any sport before, and even though I am an absolutely terrible golfer (I’m usually in the running for “Highest Scorer Award”), I keep coming back for more. More golf, that is. And the more I come back for more golf, the more guilty I feel as a father.

My job is very demanding on my time. I am at the hospital at 8 a.m. every morning at the latest, and sometimes I don’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m. Every other weekend I am on call for our physician’s group, which means that I have to see all of our patients already at the hospital and take any new patients that we are asked to see in consultation. Add to that the committee meetings at the various hospitals at which I am also on staff, medical conferences and the like, I have very little time to spend with my family.

For that reason, the moment I finish all my work, I consider myself to be on “family time.” I feel I should spend every moment when I’m not on the job with my three young daughters and my beautiful wife. In addition, my middle daughter plays baseball, so I try not to miss a game. These moments are very special to me, and I don’t want to be an absent father.

Many Muslims believe that a man’s role is to be the provider and sustainer of the family. That mostly means financial support; a man’s job is to “bring home the beef brisket” (we can’t bring home bacon) for the rest of the family. I also believe that as a Muslim father, I need to be there physically. I need to be a presence in the lives of my wife and children. I also have a duty to raise my children as upright American Muslim citizens, because I don’t believe that’s merely “the woman’s job.” Parenting is a team effort, and, although I am not home as much as my wife, I still have a role to play in the rearing of my children. I believe that Islam demands no less of me.

But I can’t shake the golf bug; it’s in my system. My clubs are in the trunk of my car 24/7, 365 days a year. One day, I took my eldest daughter to the driving range with me. Right after my purchased second bucket of golf balls, my daughter said, “Dad, can we go home now?” I turned to her and grunted, “Soon, honey, soon.” I have even taken my 3-wood and my 7-iron to my middle daughter’s baseball game and have taken some practice swings while her team was practicing. If I could, I would book a permanent tee time every Sunday.

But I can’t. I feel guilty playing golf on family time. On the occasions that I do play golf on Sunday, it is during the wee hours of the morning–at 6 a.m.–when my family is still sleeping. I play only nine instead of eighteen holes because eighteen holes of golf would take too much time away from the people I love. I also try to squeeze my driving range time into my commute home from work instead of after I get home. The only time I allow myself to play a full eighteen holes is at the hospital outings that I consider part of work time (thankfully, my wife feels the same way about it).

In fact, this is probably why I am still a terrible golfer. The game of golf requires a lot of time. A really good golfer needs to be at the practice range every day. He needs to have frequent lessons and to play at least once a week if not every day–after hitting about 200 golf balls at the range. I simply am not willing to sacrifice that much time away from my family in order to become the golfer I really want to be.

But you know, I would never trade my family time for a round of golf. In 2006, my family and I took a trip to Egypt, and I had to come back two weeks earlier than my wife and daughters in order to go back to work (so I could pay for said trip). “Great,” I thought to myself, “I will have all the time in the world to play guiltless golf!” And play several rounds of guiltless golf I did. Yet I was miserable. I missed my family terribly, and I was filled with loneliness during those two weeks. The joy I felt when I saw my wife and kids on the warm Saturday afternoon when they returned was indescribable, and even though I could no longer play as much golf as I could when they were gone, my life felt all the more sweet knowing that my family was with me safe and sound.

Such is the life of a Muslim father who also wants to be a golfer. I am often forced to choose between the two (fatherhood and golf, that is), and almost every time I choose to be a father. I have absolutely no regrets about my choice. Although I admit it–I’ll still be thinking about playing golf.

Collective Blame Never Good

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The radicalization of citizens in our prisons is a real potential threat. Protecting the country against this and other threats is very important. Violent extremism must be stopped wherever it may be. But, to blame it wholly on Islam and single out American Muslims does no one any good.

Yet, that is exactly what Congressman Peter King (R-NY) did during his recent hearing about the radicalization of Muslims in American prisons. To hear Congressman King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, talk about the issue, one would think the problem is rampant in American prisons. The truth, however, is quite different.

George Zornick, writing in the Nation, summarized the hearing well:

The problem, however, is that there is no real problem. Bert Useem, a professor at Purdue University who was the lone panelist not sympathetic to King’s cause, noted that of the 1.6 million people currently incarcerated in the U.S. prison system, there have been only 12 terrorism cases with some evidence that the offender became radicalized in prison. “If prison was a major cause of jihadi radicalization, you’d expect to see more,” he told the committee.
King and his panelists had their own evidence. They didn’t offer any pesky statistics, but rather florid descriptions of terrorists who, while incarcerated, turned violent under the influence of prison Islam — or “prislam,” as it came to be known during the hearing.
But even this anecdotal evidence falls apart under closer inspection. For example, King raised the case of James Cromitie, who will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in planning attacks on an Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY and two synagogues in New York City.
According to King, Cromitie “was radicalized in a New York State prison.” He is “not alone,” King warned. But in fact, the government has made no claim that Cromitie nor any of his co-conspirators hatched their plot in prison, nor that their prison experience contributed to their crimes. Inmates and chaplains at the New York state prison where Cromitie was incarcerated said he did not take part in any of the Islamic prayer meetings.
Moreover, Cromitie’s lawyers have portrayed him as the victim of an altogether different kind of recruitment. They allege that a government informant paid Cromitie $250,000 to plan the terror attacks. When Cromitie expressed reluctance, the informant pressed on, according to court documents. “I told you…I can make $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you?” he said.
King was equally dishonest when he invoked the case of Jose Padilla, who was convicted of trying to set off a radioactive bomb in the United States. King’s version of events, as described in his opening statement, is that Padilla “converted to Islam in a Florida jail,” and that “while on the inside, Padilla met a fellow inmate who led him to a radical mosque.”
In reality, the Broward County Sheriff said at the time there was no record of Padilla requesting to meet with an imam, attending Islamic classes, or requesting a name change while incarcerated there. A family friend told CNN that he converted to Islam after he married a Muslim woman in 1996 and moved to the Middle East.
King failed to prove statistically or even anecdotally that Islamic radicalization in prisons is a serious problem worthy of a high-profile Congressional hearing. And even if King were right, it would be an odd focus solely on that brand of recruitment and not also on the well-documented problem of white supremacist groups who also recruit and radicalize inmates to commit crimes, along with similar efforts by violent street gangs. Several Democrats made this point during the hearing, but were sharply dismissed by Republican colleagues. “The political correctness in this room is astounding,” scolded Rep. Dan Lungren.

Just as with his last hearing about the radicalization of American Muslims, this hearing really did nothing but stoke fear and single out American Muslims. Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), who actually lived in an internment camp during WWII, called out the negative effect of his hearing:

In one fell swoop of his discriminatory brush, King, in his apparent attempt to root out radicalization, marginalizes an entire American minority group, making enemies of them all. To add insult to injury, King has quipped (again, speciously) that America has too many mosques and that extremists run 80 percent of them. We can only hope that Congressman King does not completely undermine all the goodwill established across this country between Muslim Americans and law enforcement officials. You can be certain that few will want to work with King going forward.
Don’t get me wrong. I support the Homeland Security Committee examining “radicalization” in this country, and in our prisons, provided it is a comprehensive review, not a discriminatory one that targets only one subgroup of America. I support the committee examining “violent extremism” in this country, including an examination of militias and the 30,000-plus gun-related deaths occurring each year. I support a committee chair that is keen to keep our homeland secure.
This is not the case with King. These hearings do little to keep our country secure and do plenty to increase prejudice, discrimination and hate. I thought we learned a lesson or two from my internment camp experience in Colorado. I hope I am not proven wrong.

I echo that hope, Mr. Honda.

Now, let me be clear: I am thankful for the Committee’s resolve to keep our country safe. And if there are American Muslims who are plotting terrorist attacks, they need to be found, stopped, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But, these are not reprsentative of the whole. They are a tiny, aberrant minority. And the facts show that there is no problem of radical Islam in American prisons. The incidents are just that: anectodal incidents. Singling out my community, however, like Congressman King did, did not help things at all. It will only hurt the cause of American unity, and that is truly sad, indeed.

My Personal September 11

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Two years ago today, the unthinkable happened to my wife and me. I penned this four days after it occurred:

June 7, 2009 will forever be burned in my memory. June 7, 2009 will always cause me the deepest pain anyone can ever feel. June 7, 2009 will always be the darkest day on the calendar, even if the sun is warm, bright, and plentiful.

June 7, 2009 was the day my wife and I lost our daughter to lymphoma.

She was diagnosed with lymphoma back in January, and it was a shock to all of us. Yet, we were determined to beat this terrible disease with the same ferocity it attacked our beautiful little Angel. So we started the cycles of chemotherapy.

It was a relatively short treatment protocol – six months – but it was quite intense. Our daughter has an underlying disorder, Ataxia-Telangiectasia, which renders her more sensitive to chemotherapy than normal children. Therefore, the protocol was modified in dose for kids with A-T.

But, intense the protocol was. With each cycle, there were complications. After the first cycle, she came back almost a day later with high fevers and low blood cell counts. She stayed a week in the hospital. But, she recovered.

Then came round two: same problem – complications, fevers, and low blood counts. But, she recovered. Rounds three and four and five were similarly difficult. Throughout the rounds, she would get nausea, fevers, diarrhea, and the like. She even had bloody, quite bloody, diarrhea, and it caused us and her much distress. But, she recovered.

Furthermore, in the middle of all of this was repeated visits to the clinic by my wife and daughter. Whenever something would go wrong, we would call the doctors, and they would say, “Bring her in.” So, my wife would bring her in. That’s not to mention the multiple hospital stays.

Every time she would get chemo, she would stay in the hospital. In the beginning, my wife, Reem, would stay at the hospital with my daughter, and I would stay at home with my other two daughters. But, this became untenable, especially with my work schedule. So, my wife and I developed a system: she would stay during the day, and I would stay at night. When I had to work overnight, she would stay 48 hours in a row. Other times, I would not sleep at home for a week or longer. But, it was easier for me to stay with her at night at the hospital, especially if I have to take call for my pulmonary practice.

But, every time she got chemo, she recovered. In fact, she survived the worst of the chemo rounds relatively intact.

Then came the last round: maintenance. And it was a piece of cake: only three days! That’s nothing compared to what she had been through in the previous four months. We expected to go in and out of the hospital with no problem at all.

Things, however, did not go as expected.

For some reason, this round was the absolute worst, and everything went wrong. The chemo levels refused to go down, unlike her previous rounds. The complications of the chemo – mouth sores, nausea, and diarrhea – were SO MUCH worse this time around. She even threw up blood on several occasions. And soon after the chemo finished, the fevers started…and they never stopped.

They were relentless. No matter how much Tylenol they gave her, the fevers never went below 100 degrees. And with the fevers came the body aches, the fast breathing, and the fast heart rate. She really got sick, but she was always stable. Her oxygen levels would sometimes go down quite significantly, but she was still stable. Her blood pressure still stayed normal.

And there was the pain. She was in so much pain. She knew the name of the pain medicine, Dilaudid, by name. She asked for it every two hours on the dot.

She was like this for almost a week, and once she told me, “Baba, I can’t stand this.” My heart twinging with terrible pain, I told her, “It’s OK habeebee (my love), soon you will get better.”

But, she did not get better.

On Friday June 5, she was still talking to me and my brother, who came to visit. She was still breathing fast, in terrible pain, had relentless fever, and had terrible diarrhea. But, she was still talking and responding. As she left late that evening, my wife expressed concern to me that our daughter was not well, but I reassured her that she would get better, that this was only a temporary rough patch.

Early on Saturday June 6, at 5 AM, however, something changed. She was much less responsive, even to me. And her breathing…her breathing was much more labored and she seemed to have more phlegm and junk in her lungs than before. It was not long before her blood pressure – heretofore the best thing about her vital signs – began to drop like a rock.

They were giving her a lot of fluids to keep her BP high and her kidneys flushed, but it was not helping. And it also seemed that her kidneys were not working as well as they had been. Because the blood pressure was still low, they started a medicine to help to keep it up: dopamine. It is always a bad sign when this medicine and others like it is started. They even gave her blood and other blood products to try to increase her blood pressure. It did not work. To help with her breathing, they put her on a machine with a mask, and it seemed to work initially, but she later had to be placed on a ventilator.

As the evening approached, the doctor told my wife and me that it is quite likely she will need dialysis, which is an artificial kidney machine. Because they did not do it at the hospital in which she currently was being treated, she had to be transferred to a tertiary medical center. Even though my wife and I watched with horror as our daughter deteriorated all day, we still had hope that she would recover. Kids are very resilient, and they can pull through the most dire of illnesses. We had hope that she, despite all her challenges, was one of those kids who can pull through.

My wife left to the other hospital before me, and when I made sure the paramedics were up to date with my daughter’s condition, I left for the other hospital myself. I was absolutely exhausted, and it was a miracle I did not crash on the way there. When I got there, my wife was already waiting downstairs in the lobby for me. Our daughter did not arrive until about an hour after I got there. When our daughter finally arrived, there was a team of about 10 people waiting to take care of her. They were absolutely wonderful, and they tirelessly worked on my daughter.

After my daughter was stabilized, my wife asked to see her. She could not bear the sight: Bayan was hooked up to so many tubes and IV lines; she had a breathing tube in her mouth connected to a ventilator helping her breathe; she was in a coma, induced by medications. It was a sight too horrible to bear, and she cried relentlessly. I tried to reassure her, once again, that this was only temporary. Once again, I tried to reassure Reem that everything will eventually be alright. It was late, so I insisted that she go home and get some much needed rest while I stayed at the hospital. I told her that I would call if anything happened. Truly, I did not think anything would happen, so I felt comfortable telling her to go home and sleep. In addition, only one parent could stay, so I wanted her to get some real rest after a terrible day.

There was a chair, a most uncomfortable chair, in the back of the room behind my daughter’s hospital bed, and I collapsed into it. That was about 11 PM. I woke up at 1 AM, and the nurses and doctors were still valiantly working on our baby. I kept hearing words such as, “epinephrine,” and “vasopressin,” which are other medicines that help support blood pressure. I knew – as I am myself an ICU doctor – that this was not a good sign, but I put any thought that my daughter was at risk of dying out of my mind. I still had hope she would pull through.

I woke up at 6AM, and I spoke to the doctor, who did not leave the hospital, to get an update on the events overnight: she told me that her kidneys did work a little, but that was short lived, and she was really having a tough time keeping her blood pressure up. In addition, even though they did not give her any medicines to make her sleepy, she did not respond to them at all. I knew that this was a very bad sign. The doctor, however, did not give up hope, and tried to encourage me as much as possible. She told me that she had to put in another special IV line, and I signed the consent form.

But I looked at my daughter, and I was horrified at what I saw: She was gasping for air, even though she was on the ventilator. Her feet were mottled and blue, meaning that the circulation was shutting down. Her fingers were blue. She was still burning up from fever. There was very little urine in the urine collection bag. I knew it was not good. For the first time, I realized that it was quite likely that my daughter is going to die. And a sinking feeling of dread slowly came over me.

I went to the washroom to brush my teeth and get dressed: I was stalling, because I knew that I had to call my wife, wake her up, and tell her the worst news she would ever hear from me: that our daughter was dying.

I picked up the phone and dialed her cell phone number. When she answered, I said to her:

“You better come to the hospital.”

“Why? What does that mean?” she asked.

Barely able to speak, I said, “She is not doing well.”

As she was on her way, I lost it and openly sobbed. I rarely sob like that, but I could not help it: my baby was dying, and I knew it. I sat outside her hospital room waiting for my wife to show up. When she did, I waved to her so that she can see me. When she came up to me, she saw the tears in my eyes, and she knew all was not well. I told her what was going on, and then I broke down again in front of her.

As I cried into her arm and shoulder, I was apologizing. I have always tried to be strong for her; to be her rock under which she can feel sheltered and protected. But, I could not be strong for her on this day.

The doctor came and spoke to both of us and told us what was happening. I asked her point blank, “Are we fighting a losing battle?” I knew we were, but I wanted to ask her the question anyway. She said that this was a fair question, but, again, she has seen kids pull through this. In the meantime, her oncologist came and saw my daughter and said the same thing as the intensive care doctor.

No more than ten minutes passed before they both came back to my wife and me and said, with a grim look on their faces, “We need to talk.” They led us to the “Quiet Room,” where we could talk alone, and they told us that her pupils were now “fixed and dilated.” This means that she has suffered brain death, and it was only a matter of time before her heart would stop. You might as well had shot Reem and me in the heart.

At this point, they told us, we could either withdraw care or keep everything going but not escalate treatment any further. I looked at my wife and asked her what she thought we should do, and she deferred to me, her eyes blood-shot from crying. I did not want to withdraw care, fearing this would be too hard on my wife. So, we elected to keep everything the same and let God do what He wanted.

We went back to the room and sat next to our daughter – I holding her hand, and my wife holding her head and shoulders in her arms – spending our last few moments together on this earth. When the emotion became too much, I would openly sob, again apologizing to my wife for not being strong enough.

My daughter’s beautiful body was ravaged by this terrible disease – called gram negative sepsis – and it killed both Reem and me to see her suffer so much. I knew that her heart rate would slowly go down to zero and that would be it, and I was dreading having to watch that happen. Sure enough, the heart rate went down: 200, 190, 180, 170, 160, 150, 140. I wondered how long it would be. But, then suddenly, the heart rate went from 140 to zero.

As that happened, I kissed her head and said, “Go in peace, my love.”

Both my wife and I knew that one day we would have to bury our child, because kids with A-T rarely survive their teens. We just never thought it would be so soon. In fact, we were planning trips to Wisconsin Dells, Disney World, and other places after her chemo was done. I promised her I would buy her gyros with “extra white sauce.” I promised her that we would swim together in the “lazy river.” But, unfortunately, none of this will ever come to pass. And it really, really hurts.

June 7, 2009 will forever be burned in my memory. June 7, 2009 became my personal 9/11. I played the movie of her death countless times in my head. I tried to mentally prepare myself for this day for years. But, it did not make it any easier. Not by a long shot. Nothing could prepare me for such a horrific loss. There is no greater pain, no greater suffering, no greater agony than to watch your child die in front of your eyes. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

Must Always Remember

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

As I enjoyed the majority of Memorial Day off with my family (I did have to go into the hospital and see some patients in the morning), it was amazing to see how many people were out and about shopping (just like we were). Families were everywhere, walking to and fro, and carrying bags from various retailers after having scooped up some cool deals (just like we did).

As I drove back, I noticed a band of men on motorcycles carrying a large American flag; I also noticed that many of the flags (if not all) were flying at half staff, in memoriam of all those soldiers who fought and died for this country. I did not fail to remember them as well. Yet, it seemed to be in the background, in the distance somewhere, perhaps quite far from the scores of shoppers making it difficult to navigate my car around the parking lot.

Well, we should always remember.

I do not agree with every deployment that those in command may send our soldiers; I do not accept when our soldiers commit crimes of ugliness when they are deployed by those in command; yet, I honor their commitment and sacrifice nonetheless. They serve so that I, and millions upon millions like me, do not have to. And for all those families that have lost loved ones serving our country, I send you my prayers for comfort and peace.

Losing someone you love is never easy. May the Lord always bring down His comfort to ease the pain.

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