My recent encounter with illness proved to be an enlightening journey, opening my eyes to a new perspective on life's fragility. While I have faced health issues in the past, this recent bout brought forth a medley of ailments that tested my strength like never before. It is human nature to swiftly forget the pains of illness once we have regained our footing. However, the experience was a relentless onslaught.

It began with a tonsil issue, igniting a chain reaction of discomfort that rendered eating and swallowing a daunting task. A subsequent gastric ailment compounded the struggle, leaving me unable to absorb much-needed nourishment, leading to a vicious cycle of discomfort and malnourishment. My joints throbbed with an intensity that was agonising.

With each passing day, my strength waned, and my appetite diminished, making it challenging to adhere to prescribed medications. It was not until I reintroduced solid foods that I began to regain strength, albeit at the expense of shedding seven kilos—an unintended weight loss that proved beneficial in hindsight.

The road to full recovery remains ahead, requiring steady progress after enduring such a relentless barrage of ailments. But I am grateful for the ability to carry on with my daily routine, with a newfound appreciation for the mundane moments of health I took for granted. The significance of well-being is best grasped in moments of upheaval.

This journey of illness also served as a poignant reminder of those enduring far greater trials. Whether it is chronic illness, life-altering disabilities, or incurable conditions, countless individuals face difficulties that overshadow mine. I recall the harrowing ordeal of a young woman in need of life-saving surgery, whose family struggled to afford the necessary treatment. Despite the community's rallying support, her fate remained uncertain until a group of compassionate professionals provided a lifeline, restoring her health and vitality.

Sadly, not everyone is granted such reprieve. Many suffer silently, burdened by illness and the financial strain it imposes on their families. The repercussions extend beyond physical pain, disrupting livelihoods and exacerbating socio-economic disparities, particularly for those in lower-income brackets.

My heart aches for those who quietly succumb to illness, unable to access affordable and accessible healthcare—a reality prevalent worldwide. In developed G8 countries like the US and UK safety net health provisions offered by the states like Medicare, Medicaid and NHS may not go far enough to address the needs of all. In a study carried out in 2024, CEO World Magazine’s Health Care Index analysed the overall quality of healthcare systems across various countries.

The UK and US ranked 34th and 69th respectively echoing the limitations in their public health systems. Cuba ranked much higher at 27th in a table topped by Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China as top five which surprisingly all came from the South East and Far East. The same publication cites the 12 countries with the worst health care in the world. I was relieved our country was not on that list though it may not be conciliatory with the reality on the ground which has a lot of room for improvement.

The limitations in healthcare systems are also felt in developed countries, leaving many without adequate support. It is a sobering realisation of the disparities that persist, despite advancements in medical care.

My brief encounter with illness compelled me to approach life with greater empathy and mindfulness. It is easy to overlook the struggles of others. But a simple gesture of kindness or inquiry can make a world of difference to someone silently battling their demons. It is a lesson learned from childhood friendships and chance encounters that shaped my perspective on compassion and solidarity in the face of adversity.

The profound impact of compassion, empathy, and knowledge in our lives is exemplified by my childhood friend. He was not only academically brilliant but also deeply curious about science from a young age, leaving an indelible mark with his remarkable acts of kindness. Encountering an unconscious person in distress, he sprang into action with remarkable calmness and decisiveness. Using a simple bottle of Fanta as a makeshift remedy, he revived the stricken individual, demonstrating not only his resourcefulness but also his profound empathy for those in need. He had reserved pocket money for the less fortunate, showing what could be done when intelegent mind  meets gracious heart.

In another instance marked by campus unrest in the 90s, his compassion and foresight shone through. Tracking down friends with rare blood types, he orchestrated a vital blood donation effort, saving lives in the process. Through these selfless acts, my friend illuminated the path of kindness and empathy, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire. His commitment to helping others, coupled with his deep understanding of science, serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative impact of compassion in our world.

I am reminded of the profound impact of empathy and altruism—a lesson imparted by a dear friend and echoed in the collective efforts of communities coming together in times of need. It is a testament to the power of humanity to uplift and support one another in the darkest hours.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 06,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1249]

Bereket Balcha works in the aviation industry and is passionate about fiction writing and can be reached at (

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