Transforming Poison Into Medicine

by Carmen Díaz Prensa, Dominican Republic

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CarmenCarmen (center) with her daughter Florangel and son Angel

I began practicing Buddhism in 1991. It helped me harmonize my life and see that any problems I faced were mine to resolve. Several years ago, I began experiencing headaches regularly as well as visual impairment. I had recently begun working as a nurse. At first, I thought these symptoms were due to my sinusitis, but I noticed that they became more frequent during my nighttime shifts.

On one occasion, the pain lasted for five days—I tried painkillers to ease the symptoms, but they didn’t work. Then, it was as if a bomb exploded. In addition to the pain, I began experiencing acute nausea and dizziness—everything became blurry. I was taken to the emergency room, and a tomography revealed that I had a huge tumor in the front part of my brain. I was told I needed surgery as soon as possible. It would be a complicated operation. The brain tumor was pressing the right-side optical nerve; the doctors really didn’t know what to expect. I knew that even if I survived the surgery, I could end up suffering from recurrent seizures. I was scared but managed to remain calm.

related article The Spirit to Serve Others The Spirit to Serve Others by Brandon Nicholson Brandon Nicholson describes how Buddhism helped him to overcome health challenges in his childhood, enabling him to pursue higher education and develop the spirit to work for the happiness of others and contribute to social justice. The surgery lasted 13 hours, but it ended in success. I was fortunate to have one of the best neurosurgeons in the country. My head and face had swelled up to about twice the normal size. When I was released from the hospital several days later, my immediate concern was for my daughter and son. They were both nervous and sad—I was shocked when my son couldn’t recognize me. I worried what effect all this would have on them. My concern for them helped me think less about my own problems.

When the swelling decreased, I realized that I couldn’t see with my right eye. Also, my forehead was deformed, and I needed reconstructive surgery.

At this point I realized I had a choice. I could be defeated by my suffering, or I could resolve to “change poison into medicine” and transform this negative and painful situation into something positive. I chose the latter and, with my Buddhist practice, that became my focus.

My family, friends and fellow SGI members were incredibly supportive throughout all of this. Whenever I felt like giving in, they continued to encourage me. Moreover, I realized that I was able to encourage others through my experience of battling cancer.

Two months later, with my doctor’s approval, I went back to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical science. Although I’ve lost complete vision in my right eye, I am working as a clinical clerk at the same hospital I worked at previously and am also involved in a geriatric medical program where we offer food, medication and assistance to elderly people in need. I find deep satisfaction in exploring humanistic approaches to patient care together with my coworkers.

After everything I have gone through, I have profound appreciation for the fact that I am alive, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that I am able to contribute to the well-being of others through my work. I also feel huge gratitude for the support and encouragement I received throughout my ordeal. Without it, things would have been so much more difficult. My children are well and bring me great joy, which I derive also from my determination to raise them so that they will grow into individuals who can contribute to the development and peace of our country.

[Courtesy April 2013 SGI Quarterly]

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