(im)mature butterflies

I realize this may sound melodramatic, but this past labour day long weekend I had some epiphanies. Evidently, I let this thought incubate over the start of Autumn. The weather has changed a lot since. I often think about the weather. As a scientist, I often really think about the weather. On occasion, I would stand in front of my kitchen window during a storm, and think to myself: I wonder how long this geography felt this kind of climate and for how long will it. I often marvel at the similarity between the hostile storms on earth and the apocalyptic ones of Jupiter. I often muse how the earth oscillates within a relatively narrow, immutable, distance in its revolution around the sun and within that tight distance, within that ring of life, is all possible permutations of life-supportive climates. To imagine the sun churning around the contents of a hemispheric plane, a cosmic soup, with the planets gliding down towards it. If it weren’t for Jupiter and it gravitational pull, I conjecture, we probably wouldn’t exist. And to think that human activity is disrupting this intricacy adds to the mystique of it all. We are all tiny moments projecting and travelling in this universe of space and time. We have to wonder where we’re heading. I diverge.

That weekend, I realized how vulnerable we are. Not that I did not know that before, but I felt like I needed a reminder. I think we all need an occasional reminder. May be even regular reminders given how disconcertingly distracted we are nowadays. It fascinates me that we are distracted to the point where it affects our physiology. It permeates our interactions and body languages. Ultimately, I feel, it is a by-product of our addiction to technologies. It erodes a lot of native human qualities. And ironically, it is the very technologies that we invented to aid us lead more productive lives. To become … better. We use apps to organize our lives, where it intersects with the lives of others, more harmoniously. We purchase groceries online to save that car trip, protect the environment and spend more time with our families. We arrive at Starbucks to grab our pre-ordered coffee, so we can skip the line and get more done. Yet, I feel we miss out on all the invigorating human interactions we traditionally engaged in. They start to feel alien. We find it increasingly difficult to call a friend to catch up. We rarely make a point of taking our grandparents to go grocery shopping. And if we muster the patience to wait in line, we hide our gaze from other strangers. We shy away from conversations.

This seemingly anachronistic prologue is my way of expressing frustration with how we callously carry ourselves nowadays, be it in how we treat our environment or the people around us. I have two patients in my hospital practice who suffer from a horribly debilitating condition called epidermolysis bullosa. Go ahead, look it up. I warn you though, the photos are graphic and disturbing. Patients with this genetic condition have dysfunctional skin turnover. Their skin is fragile like a butterfly, hence the term “butterfly child”. Their limbs typically erode away. Their mouths are giant blisters. They can barely open for a cleaning or a filling. It is palpably painful to look at. But those two brave souls couldn’t be any more amiable, positive and grateful. One of them has a YouTube Channel. The other a studious bookworm. And considering how painful their condition is and their need to be transported, they have never missed an appointment. Those two have every right to cancel last minute, but they don’t. Contrast that to many healthy and accomplished “normal” patients I see, who will complain before you even seat them in your chair, or ones who cancel last minute, often with weak excuses, or no excuse at all. Let alone the self-entitled ones who just don’t show. They didn’t just disrespect you, but they disrespected the office admin who confirmed them, the dental assistant who got the room ready for them, and ultimately the dentist who allocated that time for them, and showed up to treat them. This isn’t limited to dental appointments. Common courtesies are eroding from our social fabric. Yet those butterfly children are somehow more fragile and delicate than the rest of us. I beg to differ.

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