Weekly Writing Challenge: An Unforgettable Family

The following is my amateur effort to rise up to the weekly writing challenge provided by the Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge.  I have been working on this piece for a few nights now. I have decided to tell this story in the third person.  I must admit, it took a bit of reworking to help it flow. See what you think:

Every now and then, the doctor would remember some families she had worked closely with back in the days when she was practicing Medicine in Toronto. One family in particular was the al-Aziz family.*

Her first encounter with Baby Mahmoud was as a third year Pediatric resident at Sick


NICU (Photo credit: Terretta)

Kids, Toronto. He was born at 25 weeks after a failed attempt to prevent his mother’s labor. He was just shy of 500 grams at birth. By the time the doctor started her rotation in Neonatology, he was a few months older but still ventilated and very dependent on a lot of intensive care support. After morning rounds on her first day at the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), she requested to see his chart. She wanted to learn the details of his various medical challenges. It was no surprise when the unit clerk handed her two hefty volumes.

Baby Mahmoud was the fourth child to Fatimah and Kadir al-Aziz. He was Kadir’s first-born. Fatimah had been married before. Her family had lived in the Middle East. Her husband had been a respected professor at a renowned university. He had been suspected of inciting political unrest among his students. And so, one fateful night, armed men had stormed into their quiet home. In front of his family, the professor’s throat was slit. They watched him die in their living room.

After burying her husband, Fatimah and her three children were spirited away from the country. They found their way to Canada through the help of like-minded friends and supporters of her deceased husband. Since their arrival in Toronto, they have tried to make a new life for themselves.

Fatimah was introduced to Kadir by some elders. He too was a professor at a university. He taught Ancient Civilizations. He had never been married. Somehow, they came to an agreement and their marriage was arranged. It wasn’t long before Fatimah was pregnant with their child.

After her training, the doctor set out to open her own private practice in the suburbs.  Within a few months, she received a call from the NICU.  They were pleased to announce that Baby Mahmoud was ready to be discharged but would need a Pediatrician with special training in Neonatology.  Would the doctor please take him under her care?

“Of course,” she replied. “It would be a privilege to serve this family again.”

And so, the entire al-Azziz family would come to the doctor’s office for all Mahmoud’s appointments. Multi-specialty meetings would be held periodically to review his various challenges:

  • Neurological: S/P Grade IV Intracranial hemorrhage to the brain at birth resulting in multiple mental deficits, cerebral palsy; mobile chair with neck, back, and arm and leg supports
  • Eye:  Retinal Dysplasia with several surgical interventions. Eye sight questionable. Has light perception. Does not always follow light direction.
  • Ear:  Sensorineural deafness. Recurrent ear infections.
  • Respiratory: discharged on home oxygen at all times; reactive lungs similar to asthma; lack of effective cough to clear throat effectively, necessitating periodic mechanical suction
  • Gastroenterological: Poor swallow and gag.  Drools.  G-tube feedings. Propped up during and right after feedings.
  • Renal:  Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Speech: Cries when wet, hungry, in pain, etc.

Mahmoud was three going on four years of age by then.  Fatimah would arrive mostly mid-afternoon with the older children in tow after school hours.  Fatimah did not want to leave them behind.  They would quietly do their school work in the waiting room while the doctor spent time with their mother and brother. 

The next two years were dotted with re-hospitalizations for pneumonia, more surgeries, and other multi-specialty consultations.  Through all this, the doctor heard not a single complaint from the family, Fatimah especially.  She would always have her warm brave  smile, albeit rueful.  She was tired.  Anyone with eyes could see it.  She has not had a good night’s sleep in years.  Mahmoud still behaved like an infant, wanting to be fed or comforted at all hours of the night. She would not hesitate to pick him up and sing him to sleep.

And then, Fatimah became pregnant again.  This time, a normal bouncing baby girl named Zainab joined this family.  This little girl was healthy, lively, engaging and interactive.  Fatimah would bring her entire brood to the doctor’s office and Zainab would babble away in her stroller for everyone’s entertainment in the waiting room.

Through all this, the doctor saw the older children growing up.  On one occasion, she inquired about them to Fatimah.

“You have such well-behaved lovely children. How are they doing?” The doctor asked.

“They are all right.  I must admit, I rely on them a lot to help me once they come home from school. They are becoming more and more Canadian.”

“That may not be such a bad thing. After all, this is now their home,” she replied.  Fatimah shrugged and gave an embarrassed smile. “I noticed that your older daughter is showing signs of adolescence. Is she in her teens yet?”

Fatimah looked a little surprised, as if the doctor had called her attention to something she had missed. “Yes, you’re right. She’s thirteen now.  Safiyah.  She’s such a responsible girl. She helps me with Mahmoud. Kaleb is twelve now. And Mehrdad is ten.”

The doctor nodded understandingly. “Yes, they do grow quickly. Perhaps it’s time to talk to them about some issues that would be important during their teen years.”  Fatimah nodded politely.  The door opened and Safiyah peered inside.

“Zainab is crying.  I think she’s hungry.”

The appointment had to come to an end, at least for the time being.  The doctor promised to herself that she would take this matter up with Fatimah again another time.


That was more than 15 years ago.  The doctor often wondered how this family has been. They had such a tragic life in their home country.  And then, this.  By the time the doctor  left Toronto, the family continued to struggle with Mahmoud’s multiple problems.  The other children continued to take a back seat with their parents’ time and attention.  Fatimah is clearly a very intelligent and educated woman.  Did she ever regret not pursuing her own dreams?  Did she dedicate her life to personally and single-handedly caring for Mahmoud to assuage her maternal guilt or to punish herself for some twisted reason?  Was this worth sacrificing all the other members of the family for?

A life is a life. Doctors are trained to promote and preserve life.  With modern medicine soaring to unforeseen heights, the possibilities seem endless.  Where and when does good sense and compassion come in?

*The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.


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8 Responses to Weekly Writing Challenge: An Unforgettable Family

  1. Sad reality of life. “Where and when does good sense and compassion come in?” Tough question that may not have a clear answer. Thank you for sharing the story.


  2. eof737 says:

    What a powerful, albeit sad story… Great job. I skipped that one because I couldn’t do it justice… You did! 🙂


  3. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I should also say what a wonderful read this is!


    • likeitiz says:

      Thank you, Gilly. Yes, they are a real family and their story is real. Every detail of the harrowing events. I was getting concerned about the other children getting neglected. I was particularly concerned that as they grew up and begin to embrace the new society and culture they are immersed in, the gap with their parents might be exacerbated. This is why I appealed to their mother’s sensibilities as best as I could back then.


  4. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I imagine this is based on a real family, if so i feel for them all. I guess the other children would have supported each other while mum cared for Mahmoud, but I just hope she was also there enough for them. Of course I may be putting western values on to the situation?


  5. I agree, a life is a life. It is a gift and we try our best to preserve it. I feel bad for the family. That is a hard thing to bear and the other kids are suffering as well. I hope and pray that things will be better for all of them and all families experiencing a similar fate. Happy Holidays to you and your family.


  6. auntyuta says:

    Thanks for writing this story, Mary-Ann. If this is based on your own experience, I can understand that the fate of this family would still be on your mind. You ask: ‘Where and when does good sense and compassion come in?’ Of course this is a very valid question. Who on earth could always give the right sort of answer? With advances in modern medicine a lot of people can now be kept alive who in earlier times for sure would have had no chance of a life at all. So we tend to preserve lives at all costs. On the other hand modern weapons still kill people without discrimination. And in some countries a person’s throat can be slit just for speaking his mind!
    I certainly wouldn’t know the answer to all this.


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