Life’s challenges remind us the essence of religion is to serve and help others in need

Said Ahmed-Zaid
Said Ahmed-Zaid

My wife recently underwent a hip replacement surgery to alleviate the pain and suffering she endured over the past two years. This was a major surgical procedure in which her hip joint was totally replaced by a titanium hip prosthesis.

I remembered that my wife dreaded long-distance travel. We would often order a wheelchair to help her go through airports. Last summer, she accompanied me to Portland, where I attended a conference in my field of research. But this would not prove to be a fun trip. One day she wanted to take a stroll in hilly downtown Portland. After walking for a short distance, she could no longer bear the pain in her left hip. We cut short our walk and took a bus back to the hotel.

I also remembered that, a few years ago, she complained about going up the stairs in our two-story home. This was particularly true when, after doing the laundry downstairs, she would struggle to take a basket full of clothes upstairs. She began insisting on looking for a one-story home. I was reluctant at first, thinking that it was too soon to move to another house in our early 60s.

The one-story house next door opened up two years ago and we moved in after having done some remodeling. But the pain in her left hip did not go away. In fact, she spent the past two years doing alternative treatments such as cortisone shots and physical therapy, in vain. After imaging her left hip, an orthopedic surgeon discovered evidence of several ligament tears and increased arthritic degeneration. They also found a cyst full of fluid behind her femoral head, which was very painful.

We had to weigh a couple of options. The conservative approach was to perform arthroscopic surgery, drain the cyst and try to repair the soft tissue damage. The more extreme approach was to perform a total hip replacement. Since there was no guarantee of long-term success with arthroscopic surgery, she made the decision to have the hip replacement surgery. Research showed this to be a common orthopedic surgery, with hip replacements lasting 20 years or more.

I admire my wife for her courage in making such a life-changing medical decision. She had the surgery five weeks ago. What was truly amazing about this surgery is that it lasted only an hour, and four hours later, a physical therapist was already helping my wife walk in the hallway of the hospital.

The next 10 days would prove very painful, as her body started to heal from the surgery. I helped her during this period, when she was totally dependent on someone else to handle everyday activities.

It has been five weeks since the surgery. She is now moving with a cane instead of a walker. She is even driving short distances after the surgeon gave her permission. She is slowly regaining her independence, but she keeps telling everyone that she could not have made it without her husband at her side.

This whole experience has certainly made us appreciate the blessing of good health that most people take for granted. We reflected on all the other blessings that we benefited from during this period. One such blessing is my health insurance, which helped pay for this major surgery. Another blessing is Medicare, which also will pay for my wife’s hospital stay. Another blessing is the surgeon’s adept skills, and the care given to my wife by the whole medical staff before, during and after the surgery.

We began to wonder about what happens to people when they are confronted with a major medical issue or an aging issue and they do not have access to the same blessings that insured people have. What happens to people with no medical insurance? About 44 million Americans have no health insurance, and about 38 million have inadequate insurance. In the richest country on earth, most Americans are one medical emergency away from financial ruin. It can be scary to think about what can happen to those without resources.

What are our moral and ethical responsibilities to those in need? The Golden Rule tells us that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us. I do not understand why some followers of the major religions have trouble with the precepts of wanting for others what they want for themselves. To me, it is the essence of religion to serve and help others who are weak, vulnerable and suffering.

Dr. Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.