When You Must Be Cruel To Be Kind

Note by Dr Suraj Manjunath : This is a guest post by Haripriya Suraj. Haripriya is a wellness practitioner, author, and early childhood educator. As my better half, she has been my source of support and inspiration through our years together. This post is based on a real-life incident. 

“I need to speak to Suraj, please.”

I was drinking tea when my phone beeped and I saw these words flashing on the screen.

“Sure. I will tell Suraj to call you when he is free. Is everything alright?” I texted back.

“Well, not really,” he wrote back, “I need to get some tests done and I’d like an opinion from Suraj. I am traveling past your home this evening. Can I meet Suraj for just ten minutes?”

It was a message from Nikhil, a cousin of mine.

“Sure. Please drop by,” I replied.

When Nikhil walked into our house that evening, the smell of tobacco came through strongly and I noticed he coughed every few minutes.

“Poor lungs,” I thought, “Wish they could breathe easy!”

But Nikhil seemed to take great pride in the fact that he was a smoker!

“Suraj, a close friend of mine has been diagnosed with stomach cancer,” said Nikhil, “Doctors say it’s pretty advanced already. I have been feeling anxious ever since I heard the news. I mean, my wonderful friend – how could this happen to him?”

“I’m sorry to know this Nikhil,” said Suraj, “Did he have any risk factors?”

“Well, he’s a heavy smoker – he is MY friend after all!” replied Nikhil and laughed, “We’ve smoked thousands of puffs together!”

Suraj nodded and said, “Hmm. Well, tobacco is responsible for 50% of cancers. Eliminate tobacco and you end up eliminating 50% of cancers in the world.”

“Oh, I see,” said Nikhil, not seeming too interested in medical facts, “I’ve been wondering if you could recommend a PET scan for me – I’ve heard it can pick up any cancer. I’d like to know if I am doing OK.”

“Many tests can be done Nikhil. But they aren’t indicated in your case. What I would strongly recommend for you is to quit smoking,” said Suraj.

“No, Suraj. How can I give up smoking? I’ve been at it for years. And I’m fine so far, aren’t I?” said Nikhil, grinning, “You just tell me which is the best center to do a PET scan so I can rule out cancer.”

‘It doesn’t work that way Nikhil,” insisted Suraj, “You can always do a hundred tests but they are not going to change anything unless you give up smoking. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to quit smoking.”

The expression on Nikhil’s face changed. I could see he wasn’t pleased with Suraj’s answer.

“Alright,” he said with a slight tone of sarcasm in his voice, “I guess I’ll just have to surrender to my fate then.”

I had been listening to this conversation, and at this point, I couldn’t stop myself from intervening.

“I’m sorry to interrupt and I know I’m not a medical expert, but it’s YOUR fate you’re talking about Nikhil. You have a good amount of power to write it yourself,” I said, “Why give your power away to tobacco?”

“Oh, that’s some interesting philosophy Haripriya,” he said and laughed.

“It isn’t philosophy,” I said, “Isn’t that what the doctor here is recommending too?”

“Well, I just wanted to know the best place to do a PET scan,” he went on, “That’s my only question for Suraj.”

I lost it!

“Scan, scan, scan!” I blurted out in anger, “Google for the best center in Bangalore, and ask them to do all the tests they have on offer. If you aren’t interested in taking any responsibility for your life Nikhil, please don’t ask for expert advice. My husband is not here to give you what you want. His job is to give people what they NEED. If you are not happy with this, please don’t waste his time hereafter.”

Nikhil looked startled.

Suraj intervened and said to me, “Hey, chill. Take it easy. It’s alright.”

“No, Suraj, “ said Nikhil, “She has a point. I’m sorry. I’ll get going now because I have a meeting to attend. We’ll talk about this another time.”

Soon after he left, Suraj said, “Poor Nikhil. You didn’t have to be so harsh.”

“Well, sometimes, one has to be cruel to be kind,” I said, “He may hate me for it right now but hopefully one day he will see something of value in this.”

“Yes, but he’s your cousin,” said Suraj.

“That’s exactly why I could take the liberty to be blunt,” I said, “I may not be able to talk this way to others in his position but I’m glad I could do so at least with him!”

Suraj smiled and said, “Well, he is an intelligent young man with a promising future. I hope he understands that scanning is not the solution and makes an effort to quit smoking instead.”

A month later, my phone beeped again with another text message from Nikhil.

“Haripriya, I’m sorry for having been a nut the other day,” he said, “I have decided to quit smoking. But it doesn’t feel easy at all. I need help. Do you think Suraj can help me with this?”

I was overjoyed to read his message!

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

Soon after, Suraj guided Nikhil to professionals and resources that helped him give up smoking.

It took him two months to achieve his goal but he did it!

In time, his darkened lips appeared pink again, the smoker’s cough vanished and he looked healthier than before!

And whenever I see him now, I whisper secretly to his lungs, “Happy Lungs, are you breathing easy now?”

I know they are!

I have absolutely no regrets for choosing to be cruel in order to be kind!

It was worth taking the risk considering it pushed Nikhil to do what he most needed to do!

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