Urology Pearls

A small bite of heaven, life is chocolate

Shahar Madjar, MD

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series relating to suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

July was so hot that the sand along the Mediterranean Sea was threatening to melt. Amir and I found refuge at the Tel-Aviv swimming pool where the water was cool and the tiny waves shimmered in the sun. We were both medical students at the time. Two weeks prior, I had seen him at a party. He was accompanied by a blind-date, Sharon, who found interest in my antique 1922 Schaffhausen watch, which I always wore for such occasions as a conversation piece.

At the pool, I asked Amir, “What ever happened with Sharon?”

“She doesn’t return my calls, and when she does, she is too busy to meet me.”

“She liked my watch,” I said.

“Perhaps she likes your watch more than she likes my watch,” he said, jokingly, “I think you should have her phone number,” and he reached for his backpack, where he found Sharon’s phone number on a piece of paper.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. You just belong to each other, I am telling you. Give her a call,” he said.

That was how generous Amir was. Before he killed himself, I mean.

I remember Amir, Yael, and myself studying together for the final exams. We usually met at Amir’s place. He still lived with his parents. Amir’s mom worked at the Defense Ministry and she would supply us with tons of scrap papers she brought home from work. We were taking notes on the blank side of these papers. Amir’s handwriting was clear and concise. He made small bullet points next to each sentence he wrote down. The three of us were very good students but Amir really excelled. He was one of the top four students in our medical class of about 80. He wasn’t just gifted with a phenomenal memory, but with the grit to study hard, extremely hard. Whenever faced with a difficult preparation-test question, he would pull the relevant piece of paper from a tall stack of scrap papers on his desk (by the end of medical school, the stack was so tall, it almost reached the ceiling), and read us the answer which he had written weeks earlier, next to a carefully marked bullet point.

Several years later, Amir came to visit me. By then, I knew that Amir wasn’t well. I remembered that after we graduated from medical school, Amir was hospitalized for several days for a comprehensive evaluation. His symptoms were severe but vague or ‘non-specific’ as doctors say. His mood shifted into the melancholic. “They ran all the tests in the book,” he told me, “and they found nothing. It must all be in my head.” During his visit, I saw a person different from the Amir I knew. He was hesitant and sad. He talked slowly and in a quiet, monotonous voice. He gained weight and had a very noticeable tremor in his hands. “Tardive dyskinesia,” he explained. We both knew that these were the side effects of antipsychotic medications. He told me he had dropped out of his residency program, and that once his fiancee realized the severity of his condition, she left him.

During that time, in the early 90s, there was an advertising campaign by a chocolate manufacturer, Elite. Big, colorful signs on buildings and along the sides of buses in Tel Aviv declared, “A Small Bite of Heaven and Life is Chocolate.” And Amir said, tears in his eyes, “These signs are a constant reminder to my miserable existence, I wish I could just take a bite of chocolate, of anything, and return to the life I had once lived.”

I don’t know how Amir killed himself. I was abroad and away, and we lost contact. There is guilt in my heart for not being with Amir in his most difficult times. ‘Isn’t this what friends are for?’ I ask myself. It is comforting to know that during his last months, Amir was surrounded by his family. His dedicated mother, I know, had spared no means to make his situation better. The forces of depression, despair, and a total loss of hope must have lead to his suicide–an escape from a harsh, sad, hopeless existence.

As I was writing today, I thought, ‘If life is a gift; the drive to live, often taken for granted, isn’t a lesser gift.’

I think about Amir often. I often talk with my wife, Sharon, about him. Without his kindness, his friendship, I would have never met her.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Aspirus and the author of “Is Life Too Long? Essays about Life, Death and Other Trivial Matters.” Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com.