Andrew Burd: Karma

Andrew BurdKarma is a word that has distinct cultural meanings and can relate to spiritual or more secular events. Whatever the context, the general meaning concerns actions and consequences. After the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China in 2008 it was an acknowledged faux pas for Sharon Stone to relate the death and destruction to “bad karma” over the Mainland’s treatment of Tibet.

Last week whilst running on the treadmill in the gym I entered a zen-like state and was only barely aware of some rather graphic images of streets deep in water. Returning to a more connected plane of consciousness I turned to my exercise partner and enquired, “Nan modal?” The response was, “No, Irene.”

For those who are not keeping up with the world’s weather, “Nan modal” is a typhoon which has recently killed seven in the Philippines and has caused devastation in Taiwan. “Irene” is a hurricane (same thing) which has struck the eastern seaboard of the USA. I have to say that hearing the word Irene I had an immediate “word association” with karma. But perhaps this had been preceded by a similar thought when I heard about the recent earthquake that struck Washington. As we know, in medicine, disasters usually come in threes so the US congress should prepare for a “plague of locusts,” literally or metaphorically. I felt a dubious affirmation to read that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann had suggested that God had sent Hurricane Irene and the East Coast earthquake to shock Washington into acting with more fiscal responsibility.

Whatever the country, whatever the people, victims of natural disasters deserve sympathy and need help. Comments regarding karma and/or God should be left unspoken. What is most important is for people to work together, to help and support. The most apt comment was given by a rather large, elderly gentleman as he settled into a small inflatable dinghy after he was rescued from his flooded New Jersey home. “Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t rock the boat, baby!” Ms Stone, Ms Bachmann, please take note.

Andrew Burd is professor of plastic, reconstructive, and aesthetic surgery at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His major clinical interests involve paediatric burns care and the role of plastic surgery in the palliation of advanced malignancy. Academic interests include pragmatic ethics related to the practice of medicine including research and publication.