Why I Always Move Forward
“It’s a boy!” she shouted with joy. She looked carefully at the baby covered with blood and placenta in her wrinkled, steady hands. Then she held the baby up in the Operating Room like the baby was Simba, who had just been the heir of Mufasa’s throne. The newbie mother burst out with happiness and relief, she was speechless. She could only murmur: “He is beautiful. Thank you.” This was probably the millionth time Semra Takmaz heard the same words. Probably the eight hundredth time she scrubbed in to a surgery, probably the thousandth time she had to stay in the hospital when she was supposed to be home, probably the thousandth time again she didn’t regret the choice of staying.
Semra Takmaz, my grandma, started from scratch to build her career. She is the main source of inspiration, and the sole reason, that keeps me running towards my goals. I’m so lucky for the life I have, lucky that I have access to millions of resources, lucky that I have an environment that helps me evolve and improve. I was lucky, she wasn’t. Though it never stopped her.
Being a doctor was the only thing that mattered to her and she sacrificed everything for it, including us. But the way she did it, I still respect her decision to put thousands of women who have nothing to do with me, ahead of me. Even today, her heart wrenching story inspires me, and the people around me to stay strong and work hard.
Every time that I consider giving up, every time I prefer to comply with laziness, the memory of my grandmother keeps me going. That’s why I would like to share the story of her and the struggles she dealt with.
Semra Takmaz was born in 1950 in a poor tiny village located in Malatya, Turkey. Their village consisted of a diminutive school, unsafe houses and excessive amounts of mosques that batten upon the illiterate population of farmers and house wives. She was the smallest kid of a five-people family; her dad was abusive towards the women of the family and gambled with every penny her mother gained from washing the neighbours’ clothes.
Semra graduated from middle school as the valedictorian. After the certification ceremony held in the tiny garden of the ruin they called school, she returned home only to find her mom, kneeling on the floor, bleeding and shouting. Her dad was gone with all the money they have, taking Metin, the oldest yet the least helpful brother.
Every girl in Malatya got married at the age of fifteen in those times. It was a troubled city with an ignorant society. When Semra turned fifteen, the milkman’s thirty one year old son wanted to marry her. “Every girl in her right mind would accept this offer with honor and happiness” he said, so did Semra’s mother. However, Semra cut their joy with her emotionless face, telling them that she will not get married before she finishes college. The milkman’s family left in a fit of pique, and in an hour, the whole village started to talk about Semra’s “shameful behaviour”.
High School Years
Soon after this marriage incident, Semra’s mother told her to drop out of high school and work somewhere to bring some money to the house. She started to work in a café close to her school in the afternoons, meanwhile continued high school without telling anyone. Every night, she waited everyone to fall asleep and studied under her blanket for the University Entrance Exams. Her hard work got her into Cerrahpaşa University, the best medical school in Turkey. She left the house with a backpack and twenty Turkish liras, telling her mother that she is going to the market to buy some soap.Instead, she went to the bus station to buy an one way ticket to Istanbul, where her dream school was waiting for her.
The Journey Begins
After finishing the Cerrahpaşa University as the valedictorian, Semra got married to another med student, Neck, only five years older than her. Together, they traveled to horrible places for their conscription. My mother was born in Tunceli and my aunt was born in Bitlis, both cities located in the east of Turkey with no technology or proper medical care. Semra’s first case was a kid burnt up from the chest to knee. He was crying so hard that they had to put him to sleep multiple times. My grandma could never leave him because he would shout until she came back. After three months of treatment, he left the hospital with permanent scars. Even after months, he would drop by the hospital just to thank her. Experiences like these made Semra who she was, a determined doctor with nothing in mind but the idea of saving people.
Semra was deeply influenced by the portrait of women in Malatya. She believed that women deserved better health care and freedom of choice when it comes to their body, so she specialized in gynecology and obstetrics. Semra started working in Zeynep Kamil Hospital, a state hospital that only serves women and children. She rose up to chief of OB after a couple of years. Meanwhile, her spouse Necmi started to abuse her psychologically for being so devoted to work. This abuse soon transformed into physical harm and cheating. A neighbour couldn’t take it anymore and called the cops during an intense argument. The eventful divorce led Semra to spend more time in the hospital, forgetting all about her children who were now seniors in high school but progressing more at work. In three years, she became the chief of surgery in Zeynep Kamil Hospital.
When my mother finished college and got engaged with my father, Semra dialed her insolent mother back in Malatya to tell her this prodigious news and invite them to the wedding. Nobody answered the phone. Semra was a dishonour to her family for attending university. She was the reason why people talked behind her family’s back. Education and change were not welcomed in the villages of Malatya, and neither was Semra.
When I was one and a half years old, my family and I moved back to Istanbul with no home, no jobs or no savings. My grandma gave her house to us because she only came two nights per week. I didn’t know who she was until I was six. Before then, I thought that she was a lady who saw me occasionally and left quickly when her phone started to beep.
A Doctor and a Grandma
I visited my grandmother once in the hospital. After she completed the surgery, she gave the patient a warm smile and told me to follow her without taking a glance back. With every new door she opened in the maze-like corridors of the hospital, someone stopped to greet her. They looked at her like she had divine powers of healing people. Fathers cried with joy while they squeezed her hand, mothers told her that they will never forget her name, staff greeted her with respect and love in their eyes. They were her family. I felt like I was just a formality, I was her family because of the blood we share. They were her family, because she felt that she belonged with them.
When the Doctor Becomes a Patient
The first time I saw Semra in the hospital as a patient, I was shocked. There were Open University textbooks piled next to her cabinet. Each of them worn out because they were used so much. The one on the top –Hospital Administration- was open, there were small notes scribbled around the texts. She was about to graduate from the Open University with a Hospital Management degree. However, she had more important problems to solve before her finals: pancreatic cancer.
My grandma was sleeping so I sat on uncomfortable sofa next to her bed. Her charts were attached to the metal part of the bed. The only comprehensible statement in the paper was “Takmaz, Semra”. The rest were inconceivable numbers about thousands of different enzymes. How ironic it was that she wrote thousands of papers just like this.
I saw my grandma five more times before she passed her medical billing and coding finals. When I saw the hope in her blue-green eyes, I thought she would survive her stage four pancreatic cancer. However, she died two weeks after holding her Open University certificate like a newborn baby. We were left with nothing but medical textbooks and diplomas, a will that states her savings should be donated to Zeynep Kamil, and a couple of stethoscopes.
Overtime I think of Semra, I believe in the power of education and determination. Her old friends suffered from abusive husbands twice their ages, multiple miscarriages and more children than they could afford. She didn’t really see me, but she taught me that I should follow my dreams and pursue my education no matter what. Each and every success of mine, I owe them to her.