Dr Barnard: In Celebration of Being Alive: Summary & Question Answer

Dr Barnard: In Celebration of Being Alive


In Celebration of Being Alive is an essay written by Dr Christian Barnard, a South Africa surgeon. He designed artificial heart valves and wrote extensively on the subject. In this essay, Dr Barnard ruminates on why people suffer. 

In this essay In Celebration of Being Alive explains about one incidence. One day after a meal Dr Barnard and his wife were crossing the road. A car hit him and knocked him into his wife. She was thrown on the other line and was hit by a car from the opposite direction. Barnard suffered from eleven broken ribs and a perforated lung. His wife had a fractured shoulder. 

As he recuperates in the hospital, Barnard reflects on what his father would have said. “Suffering is God’s way of testing, refining, purifying, and ennobling us. “Barnard did not see anything noble about a patient in pain and anguish, or a child wailing in the ward. 

One day his father showed him a half-eaten biscuit. It was the last one his brother had before he died with a congenital heart problem. He found the suffering of children pathetic. Children implicitly trust doctors and nurses believing that they can help them. Even if they can’t help them, they accept their fate. 

Several years earlier, one day Dr Barnard had witnessed what he called a “Grand Prix”. Two boys, a driver, and a mechanic drive the hospital’s breakfast trolley. The blind mechanic provided the motor power, and the driver steered with one arm. The other patients joined in the fun and frolic, till the plates were scattered. The mechanic was a seven-year-old boy. His mother flung a lantern at his father.

The lantern missed its mark and broke on the boy’s head, resulting in third-degree burns, and loss of eyesight. At that time of Grand Prix, he was a sight to look at. He had been earlier operated upon by Dr Barnard for a hole in his heart. He was in the hospital now, for a malignant tumour of the bone. His shoulder and arm had been amputated. There was little hope of his recovery. 

Dr Barnard learnt an important lesson about life from these boys. “The business of living is the celebration of being alive”. Dr Barnard realized that it is not what you have lost that is important, but what you have been left with. Light can’t be appreciated without knowing darkness, nor can warmth, without knowing cold. 

About The Author

Christiaan Neethling Barnard (8 November 1922 – 2 September 2001) was a South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant. Barnard grew up in Beaufort West, Cape Province, Union of South Africa. His father, Adam Barnard, was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. One of his four brothers, Abraham, died of a heart problem at the age of five. Barnard matriculated from the Beaufort West High School in 1940 and went to study medicine at the University of Cape Town Medical School, where he obtained his MB ChB in 1945.

Question & Answers

  1. Dr Barnard states that suffering seems so common. What figures does he quote to support his statement?
    Do they relate to adults or children? Why do you think Dr Barnard chose the figures about children?
    ⇒ In order to support his statement that suffering seems so common, Dr Barnard quotes about the 125 million children born that year out of whom 12 million are unlikely to reach the age of one, and another six million will die before the age of five. Of the rest he quotes, many will end up as mental or physical cripples.
    Since children are the future adults, he chooses the figures about children because they add to the population. 
  2. What was the accident that Dr.Barnard had? What happened to him and his wife?
    A. One day Dr. Barnard and his wife were crossing a street after a happy meal. A car knocked him into his wife. She was thrown out into the other line where another car from the apposite direction struck her. He had eleven broken ribs and perforated lung and his wife had a badly fractured shoulder. 
  3. Why do you think Dr Barnard talks about the accident? To discuss the magnitude of the fear of death people? Or to prove the uncertainty of living in our world? Or to bring out the suffering experienced by people?
    ⇒Dr Barnard talks about the accident to bring out the unforeseen suffering experienced by them and to prove the uncertainty of living in the modern world. 
  4. How did Dr Barnard react to the accident that he and his wife had?
    ⇒Dr Barnard reacted sharply to the accident saying “why should this happen to us?” It resulted in their hospitalization. He was filled with agony, fear and anger because he had to operate on his patients, and his wife had to look after their young baby. Barnard was thinking of something else other than his own comfort. This tells us that Barnard was considerate to others. 
  5. “My father, had he still been alive, would have said…..
    What were the views of Dr Barnard’s father suffering? In what way did Dr Barnard’s views differ from his father?

    ⇒ Dr. Barnard’s father viewed suffering as the will of God and a test of man’s patience. He thought that suffering would make a person a better one. Dr. Barnard did not agree with this view. He could not see anything noble in the suffering of people in their beds. 
  6. How was Dr. Barnard introduced to the suffering of the children for the first time?
    ⇒When Dr. Barnard was a little boy, his father showed him a half-eaten biscuit covered with woolly growth of fungus. The biscuits had two tiny tooth marks on them. His elder brother was born with an abnormal heart. There were no heart specialists then. The boy suffered a lot and died. The biscuit was the last biscuit he had eaten. This was the first introduction of Dr Barnard to the suffering of children. This made him sensitive. 
  7. Who were ‘ the driver’ and ‘the mechanic’ In the Grand Prix held at the Cape Town Red Cross Children’s Hospital? In what way was the choice of their roles suitable?
    ⇒ The driver was a one-armed boy. The mechanic was a boy who had lost his eyes. The driver sat on the lower deck of the trolley and steered it by scraping his feet on the floor. The mechanic provided motor power by galloping along behind the trolley. Though he could not see he was able to push the trolley. Thus the choice of their roles was suitable.
  8. How had the ‘mechanic’ of the Grand Prix lost his eyes? Do you think the phrase ‘a walking horror’ suits him? ‘and he was laughing’.What does this tell us about the seven-year-old?
    ⇒ One night the mechanic’s parents were fully drunk. It resulted in his mother’s throwing a lantern at his father. But the show missed and the lantern broke over the child’s head and shoulders. He suffered severe third-degree burns on the upper part of his body and lost his eyes. The phrase ‘a walking horror’ best suits him because he had a disfigured face, and a long flap of skin was hanging from the side of his neck to his body. In spite of his physical deformity, the seven-year-old was able to derive pleasure from the body he was left with. 
  9. What lesson did the children teach Dr. Barnard?
    ⇒ Dr. Barnard had a distorted view of suffering. But the two children taught a profound lesson to Dr. Barnard. In spite of being disabled, they provided a lot of entertainment to the patients of the hospital. He learnt that suffering is necessary, and being alive is important. He also learnt that the business of living in the celebration of being alive. 
  10. “Suddenly I realized that the two children had given me a profound lesson in getting on with the business of living”. What lesson do you think Dr. Barnard learnt from the two children?
    ⇒ Dr. Barnard has come to understand that the experience of suffering makes a person a better one. One can’t appreciate the light if he has not known darkness. Similarly, warmth can be appreciated if one has experienced biting cold. The two children have shown Dr. Barnard that what you have left is more important than what you have lost.

II.Choose the correct meaning of the word given.

  1. Intrepid : fearless/ clever / cheerful / skilful
  2. Sophisticated : soft / new / advanced / improved
  3. Perforate: pierce / make a hole through / Make it necessary /be unfaithful
  4. Mutilate: make painful / operate / Cut off a part of the body / disfigure
  5. Stem(v) : a part of the plant coming up from the roots / stop / check / has as its origin
  6. Malignant : harmful to life / of a helpful nature / Causing anger / bad alignment
  7. Ennoble : not noble / make one noble / to make better / of low birth
  8. Mutilate : to make one route / disfigure / Cut off a part / remove
  9. Solace : having to do with the sun / Comfort or relief in pain or anxiety / that which causes pain / that which causes anxiety
  10. Steer(v) : bullock / to direct the course / avoid / a wheel
  11. Finale : fine ale / the last item / the money paid as fine / the end of anything
  12. Profound : instead of found / showing great knowledge / Very plentiful / profitable

III.Select the best option that conveys the meaning of the underlined word and write it.

  1. The spot of accident was commandeered by the police. [ ]
    a) checked b) inspected
    c) seized d) verified
  2. The magistrate ordered firing as the situation was quite abnormal. [ ]
    a) violent b) uncontrollable
    c) depressing d) different from the normal
  3. He has no inclination to study medicine [ ]
    a) desire b) need
    c) intention d) idea
  4. Now a days it is easy to correct the heart problem. [ ]
    a) study b) rectify
    c) know well d) spread

IV.Fill in the blanks in the following passage with the appropriate word given in the brackets.

  1. The younger actor is the ____________ of many a college girl.
    (heartthrob, heartfelt, heartstrings)
  2. It is ____________ to see a small child suffering on a hospital bed.
    (heartily, heartening, heartburn)
  3. They put on ____________ show that day
    (quite, quiet, grand)
  4. The wound ____________ in a short time.
    (cured, healed, dried)
  5. As a doctor, Dr. Barnard has always found the suffering of children particularly ____________
    (heartbreaking, heartfelt, heartwarming)
  6. All the boys laughed ____________ at merry jokes.
    (Heartrendingly, heartily, heart- rendingly)
  1. Find the wrongly spelt word in each set and write it correctly:
  1. relieve receive conceive believe
  2. prevalent transparent parmanent prevent
  3. surgery forgery perjury injery
  4. moldy boldly scold told
  5. tumor stupor armour rumour
  6. appearancc experience tolerance performance
  1. In each of the following groups of words, find the word in which the underlined part is pronounced in the same way as in the key word.
  1. Leisure : ease measure tree pavement
  2. Important : import portable thought
  3. Shoulder : pound holder bound
  4. Amputate : pulse punish compute

VII. In each set find the word that rhymes with the key word. 1. Poor : four door tour 

  1. Steer : pear peer stair 
  2. Tumour : honour horror rumour
  3. Sign : main brain reign dine

VIII.Sentence endings in the following passages are not indicated. Decide where each sentence ends and write the last word followed by a proper mark. (!) or (?) or (.)

  1. Let me tell you about these two the mechanics was all of seven years old one night his mother threw a lantern at his father the lantern missed and broke over the child’s head and the shoulders he suffered third degree burns and lost both his eyes 
  2. Everyone was shocked what a strange sight how could this happen they couldn’t believe what they saw 
  3. After the grand prix he proudly informed me that the race was a success 
  4. Do you know what made her say I’m going home now 

IX.Read the sentence given below. Rewrite the sentence carrying in given instructions.

  1. a) She suffered form serious injuries. She recovered well.
    b) Though _________________________
  2. a) She was struck by a car coming form the opposite direction.
    b) A car coming _________________________
  3. a) I see nothing noble in a patient’s suffering.
    b) Nothing noble _________________________
  4. a) This trolley was commandeered by an intrepid crew of two.
    b) An intrepid crew of two _________________
  5. a) We can’t appreciate light if we haven’t known darkness
    b) We can appreciate light _________________
  6. a) It was much better entertainment than anything else.
    b) Nothing else ______________________
  7. a) I experienced not only agony but also anger.
    b) As well as _________________________
  8. a) suffering makes you a better person
    b) you are made _________________________
  1. Identify the part of speech of each underlined word below. Write the word and the parts of speech. 
  2. An intrepid crew of two soon commandeered the trolley
  3. Let me tell you about these two.
  4. We are members of one human family and must stand or fall together. 

KEY : 

  1. fearless
  2. advanced
  3. make a hole through
  4. cut off a part of the today
  5. has as its origin
  6. harmful to noble
  7. make one noble
  8. cut off a part
  9. comfort or relief in pain or anxiety
  10. to direct the course
  11. the last item
  12. showing great knowledge



  1. Seized
  2. Uncontrollable
  3. Intension
  4. Rectify
  5. Heartthrob 
  6. Heartening 
  7. Quite
  8. Healed
  9. Heartbreaking
  10. Heartily


  1. None (all are right) 
  2. None (all are right)
  3. Injury
  4. Mouldy
  5. Tumour


VI1. Tree

  1. Portable
  2. Holder
  3. Compute


VII1. Tour

  1. Peer
  2. Rumour
  3. Dine



  1. two. old. father. shoulders. eyes.
  2. sight! Happen? Saw.
  3. Prix, success. 
  4. Now.


IX1. Though suffered form serious injuries, she recovered well.

  1. A car coming from the opposite direction struck her
  2. Nothing noble in a patients’ suffering can be seen.
  3. An intrepid crew of two commandeered this trolley
  4. We can appreciate light if we have known darkness
  5. Nothing else was much better than entertainment 
  6. As well as agony I experienced anger
  7. you are made better person with suffering



  1. of – Preposition
  2. these – pronoun
  3. and – conjunction

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