‘I believe the God who’s holding me up is bigger than my circumstances. And I’m going to enjoy the process of seeing how He works in what should be, otherwise, miserable, hard circumstances – may we find the joy that God has for us…..’
My Mother has spent the past month in and out of hospital.
On the first occasion, she collapsed unable to breathe. The cardiologist said that Mum was having a cardiac failure. Her lungs were surrounded by water.
On one of my visits, I bumped into Erin who had come to see how Mum was doing. I hadn’t seen Erin for quite a while. In December she’d had a stroke and had to have major brain surgery. She looked really good; her hair in a grey crew cut seemed to shimmer with life. While Mum spoke to her other visitors, the two of us seemed to be inexplicably drawn together at the side of Mum’s bed.
I had brain damage due to my fall. She had brain damage due to her stroke. I asked her how she was and those clear blue eyes met mine directly.
“Physically I get stronger daily. It’s this brain of mine, that I find so…so frustrating!”
I laughed gently. “Ahhhh, welcome to the conundrum of this wonderfully, complex little organ of ours – the brain!”
“Do you know, Gaynor, that I can type at my computer but I am now unable to read what I have written.”
“Ahhh,” I said as memory instantly sprang to life. “Erin, I was unable to read for about fifteen months after my accident. My Occupational Therapist cut out a little square of paper that I would place over each word and read them individually. I would battle when I came to the end of a line. Where to go to next…?
“Yes, you…you understand!” Erin breathed.
That was the thing. I did understand. So often, post accident, people would offer me platitudes of: “I know just how you feel. Don’t worry, things will get better.”
But, they didn’t know how I felt. How could they? Their brains were working fine. The frustration with oneself, the despair, the knowledge that you didn’t work as you used to. That you were different. That a new person now had to make sense of the incredibly complex world surrounding you. I spoke of all of this to Erin. I knew and was familiar with the dark, fathomless world she now found herself in. I was able to empathise with her on the same level, and give her encouragement.
Mums second trip to the hospital was for a bone graft on her broken leg. That went well but on the second day her breathing went haywire. Once again the pleura around her lungs had filled with fluid. She was moved to ICU and put onto a steady stream of oxygen.
One feels so utterly helpless. I wanted to breathe for Mum. I wanted to draw huge lungfuls of air into that thin, battling chest. But it was not to be. She had to fight the fluid alone.
In ICU, each bed is separated by curtains. Because of the close proximity, she heard the conversations at the next door bed and realised that something really bad had happened to the patient. “I think the young man next door to me has lost his leg in a shark attack!”
What a total nightmare! The next morning at the suggestion of my sister, Megs, who had read about the story online in New Zealand, I went across to his curtain and peered round.
“I’m sorry to barge in like this but I thought that perhaps my book might offer some encouragement to you all. I used to be an actress but had a fall onstage which left me with severe brain damage.” I said passing over My Plunge to Fame to his mother. I had written on the front page:
This is to give you hope!
I kiss your eyes
Incredibly, I learnt that Caleb was a first year drama student at UCT. We had a lot in common! I had even been his drama lecturer, Luke Ellenbogen‘s babysitter! A couple of days later, he was moved out of ICU to a ward. I paid him a couple of visits and met his family. I really liked them.
On my last visit, I said to him: “At the moment, you are the focus of attention. Everyone’s eyes are on you. You and your family are holding up wonderfully. But time moves on, Caleb. Eventually you will no longer be front page news. You will probably go through really tough times. I did. There will be times when it is an effort to smile at things that normally cause a laugh to bubble out of you. Then, you will have to call upon your own inner strength to move forward. But just know you will find that strength with the support of your family, friends and your great faith. Just remember, once you reach rock bottom, there is only one way to go – up!
These recent hospital encounters have reminded me of how in the bleakest times of our lives, we are given opportunities to encourage and motivate others and be a conduit of hope. Often we become so embroiled in our own concerns and “angst” that we fail to see the bigger picture. No matter what happens to us, there is always a way. We might be forced to change direction, to go on a route we hadn’t anticipated.
This is frightening but also strangely enough – liberating!