Andy and I spent the night in a French hospital a few weeks ago. I thought I was going to die. That seems ridiculous now. But at the time, whenever I thought that I was over reacting, I thought about all of the bad things that had happened to other people and realised that those bad things had a beginning. Last week I thought about the moments just before you hear the news and the moments just afterwards.
For a few weeks I’d had a weird pain just under my ribs. A breathless stitch when I went running, then a dull ache, finally a punch of pain when I moved or breathed too deeply. I went to see the doctor. He tapped my ribcage and said it was probably a pulled muscle. A few days later, I woke up with a sore foot. By the end of the day my right foot had turned black and my leg was numb. Andy and I started watching a movie (Molly’s Game- a HUGE mess of a film) and I tried to ignore the words ‘BLOOD CLOT’ hammering in my brain.
At 9pm I rang emergency services. The doctor on the line said that my symptoms were ‘atypical’, I should go to A&E. It took a 45 minute walk, a tram ride and half an hour lost in the huge paediatric ward to find the ‘Urgences’. It took hours to see a doctor. At 3am they took blood samples, tapped my ribcage, prodded my blackening foot, put me in front of an x-ray, measured my heart rate with stick on pads and a mess of cables. We would need to wait two hours for the results they said.
Although I am very happy, I am not a happy person.
Andy and I lay on the narrow plastic hospital bed, turned the lights out and tried to sleep curled up next to each other. I was certain these were the moments before bad news. And I lay there disgusted with my own ungratefulness- how little I appreciate my mostly sickness free life. Although I am very happy, I am not a happy person. I go through each day with a heavy heavy spirit, worrying about what can go wrong, convinced I will fail, angry about trivial frustrations, critical of others, panicked about not getting my way, defensive of judgements of me, certain that I am disliked and dislikeable. I have no ease, no give. I am rigid and fearful. And suddenly, all of it was coming to an end.
My whole being became ‘I am not ready to die’. I can’t die before I teach myself to be happy each day. I can’t die before I love the people I love MORE. I can’t die before I love the people I love the right way. I can’t die before I see more of the world and feel grateful for that.
At first, I wanted to write beautiful letters to the people I love. I thought that letters were the best way to share my feelings and thank them. If I have a pulmonary embolism and die suddenly I thought, I won’t have time to write letters. Will the people I love know how I love them? No. The answer hurtled back at me and smacked me across the face. My behaviour is not enough to show them how deeply thankful and happy I am to know them. I am not living well. I am making all the mistakes I read about, despite reading about them. My brain knows it…but I don’t know how to feel it or act on it.
It’s not enough to think these things, or to write these things, I need to behave them, to be them, every day, to stretch them to cover my body and my world of people.
I thought about how each time I lay down to sleep, another day is gone. I thought about what I want each of those days to contain so that I could lie down and think, that was a day I did not waste. I thought about how I had screwed up all of my professional endeavours and I thought about why. I thought about how the right career and a good salary had dominated my desires, my worries and my decisions. I thought about how my disgust over my body had ruined years of my life, relationships, holidays, normal days. And still does.
I thought about how confusing and messy adulthood is and how different it is from what you expect when you look at it from childhood. I thought about how I wanted to feel useful and help. I thought about how I wanted to be light-hearted and grateful and someone that people enjoyed being around.
It’s not enough to think these things, or to write these things, I need to behave them, to be them, every day, to stretch them to cover my body and my world of people. At the end of each day, I want to know that I had felt enjoyment and made those around me feel it too. I want to be so certain of my undertakings, my behaviour and my attitude that I feel soft and pliable.
My best days have been the ones where I have been busy working with others, where I have learnt something and where I have felt hopeful about who I am. So now I need to figure out what I can work on with others, how I can keep learning and how I can feel confident and relaxed and soft.
I have a lot of regrets about my work and, as I tried not to fall off the edge of the hospital bed, I tried to understand why I have hated so many jobs, why I have quit so often, why I keep looking and why I can’t find a place where I fit. One thing is clear: I have no confidence and I focus on that, instead of the world around me. I am in my own way, I can’t see the world around my big old head. At 5am, we sat up, turned the sallow yellow lights back on and flipped open Andy’s laptop. While we waited, we watched Big Hero 6. Within minutes, I was laughing. It’s a great film. And here on the screen was exactly what I want to be: the warm, soft glowing figure of Bayamax, keeping his sense of humour, thinking of others, determined to help and love those around him. And happy to go to sleep if that has been his day.
At 6.30am we got the results. No pulmonary embolism, no tumour, no blood clot. A trapped nerve that was inflamed and cutting off the circulation to my foot. We walked home and watched the end of Big Hero 6. Since then, every night before I go to sleep I think… Was I a little like Bayamax today? Did I think more about others than myself? Did I get out of my own way? Did I see the world and not just my own problems?
An important side note: when we spent the night in A&E the majority of people ahead of us were older people, often waiting on their own. If you can, please donate to Age UK or HelpAge in the US. Both charities provide advice and help combat loneliness.