Continuing my testimony of transformation, hope and healing from earlier posts.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Faith and unbelief may seem strange bedfellows but
faith is an exercise in trust.
and my upbringing
lead me to be anything but trustful of what cannot be proved.
Naturally analytical and cynical,
I have been mistrustful of a lot of things.
Above all I have been mistrustful of myself.
I am telling you this so you will better understand
some of the conflicts arising for me
as the next part of my story unfolded.
Like a lot of folks my only experience of hospital consisted of
short stays on surgical wards.
Once for a tonsillectomy, and once for a sinus operation.
The ward I now lay in was a medical ward.
As such it could not have been more different from my former experience.
This was a ward where there was no quick fix surgical solutions.
Old ladies in their various stages of dementia took up the lion's share of beds.
For the most part they had no where else to go
until social services could secure a place of safety for them.
There was a constant dribble of diabetics, epileptics, arthritics,
and others with chronic medical or neurological conditions.
These would be on the ward just long enough for their immediate crisis to be handled
before they were sent home on a new regime of medication.
The shortest stays were the attempted suicides.
My own treatment consisted of enforced full bed rest.
This meant lying flat at all times.
Sitting up was strictly forbidden
which made meal times and bed pan rounds especially interesting.
(Do not linger on this thought gentle reader!)
In the beginning I sweat and steamed
in a thick, prickly, cocoon of woollen blankets next to my skin.
I was put on a bland diet.
Lacking all seasoning, nothing could be added
to enhance the delights of hospital food.
What food I was served was usually boiled or steamed.
Simply think of a colourless, tasteless, and flabby something on a plate
and you have it about right.
This however was the least of my worries.
Lying flat as I was ,
and with few of my fellow patients being well enough to visit my bedside
I rarely saw their faces, or got to know them in the conventional sense.
However, I was familiar with their names and most intimate histories,
by dint of the spectacular lack of privacy provided
by being on a public ward.
As my fever began to subside,
from all around me
I heard a constant and inescapable litany of stories of pain and hopelessness
that seemed to seep into the very fabric of the ward,
and eventually into the fabric of my own being.
My medical regime consisted of large doses of soluble aspirin,
intra muscular injections of antibiotics a couple of times a week,
Having a low tolerance to aspirin meant I had a constant ringing in my ears.
After a couple of weeks this would render me almost deaf.
At that point I would develop a chronic headache and become violently sick.
The aspirin would be suspended for a few days to allow me to recover,
and the whole thing would start all over again.
To complete the picture,
the steroids bloated me to the typical moon face of the text books,
and the injections left me bruised and sore.
Dreary as this sounds
the worst thing was that despite it all,
the months passed with my pain continuing unabated,
and the blood tests showing no sign of improvement.
Nobody could tell me how long I would remain in bed or when an improvement would occur.
On the surface I tried to keep up a pretence of being full of optimism.
whilst in myself
and all around me,
there seemed nothing but bleakness.
In truth of course there was light in this bleakness.
I could not see it because I had been robbed of all sense of perspective
by my exclusion from the full spectrum of life.
Almost everything that could bring light relief
remained outside the life of the ward
whilst I remained shut within it.
In the beginning my friends came to visit,
but they were lively teen aged girls whose lives were
expanding into new experiences.
They were buzzing with news of the latest dance, new boyfriends, and new clothes.
It quickly became apparent
that some of my strange bed fellows spooked them.
They felt uneasy in the ward,
and awkward trying to make conversation with me,
as what they had to say
emphasised the difference between where they were
and where I was.
Inevitably their visits fell away.
Our mutual terms of reference had simply ceased to exist.
As would be expected my closest friend persevered longest.
She had always had an ambition to be a nurse,
fired in no small measure by memories of her grandmother,
who had been a district nurse.
A problem to this ambition presented itself in as much as
every time she sat at my bedside she would subside into tears
which nothing could staunch
'til she became so upset she would have to leave.
She just couldn't take the hospital atmosphere or being around sick people!
I have to admit that did make me smile,
even if a little ruefully.
My parents continued to faithfully visit,
and even though I didn't in any way take them for granted
I know at the time I didn't full appreciate
how distressed they were at my illness.
They were not of the touchy feely generation.
Their characters were formed in a harder, more pragmatic school,
which meant my mother's caresses came
in the soft, newly laundered nightdresses she brought on every visit,
were tucked inside the neatly folded towels which smelt of home,
or in the paper thin triangles of sandwich
she concocted to tempt my appetite.
Dad's care came via an often wordless presence,
bracketed, like Mam's,
with a brief awkward kiss at either end of the visit.
Did they ever know the comfort and strength
the steady flame of their love gave me I wonder?
I don't know at what point
in the succession of days and nights
I became aware that isolated as I felt,
I was not alone in my darkness.
I could not then, nor now,
explain the sense
of a companion of great understanding and tenderness,
sharing my every moment.
I found within myself a meeting place with this companion;
a place of respite from the anguish of the ward, and my own fears.
Being me, I could not simply accept this gift
but reasoned that,
knowing the trouble I was in,
I was summoning a rescuer from within my own psyche.
Never the less I recognised my need
and embraced the place of safety
I believed I was offering myself.
Since I had been a child I had always prayed.
Now I was prepared to talk to this nameless companion about my concerns for myself,
and my fellow patients.
I was not prepared that my companion should talk back.
I found myself being given
assurance in the middle of my anguished surroundings.
Most strangely I occasionally found myself with prior knowledge of
what was to come.
Can you understand how I could both rely on the comfort this inner voice gave,
and at the same time
fear it's source was proof that I was,
not to put too fine a point on it,
simply going nuts!
Long months into my stay in hospital I was moved to it's annexe.
Away from the main hospital,
it housed the children's hospital,
and two wards where female adult patients not yet quite fully well,
could spend few days or week or so,
before going home.
My move was no sign I was on my way home,
merely that I had been filling a much needed bed in the main hospital.
All the same, for me at was like moving from night to day.
My bed lay alongside a large bay window in a light and airy room on the ground floor.
For the first time since entering hospital I was allowed to sit up.
After all those months of seeing mainly the ceiling above my bed and the screens around it,
I could look out on the sweeping driveway, on lawns, and trees.
I could see the sky,
and the progress of the sun.
To top it all off I found my restricted diet was lifted too.
I thought my luck was really in when the first meal served me in my new abode was
a much longed for fish and chips!
It was the last thing I expected when I found
my long term light diet must have shrunk my stomach.
To my disappointment
I could only manage to eat a couple of forks full of that delicious meal.
My new companions were mostly surgical patients who,
in those days were still kept in hospital
for the final dressing and healing of post operative wounds.
In good general health,
they were lively company
who stood in stark contrast to my former sad ward mates.
Even though I was still following the same medical regime,
even though the level of pain was un-changed,
though I still had no idea how long I was to be bed bound,
by comparison to what had gone before
I felt this was almost a return to normal life.
Regardless of this bright new atmosphere
and release from stress,
thankfully my inner companion did not leave me.
To be continued