3 Lessons my Operations taught me: Gratitude

January 23, 2015

As I mentioned in my last post, I have had a series of medical surgeries over the last two decades. I won’t go into the details as that could be a whole blog post of its own; in fact, it actually has a book of its own. Instead, in this article, I am going to discuss what my experiences have taught me because I believe it has made me into the person I am to a large extent. To say I only learnt three lessons would greatly diminish the impact that these surgeries have had on my life but I have decided to summarise my learnings into three separate posts, so as not to bore my seemingly small, albeit growing, audience. Lesson 1: Be grateful for the little things – Cliché, I know but bear with me.

When you get hospitalised for a prolonged period of time you start to notice all the small things that you always took for granted. In my most recent visit to the hospital, the three things I missed most were food, running and privacy (in that order). Food – for six weeks, I was not allowed to eat. When I tell people this, they think I am exaggerating and I wish I was. I was being fed by an IV drip with nutrients and minerals and wasn’t allowed more than a sip of water every couple of hours. This leads to some drastic consequences. After three weeks I began begging for any morsel of food, literally. Embarrassingly I will admit, I even bartered with the nurses to try to get a singular grain of rice. For those that know me personally on this blog, will know that this led to a series of Asian-related jokes. By the fourth week, I was searching #food up on Instagram and more specifically #chocolate and just staring at pictures of food. By the final week, I had just started walking and had been prescribed to do laps of the hospital floor. Unfortunately on one of these days, my walk coincided with lunchtime. I was walking past many trays of half-eaten food and before anyone could notice, snuck a chip off someone’s plate. Turns out this no-eating rule wasn’t for the nurses amusement – needless to say, the chip didn’t stay down long.

Back to these walks. After abdominal surgery, you are bed bound, firstly to allow your stomach muscles to rebuild and to avoid straining your stitches but mainly because it is often too painful to cough, let alone attempt to walk. Gradually, they get you to use your muscles to sit up in bed and then eventually into a chair and then the day comes when you start to walk. On one hospitalisation, the period that I was bed-ridden was so long that I actually had to relearn how to walk – a very confusing task even though toddlers seem to do it fairly easily. This was great for the first day but considering the hospital corridor was in a circle, doing 40 laps a day ended up being mind-numbingly boring. My friends who visited me, literally took me on walks everyday – yes, like a dog. I have never been an active type, but this experience made me just want to run. With an IV drip, and many nurses keeping a close eye on me, this was not a possibility however.

Privacy – It comes a point during every hospitalisation where everyone on the floor has seen you naked, either because they walked in on you during your sponge bathe or because you forgot to do one of the strings of your robe up. At first, it becomes an issue with your dignity but then you just don’t care anymore and just embrace your nakedness in all it’s magnificence and become a bit of an exhibitionist. This wasn’t the only issue with privacy – with people coming in and out of your room and not being able to reach your door to lock people out, it became increasingly more difficult to get a moment of silence. In fact, one day I resorted to getting isolation under my duvet and stayed there for an entire day – childish I know, but it was bliss.

All these things that I missed when I was in hospital just meant one thing. I was so much more appreciative of the little things once I was free of the shackles of my hospital bed. I was grateful for everything from being able to go to the toilet alone to being able to run in the gym. Once you go back to your normal life, you live life to such a greater extent. Everything you do is with so much more intensity and passion. You want to see everyone and do everything. The small excuses I used to make for not doing things were gone. It’s a level of gratitude that is so strong that nothing could get me down. I remember the first day I returned back to university. It was valentine’s day and I had placed a ban amongst my friends. No bitterness or being sad because you are single. For whatever reason, they humoured me and my overly optimistic attitude, and we made some of the best memories I have from university. We went out on a quadruple date as friends and had a terrific night out despite the fact that upon walking into the club, I got greeted with a string of back-handed compliments which would have normally sent me into a rage, left me unaffected purely because there was so much to be thankful for, that I refused to let one idiot ruin my night when I had spent the day surrounded by love from my friends. Even seeing other people in love and giving each other roses on the street (yes, that actually happened) made me happy that day.

In conclusion, appreciate the little things in life. There are people in this world who have a lot less than you and are a lot more grateful. Take a moment to appreciate your loved ones and despite how cheesy this may all sound, you do not realise what you are missing until it gets taken away from you. I like to think that people don’t have to experience what I had to, to be grateful.