It was totally unplanned of course. I guess that’s true for many people unless you are undergoing elective surgery. I had just returned from a week’s family reunion in Fiji, where we were all together with our offspring and their children for the first time in six years. As I unpacked, I was expecting to savour the photos and the memories.
Instead, an unwanted ‘souvenir’ in the form of a ‘traveller’s bug’ persisted, and because of complications, landed me in hospital for nearly a week. During the ensuing recovery time, which has been emphasised to me as being slow and gradual, I am attempting to process that unlooked-for experience.
This is what I am finding:
I am very grateful. There are so many things that I am grateful for – the medical care I received; the alert GP who was on to my condition and had me in hospital within a few hours; the support of family and friends; the prayers of many, and the sheer enjoyment of eating tasty food when I got my appetite back. And every day there are the wonders of spring to be savoured.
I have discovered I am vulnerable. As someone who has always been reasonably fit and healthy, has no allergies, and hasn’t had much illness during my life, I never expected that I would succumb to a mere tummy bug in the way that I did. The sepsis I developed can be life-threatening, and the hospital had to pump me full of antibiotics to deal with it. I was certainly glad of all the care but was surprised that that was what I needed. I’m in the process of revising my sense of who I am – that I’m not invincible!
Care delivered with kindness makes all the difference. Being in the hospital for as long as I was, I experienced care and treatment from a variety of medical staff. For a few it was about ticking the boxes; blood pressure taken (tick); temperature taken (tick); pulse checked (tick) and so on. For busy nursing staff there must be a temptation to get through what needs to be done as quickly as possible, but being efficient can be done with kindness and a smile. The staff who stand out are the ones who were thoughtful and sensitive in their approach, while at the same time making sure they did their job well.
What a difference your environment makes! I was moved three times during the week, and where I was put made a big difference to my well-being. My first room (I was in isolation because of the bug) was in a windowless room right at the end of the ward. The room had recently been upgraded, but it was totally sterile, with no art or anything to humanise it. I felt isolated physically and found the lack of natural light far more difficult than I expected. On a beautiful sunny day, I was allowed to be disconnected from my IV treatment, while my husband took me outside into the gardens in a wheelchair. What a treat that was! The next room I was in was in an older part of the hospital; it had a dirty window above my bed, but it let in natural light, which made such a difference.
I was able to be treated and cared for, because of our health system. I was very aware that the treatment I was receiving was free and paid for by NZ taxpayers. There are many justifiable concerns about our health system, yet I found that I received unstinting care and treatment, simply because I am a citizen of New Zealand. There are many people in other countries who have little access to even basic medical care. I was very conscious of how privileged I was.
I relied on the prayers of others. When you are really ill, as I was, it’s not always possible to calmly pray for yourself. Yes, you commit yourself to God, but it’s the prayers of others that carry you. I’m reminded of the Gospel story of the four men who brought their sick friend to Jesus and lowered him through the roof. The sick man did nothing; it was what his friends did that brought about his healing because they brought him to Jesus. In the same way, it was the prayers of friends who brought me to Jesus that counted.
Undergirding the whole experience was God. I saw specific answers to prayer during that week, which made me very aware of how God was bringing me through. One friend said to me after I was out of hospital, “Yes, but if you hadn’t come through, God was still there.” She hadn’t expected me to survive, and some years ago she had had the experience of losing her husband to cancer, despite all the prayers that had been prayed. I knew she was right, yet at the same time, I was also conscious that the way events played out, God had been in the situation to bring me through.
I’m continuing to relish my food and enjoy the spring. I’m taking longer walks most days, and having an occasional coffee with friends, and enjoying visits from family. I’m leaving the bigger questions for now – such as why God has given me another lease on life, and what I’m meant to do with this extra time. That will be revealed to me in God’s good time.
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.