I clearly remember the morning I woke up in my hospital and realised nine of my fingertips were going to be amputated. It was a few days after I’d been told my leg would be amputated and I was still emotionally ‘raw’ from that news.
I opened my eyes and saw a woman gently holding my right hand. She was speaking in soft tones to my Dad who stood beside her, listening intently.
My fingertips had been gangrenous for months and the flesh was slowly disintegrating. Open wounds were forming around my nailbed and my risk of infection was increasing dramatically.
Realising I had awoken, both the woman and Dad greeted me with smiles. The woman, introduced herself as a surgeon and calmly explained how my fingertips would be amputated.
Dad, always the optimist, jumped into the conversation and enthusiastically added, “But the good news is you’ll get to keep one thumb!”
I mumbled something in reply but I doubt it made sense. I was still learning to speak again after my brain haemorrhage and was incredibly groggy from all of the medication.
Even though I didn’t share Dad’s enthusiasm at the time, I’m incredibly grateful for my remaining thumb today.
I was in hospital for over a year that first time. It was 2005, I was 24 years old and a nasty virus had caused my brain to haemorrhage.
I was in a coma for three weeks and on life support for two months. All of my organs shut down and my family were told they would have to turn off my life support if things did no improve.
While my health did improve, things also got worse for me. In the months that followed, all of my toes, one leg and nine fingertips were amputated. Since then I’ve also had heart surgery twice and a hip replacement, aged 27.
I now have permanent brain damage, am over 25% blind, have epilepsy and use a wheelchair to get around.
That first year in hospital was tough. I don’t remember all of it because I was either in a coma or under aesthetic on an operating table.
But I do remember being grateful. It sounds like a strange thing to say since there were some really bad things happening but I chose genuine gratitude to help me through.
Where did gratitude come from?
Gratitude didn’t just suddenly appear as an epiphany in hospital. When I think back to my childhood, gratitude was a value that my parents instilled in my siblings and I. Our upbringing was fairly modest and middle-class. We didn’t have lots of stuff (toys, clothes, games, etc) but Mum and Dad ensured my siblings and I understood how lucky we were for what we did have.
When I was older I went travelling overseas and witnessed terrible poverty and hardship. Again I replicated the learnings of my childhood and was grateful for what I did have. As a full-time university student working part-time in hospitality, it wasn’t a lot but it was more than enough.
Lying in hospital, I was simply grateful to be alive.
Of course I grieved and questioned “why me?” But no amount of complaining was going to change the situation.
Fortunately, the tears soon stopped and I realised that self-pity was more disabling than any of my other newly acquired disabilities.