Here’s one I prepared earlier … and edited and uploaded once I got online …
I’m writing this from a bed on a ward at University College Hospital in London. I came in via A&E for a brain scan and to see a neurologist and ended up staying overnight – and no, I’m not joking.
I had a restless night (although not as restless as I’d expected), made friends with some lovely fellow patients, marvelled at how pleasant and caring most of the staff were and felt a lot of empathy for the elderly, Greek lady opposite who fell out of bed a few times in the night because she was determined to go to the toilet on her own.
What was I doing here? I’d been getting some pretty weird headaches over the past few weeks and my GP sent me to A&E yesterday morning, thinking my symptoms warranted further investigation and that it was unwise to wait a month for an outpatients’ appointment with a neurologist.
I’m pleased to say the scan showed nothing sinister – the neurologist couldn’t find any signs of a stroke or a bleed (which is what we’d all been worried about). And as much as I’d rather not have sat in hospital on a beautifully sunny day or spent the night on a noisy ward, I’m really pleased the doctors scanned my brain, took the time to check I’m OK and that I pressed for a second opinion from a brain expert rather than the ward doctor who failed to reassure me. It’s at times like these that I think the NHS – with all its faults – is an amazing institution.
Perhaps I was a little over anxious and over cautious but, as you may have guessed, that’s my nature and my brain is pretty important to me so I didn’t want to take any risks. I did manage to stay calm, however, aside from a moment on the cycle ride down here when my fear got the better of me and I started to think panicky thoughts. But I talked myself down and carried on cycling – gently, so as not to put my brain under too much strain – along north London’s sunny canals to A&E.
I often feel vulnerable and lonely at times of illness in London but although my family is very small and very far away, it’s clear to me that I have an amazing network of fabulous friends in this huge city and beyond and that I’d never be short of someone to call up for help. Thanks to texts, calls, a few visits from a doctor pal who works in the same hospital and wonderful chats with my ward mates, I didn’t feel at all lonely or vulnerable – just grateful that I have my health, despite the odd ailment, and that I’m loved.
That said, I did underestimate the impact a night spent on a hospital ward with very sick people would have on my emotions – I think it would have been best to have spent the second half of Friday (once they’d finally let me out) resting from my ordeal rather than working – but we’ll just have to put that down to my nature too. Feelings are uncomfortable and I’ll often do whatever I can to avoid them – working, eating, keeping busy and so on.
So, now on to the blog I’d been planning to write before I ended up in A&E, although perhaps it’s even more relevant after my momentary health scare. I scribbled most of it in a notebook while sat on a sunny station platform after just missing a train back from the seaside to London earlier this week. It was an incredibly peaceful hour: just me, the birds, the odd train passing, the sun, some paper and a pen. Perfect conditions for creativity. It was the best train I’d ever missed.
As I soaked up the afternoon heat, I pondered the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time over the years waiting for my life to start – planning for that time when everything will be just as I want it to be: when I’ll have a career that fulfils me completely; a long, lean, trim body with no aches or pains; a regular yoga, Pilates and meditation practice and a sense of inner peace; a stable but exciting relationship with an adventurous guy who ticks lots of my boxes; a couple of delightful children; a home with a garden not far from the sea; a wardrobe full of effortlessly stylish clothes and time to sit on the beach and paint landscapes. (Surely that’s not too much to ask?)
I’ve spent a lot of time living in a fantasy future in which I’m half-a-stone lighter, my lower back doesn’t bother me and my ankle is strong and in which I spring out of bed at six every morning and pull on my matching underwear, followed by one of those delightfully soft and chic Sweaty Betty yoga outfits. A future in which I’m a published author, a regular columnist, a satisfied school teacher, a life coach, a motivational speaker or a nutritional therapist – or some perfectly balanced and organised combination of all of those things.
But as a very thoughtful and self-aware fellow patient pointed out last night in one of those delightfully deep conversations you find yourself having with someone you’ve never met before – we bonded over brain scans – that’s a childish or child-like way of thinking. It’s magical thinking.
There isn’t a future where everything is perfect or just as I want it to be. It doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion – an illusion that stops me living in today and for today.
So, THIS IS IT. Life is now. Life is happening every second, with my imperfect body, unpublished book, messy career path, uncertain relationships and clashing underwear.
This is it. And it’s precious. Every moment. Every up and down. Every conversation and interaction with friends and strangers.
So I will endeavour to love this life for what it is today, not for what I imagine it will be in some childish vision of the future. And I will endeavour to love myself for who I am today rather than focus on this fantasy being with a different body shape, different hair, a more established work life, a stable relationship and a more definite idea of where I’m heading.
This doesn’t mean I’ll give up on my hopes and dreams – for a career that satisfies me and is of service to others, for strong relationships and particularly a lasting, romantic one, for a family (in whatever shape or form that might take), for a pain-free body, for health and fitness, inner peace, yoga and meditation and even for matching underwear and a Sweaty Betty lycra outfit.
But I don’t need to hang around for that fantasy life to start. This is it. And I have so much to be grateful for – most importantly (I’m realising after a night on a hospital ward) good health – and so much to enjoy. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the only things stopping me from having a wonderful, incredible life are the thoughts that go through my head and tell me it’s all going wrong or it’s not quite as it should be.
This is it. And if it never got any better than this – either that moment when I started this blog sitting on that sunny train platform or when I finished it, sat on a hospital bed with my laptop on my knee, listening to some good tunes on my iPhone and preparing to eat an NHS salad wrapped in cling film – I would be an incredibly fortunate lady.
Dear Katherine, My name is Sally.I read your emails From Forty with Love. I love them. Oh my goodness, I hope that you are feeling better and reassured and getting lots of rest. Please be good to yourself. Take each moment as it comes. carpe diem. It sounds as though this has been a life changing experience for you. Live life. We only get one go at it. Smile. I hope that your headaches have gone. Get well soon! Take care, Love, Sallyxxx
Thank you, Sally. I’m not sure if my overnight stay in hospital was life-changing but it certainly did make me think a little. I have just had a long soak in a hot bath, which was lovely! Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. Carpe diem indeed. Best wishes, Katherine x
How incredible that six weeks after my father-in-law had a brain haemmorage and three brain operations I am now reading that you too have brushed past this terrifying illness. I am a squeamish person with little courage when it comes to hospitals – I hate my memories of time spent in them and they fill me with fear but, yesterday, when I read your blog, it coincided with the amazing news that a little boy I work with had had successful open heart surgery to close a hole in his heart. Such wonders are miracles really – they bring me closer to a humility I forget is so real and therefore closer to God. So thank God you are well, back to your bionic self, and feeling good about the world! Unfortunately my father-in-law is still very unwell but I pray his recovery will be steady and complete eventually. The human body is really quite incredible, isn’t it?