A few weeks ago, I began to feel some pain in my abdomen and lower back. Being busy, and not wanting to interrupt my life and my work, I ignored it, thinking it might go away.
Just in case you’re wondering, that’s never a good plan. It didn’t.
After a few weeks, it got too much to ignore. One evening the pain became intense. My wife phoned for an ambulance to take me to accident and emergency. They refused to send one, since it didn’t sound like an emergency to them.
After a few hours of pain so extreme I couldn’t speak, my wife gave up arguing with them and called me a cab. Our two small children were still asleep, so I went to hospital in the cab on my own.
Barely able to stand, I was admitted to hospital. After a few days, a lot of poking about and some more time riding pain like I’ve never known, I was discharged with a new piece of plastic in my insides and a diagnosis of retroperitoneal fibrosis. I’ve never heard of it, either. Apparently it’s quite rare. Thankfully mine isn’t malignant. The result for me was my kidneys being on the verge of packing up completely, resulting in a blood potassium level that was taking me on a quick road to a heart attack.
After I was discharged, I was referred to specialists for more treatment. But due to what I assume was an administrative error, the referral wasn’t followed up. It was another four weeks of pain and battling the Nation Health Service bureaucracy before I took matters into my own hands and booked myself into accident and emergency again. That was four days ago.
Luckily, I’m now in the only hospital in the UK that has a specialist department with consultants who are experts in my disease. All the same, the last four days have been a tunnel of pain, fear and uncertainty.
Today I turned a corner.
For time first time in weeks, I’m almost free of pain. I can sit up and I’ve eaten a proper breakfast on my own. Fresh air is coming in through the open window, carrying with it the muted sounds of the city in the morning; the constant murmur of traffic, the voices of people, muffled by distance, going about their busy, daily lives.
As I sit here today, writing this, my overwhelming feeling is one of the deepest gratitude.
I’m grateful that I’m through the pain, at least for now.
I’m grateful for the morning sunshine, for the beautiful weather and for the fresh air.
I’m incredibly grateful for the people, my family and the nurses and doctors, who have helped me through the last few weeks.
I’m grateful that I’ll be seeing my boys again soon, that soon they’ll have their old Dad back.
As uncomfortable as they are, I’m grateful for the tubes coming out of my body from places I didn’t have openings before, draining off the toxins from my kidneys.
And I’m grateful for very small things. For the cup of tea the nurse just gave me. For the dry, cold, rubbery toast I had for breakfast. It was glorious. For the clementine I peeled myself. For the moment when I noticed the clementine before I ate it, and was so struck by it that I took a little time – a minute, maybe ten, I don’t know – just to look at it and really notice it. And to feel grateful.
That small pause for gratitude is important. It’s a small thing to do. It takes very little time. But it’s special.
Wherever you are today, and whatever you’re doing, I hope you can find something in your day to be grateful for.
It may not strike you immediately. You may have to look for it. But when you find it, just take a moment, a little time, to really notice it and feel grateful. It’s not as easy as it sounds. But don’t worry, your busy life will still be there to go back to when you’re done.
My little moment with my clementine this morning made such an impression on me that I decided to take the time to draw it. I know no better way to slow down enough to notice something fully, no better way to be grateful.
And since today feels like a new day, I’m starting a new drawing practice: every now and again, a simple drawing, with a simple word or two, something to carry with me (and to carry me) through the day. I call them my gifts of gratitude. It’s my way to take time out and breathe, and to remind myself to notice and to be grateful.
Not to rush. Not to miss the important things.
Each drawing, each word, represents a way for me to find my way into the present moment.
Present, of course, also means a gift – as each moment taken to notice something fully is a gift, to be held and treasured.
Hook up with me on facebook and I’ll share my gifts of gratitude with you.
And please share your own gifts. The world needs them – and so do I.