When you are stuck, or experiencing an internal struggle or you feel like you are going around and around in circles and not forward, find the courage to look at ‘what is’ straight in the eye. Quieten your fears or your belief of what you feel is ‘right’ or what you believe you are ‘deserving of.’ Step back and look at ‘what is.’ If you see that you cannot change ‘what you are seeing,’ then you must accept it and change your perspective in a way that empowers you and enables you to go forward and to continue growing. Identify and focus on what you can do and not on what you can’t do. Then take steps to do what you can do. – Rosie Goes, Surrender
Jene lay flat on her back staring up at the ceiling. Every day she had a session of physio to keep her muscles active. It was strange to ‘know’ that she was lying on a mattress and her limbs were being stretched and her joints were being rotated. She knew and remembered what that should feel like, but she felt nothing. The days ahead felt like she was a part of some optical illusion experiment, that she could see when ‘contact’ is being made but not feel it. As though the wires in her brain had been severed, then rewired in a way that she could not yet process the information she was receiving.
In the coming months, Jene would need to learn and adapt to a new way of life and of doing things. She needed to ‘unlearn’ the way she ‘remembered’ how her body works and learn how to use it in a completely new way, by using different muscles and being aware of body senses that she had never noticed before. It would take time, work and help to adapt. Though the process was slow and often frustrating, Jene instinctively knew that she could not waste her time by focusing on what was lost and on what no longer exists. Instead she chose to focus on what she can still do with her body and her life.
She wished she could say the same for her friend Donna who lay motionless in the hospital bed opposite her. It had been 10 days already and her friend had shown no sign of waking. Donna’s silence worried Jene. Though she knew her bubbly, lively, caring and infectious friend was still there and would always be there, she also knew that the longer she remained locked away, the worse Donna’s prognosis would be.
Tish sat beside her daughter. It had been an emotional couple weeks. Sometimes she was overcome by fear, fear of the unknown. Her mind would imagine the worse scenario and she’d imagine her daughter falling out of the wheel chair; limp, helpless and flopping around. She knew that Jene’s life, Rob’s, hers and her son’s life was about to change dramatically and she wished she could be the reassurance they all needed. She wished she could tell Jene that everything was going to be okay, and believe it. She wished she knew what to expect but she knew nothing, only how big it was and she buckled at the weight of it. She looked across the room at Donna. Tish initially felt such mixed emotions around Donna; of anger followed by guilt, followed by tenderness, followed by sadness, followed by a deep concern that she would not wake up. And worst of all, as a mother, she knew that this time she could not fix her daughter, she could not make her better, she could not give Jene her legs back. That life was gone and it broke her heart.
Jene worried too. She saw her friend and understood that they were in a similar situation: they were completely dependent on ‘others’ right now. She saw how the nurses could not be there all the time to care for them, that there were other patients too who also needed their help and their time. Sometimes, the care had to come from others.
Though Jene could see her own mother’s struggle with acceptance and the enormity of her grief, having Tish by her side with her tender acts of ‘caring,’ like brushing her hair, filing her nails, passing something that she could not reach – gave Jene strength, more strength than her mother could ever know. Tish was fortunate enough to have a good business manager in Bulwer and this allowed her to stay in Pietermaritzburg throughout Jene’s long recovery and for her to be with Jene all day, every day. Though Tish may have felt that she was not enough at the time, or that she could not fix her daughter in the way that she wanted to, she was exactly what Jene needed – somebody next to her.
Everyday Jene would watch her friend and she wished Donna would wake up and experience the love and care that she was experiencing. She wished that Donna knew how many people cared, how many people streamed into the ward, breaking the hospital rules with the number of visitors allowed in a ward at one time, to see them, to love them and to support them. She wished Donna would wake up, and see what she sees. If she could have, she would have got up herself, walked over to Donna and done exactly what her mother was doing for her. But she couldn’t, and so she asked her mother to do it instead.
Tish sat with Donna and took her limp hand. For a few long moments, she simply held it and remembered the young girl Donna is, trapped in her own broken body but still there. On inspection, she saw that Donna bites her nails and one by one, Tish filed her bitten nails into curved, smooth edges – just as she had done for Jene. “You know Donna, you really should stop biting your nails,” said Tish in a firm motherly voice. As she said that, Donna flinched and pulled her hand away. It was the first time they knew for sure that she was still there, that she was gaining consciousness and importantly, that she understood that she was being cared for, even if it was not what Donna wanted to hear!
Over the next few weeks, Jene, Donna and Tish adapted to ‘hospital life’ and its routine and would get to know the nurses as if they were all in one big family living under the same roof, caring for each other, eating together and going through the ups and downs of recovery. Jene was given the option to move into a private ward, knowing what was still to come in the way of her recovery and how long she would still need to stay in hospital for. But she chose not to. She wanted to stay with Donna in the general ward; for her, her mother and Donna to stay together until Donna left and did not need them anymore.
Donna had finally regained consciousness but worryingly, she still did not speak. She was awake but silent and her body had been affected in a way that was similar to that of a severe stroke. For the time being, she was unable to walk on her own, talk or care for herself in the way of feeding and bathing. She was heavily dependent on being cared for by the nurses, Tish and her parents. By now, everyone was very worried. Weeks passed and the silence became the elephant in the room. Tish continued to care for Donna in the way that she cared for Jene, brushing and washing her hair, helping her bathe, doing her nails and talking to her despite never being answered.
Donna was locked away in her own world, responding to very little except when she was shown love and care. In those tender moments, Donna’s face would beam with light and her smile would open up like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. ‘Love’ was Donna’s language.
One evening Donna’s dad had come into Pietermaritzburg from the farm and was there with Donna during meal time. Meal times in the ward had become quite social, like a group of family and friends sitting around a dining room table only they were in hospital beds in the general hospital ward. Graham, Donna’s dad, was feeding Donna her supper. While he was spooning Donna her food, he was also talking to Tish and Jene and was not fully focused on what he was doing or on what Donna needed. She’d already swallowed the spoonful of food and was ready for another spoonful, but her dad was slow on the mark that day and hadn’t realised that his daughter was very hungry and was becoming increasingly impatient with him. At that moment, she silenced the chatter all at once, and told him exactly what she needs in one word, “More.”
Tears of joy rolled down Graham’s face and in that moment, there was only love. And only love mattered.
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