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When illness hits, gratitude can follow

After more than a week of suffering through a cold and the norovirus—from nausea, vomiting, and coughs to headaches and extreme fatigue—I am slowly regaining strength. It feels like waking up from an operation, raw and vulnerable, with my senses trying to operate under layers of cotton balls.


Ahhhhhh. Such illness, which left me feeling too weak to stand for a few days, is certainly a great reminder of the daily tasks that I normally take for granted. Simple things, like easy breathing and having energy to think clearly, read, and multi-task, seemed beyond possibility. How did I ever find the energy to do all that I normally do?


Thankfully, this illness is only temporary. Lying on my back, feeling barely able to move, I thought of all of the people who face debilitating illness every day, whether it’s a recovering cancer patient or someone with a terminal disease.


I thought of how weak my dad must have felt when he was dying of multiple melanoma. I asked him once, after he’d moved into a hospice, if he’d like to do a crossword puzzle with me. He replied: “You’re asking too much of me.” He didn’t have the energy.


Yesterday, I spoke with my 60-year-old friend Michael in Ontario, a fit, healthy man who recently had a stroke out of the blue. He fell about 20 metres from a stepladder, then managed to crawl upstairs to bed, not realizing what had happened to him. After 48 days of intensive neuro- and physiotherapy, he now walks with a cane. Otherwise, he’s fine.


Now Michael says that he’s “restructuring.” His brain has found new neural pathways. He’s no longer locked into his old ways of seeing and interpreting things. Friends say that he seems happier. He smiles more. I tease him that he’s enjoying the benefits of decades of zen Buddhism without having to meditate.


He appreciates that he’s lucky to be alive. I agree. I’m sure glad that he’s still around.


There’s nothing like the loss of our familiar self, the life that we can fall into without much thought, to make us realize how special every day truly is. I’m grateful that at middle age, peering back into wellness, I am grateful for what I see—and can do and be.




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January 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm
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