Hope Over Fear (part II)

My last post related to the recent Independence referendum in Scotland and my belief in hope over fear. Today the subject matter may be different but the sentiment stays the same. This time it’s personal.

As many of you know, the last couple of years have been challenging for me on the health-front. A hereditary heart condition deteriorated rapidly and last autumn, I was in the end stages of heart failure. I’d felt my body getting sicker. I knew I was ill and deep down, I knew I was dying but hope presided over fear, and for a while I convinced myself that the pacemaker, the internal defibrillator and the medication would somehow, despite evidence to the contrary, if not make me better, at least keep me alive. I realised this was improbable around this time last year, when I collapsed in the car-park of our local hospital. From that moment fate gathered me in its arms, whisked me through A&E and up on to the cardiac ward, where my feet barely touched the ground before I was transported to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Glasgow. Two weeks later I was hooked to a drip, drained of fluid and in danger of disappearing in a room of washed-out pastel and exclamation marks.

For forty eight hours Mr D and I were suspended between hope and fear; hope that my condition could be stabilised enough for me to be added to the urgent transplant list, fear that I had passed the point where I would be considered well enough to survive the operation. In those two days we held hands and hoped. We had a brief discussion about what would happen if I didn’t make it, followed by a longer discussion on what our future would look like when I got out: dreams, aspirations, hopes. We sat side-by-side and looked death in the eye and together stared it down. I went from being terrified at the thought of a transplant to wanting, more than anything, for that to be possible. And then it was: I was on the list and I ricocheted between hope and fear, hope and fear.

images (2)I was still high risk and there were a lot of unknowns. Would they find a donor in time? Would it be a good match? Would I get through the operation unscathed? Would I get through at all? How would I feel when the time came? If the time came?

Friends, family and people I’d never met prayed, meditated; sent reiki, positive energy, hugs. Visitors were limited but those that could came and those that couldn’t phoned, texted and sent emails. One friend said she would give me her heart if she could, another sent me a penguin a day to make me smile, another exchanged texts late at night about his impending fatherhood, yet another emailed about her daughter’s wish for snow for her birthday. My parents worked a tag team with Mr D, covering when he had to go home to wash clothes, move house, see his daughter. There were beautiful books of poetry and French literature delivered, luscious hand cream (a real treat to combat my hardened skin, dry with the after effects of surgical cleansing gel). Cards filled with kind words appeared alongside pictures ablaze with stick people in garish colours to stick on my notice board. More hope, more positive energy, more beauty than I had ever known.

On Christmas Eve, Mr D sat in his festive jumper featuring a penguin in a Santa hat; we drank fizzy elderflower and rose juice. The lights on the tree donated to me by a member of staff, flashed on and off – hope, fear, hope, fear, hope, hope, hope. A parcel arrived with my favourite chocolate; a present of love and understanding from a new friend who knew what it was like to shuffle in my slippers. And I cried.

Several hours later, alone in my bed, groggy from sleeping pills, a nurse stroked my arm and whispered that there’d been the offer of a heart. A family grieving on one of the most memorable of dates, still brave enough to honour the final request of their loved one. The most amazing gift I’ve ever received and one for which I’ve been thankful every day since.

Day-by-day, week-by-week and month after month, I’ve achieved things I thought were no longer an option for me. I’ve walked up stairs, ridden a bike, climbed hills (little ones but still…), caught up with those who loved and supported me, spent weekends away in Happy (our campervan). Each time I do something new I find myself laughing with delight; my face aches from smiling. I’m grateful every day for all the people who helped me through this – Mr D, the surgical and hospital team, my family and friends, strangers, someone else’s family and a person I’ll never meet. The triumph of hope over fear.

For information on how to become a donor and stories on the difference organ donation has made to the lives of others visit: Organ Donation Scotland; Organ Donation UK; British Heart Foundation.

Hope Over Fear

Yesterday, Thursday 18 September, I put a cross in a box and walked out into the autumn sunshine full of hope. Hope that my country would be allowed to regain control of its own affairs. Hope that each time I cast a vote, there would be a real chance it would have an impact. Hope that, together with my fellow countrymen and women, we would be able to contribute to building a more just society: a society where no-one would have to rely on food banks; where healthcare would be freely available to everyone; where people would take precedence over big business and bankers would be held to account. Hope that the divide between rich and poor would lessen not widen. Hope that never again would the needs of the many be marginalised in favour of the wants of an elite few.

Today, Friday 19 September, my hope diminished and the sun ducked behind a cloud.

I’ve always believed in hope over fear. I was brought up to be brave and aspire but not at the cost of other people. My late granddad was a great man and an ardent socialist (as are most of my family). He lived in a council house and would never see someone in need, even though he had little himself. He worked hard all his life, owed no money and lived simply. The small amount of money he ‘put by’ for his family was taken from him in his late eighties by a government who cared not a jot about the fact that bad advice and an administrative error had meant my granddad had been overpaid on his benefits. Even then my granddad didn’t complain, he took it in his stride and blamed no-one. He had moved to Yorkshire as a young man, fresh from the war, to marry my grandma but never forgot his beloved country. His political hero was Nye Bevan. My granddad never saw this day, and for once I was glad he’s no longer around. He’d already had to witness the death of socialism in England; this would have been too much for him.

At the announcement of the results this morning (45% in favour of independence, 55% against), the hearts of almost half the voting population of Scotland were broken. Too stunned to speak, Mr D walked around in a daze and I stood in the kitchen crying and hugging C, one of my closest friends. What now? we asked. What now?

We were dejected. We were emotionally exhausted. We felt defeated. But here’s the thing about hope, it never gives up.

The Yes Scotland campaign was positive and respectful. It rallied people together, encouraged creativity and when it was let down by a biased media it took the message to the streets. In the end, the referendum wasn’t lost by the Yes campaign, it was ‘won’ by deceitful politicians who operated a campaign of fear, in cahoots with a, for the most part, disgraceful mainstream media – in particular the BBC who seemed to have forgotten that it is a broadcast medium for Britain and, as such, its position should have been to represent all sides of the argument; after all, Scotland was (and unfortunately still is) part of Britain, a fact the BBC conveniently ignored in favour of kow-towing to the Westminster establishment. And as someone who once believed our media to be amongst the best in the world, this is not written lightly.

Yes Scotland rallyBut as I said, I believe in hope over fear and there were other things to take heart from.

For the first time in recent history, the whole country engaged in the debate. An unprecedented 86% of people exercised their right to vote. Young people were encouraged to participate and share their views. Yes campaign groups popped up in all areas: the National Collective with members from the arts; Business for Scotland; Labour for Independence; the Green Party for Yes; LGBT for Yes. Others such as Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and the Common Weal, disseminated the message via social media. All of them worked together on a single objective, to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands in the pursuit of social justice.

Volunteers manned stalls, signed up voters and answered questions. Flash mobs formed in city centres, coming together to share information, sing and celebrate the possibility of change. Westminster politics was shaken to the core. The political landscape has shifted as a result, not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK. People have found their voice and are not afraid to use it.

‘That’s the thing,’ C said. ‘In situations like these you need to rise or roll, and I can tell you now, I’m not for rolling.’ And as the three of us sat around our kitchen table drinking tea, we were joined by our friends and family via texts, phone and social media, all saying the same thing.

Throughout the UK – in areas of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as a direct result of what’s happened in Scotland, people are starting to talk about change. Groups are forming. The energy of the Scottish referendum is galvanising people everywhere.

This is just the beginning. In the words of another friend, time will tell if we lost a campaign or if we exported it!