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.

The Celebratory Living Room Dance

It was Friday night, I’d just returned from an impromptu overnight stay in Glasgow at the Golden Jubilee Hospital (only the best establishments for me) and I was worn out and generally feeling defeated by life. After crumpling into my favourite armchair, I opened up my email inbox, glanced down the messages with little enthusiasm, and paused. And held my breath. And felt the goose-bumps rise on the back of my neck. I did it! My application to the Wo-Mentoring Project had been successful and I was being welcomed by my new mentor Karen Campbell.

Celebratory Living Room DanceI don’t know if it was the news alone, or the fact that I’d received 3 pints of blood (rocket fuel as referred to by the nurses) but I was on my feet, grin plastered across my face and arms thrown to the sky; otherwise known as doing the Celebratory Living Room Dance. Mr D cheered me on and sang an upbeat version of a song – the tune familiar but the words unlikely.

There it was. The first milestone on my writing journey. The first tick on my writing to-do list.

This Is Where I AmFor those of you who don’t know Karen’s work, I highly recommend it. Her last novel, This Is Where I Am, looks at the realities of life as a refugee in Glasgow, alongside the loneliness and quiet despair of a Glaswegian widow and the friendship that develops when they’re brought together via a mentoring programme.

My hope is that Karen will be able to help me work on a longer piece of writing (notice how I tiptoed around the ‘n’ word) based on my recent experience ‘on the list’ for a heart transplant; a write-what-you-know approach for my first attempt.

The writing journey is often a solitary one, which for me, makes it even more important to grab opportunities to work with other writers. I’m already privileged in that I completed my MLitt at the University of Stirling with a group of extraordinary and talented people (heretofore known as the Write-n-Rant Collective) with whom I’ve remained in touch. Under the tutelage of author Paula Morris our group blossomed from students into fledgling writers and since graduation we’ve celebrated our successes and commiserated our near-misses. When you’re walking a long road, there’s nothing better than having a support group to cheer you on, and pick you up when you fall.

In the meantime, I’m recuperating from my latest bout of hospital food by sitting at the keyboard, working up the sketch of the first two chapters of my LPoW for discussion at the first meeting with my mentor. Watch these fingers fly!