Vulnerability: the Journey Back

Vulnerability: the Journey Back

Whilst having limb reconstruction surgery it is suggested that you meet regularly with a therapist. The consultant explains that what happens to us physically also has an effect on us emotionally and mentally. “Most people get the frames taken off and then think they are fine. But in reality, you’re still recovering,” said my therapist. I could understand what she was saying but nevertheless thought it was time to throw myself back into things, get back to how life used to be. All the jobs that I couldn’t do before I could now do; picking the kids up, cutting the grass etc, so I just went for it. I thought I would be the happiest man on earth and I got cross with myself when the feelings of joy didn’t come rushing in. I learnt there was wisdom in what the therapist had said – I might be recovering well physically, but emotionally I was still struggling. I was quickly getting cross with myself when I couldn’t cope with situations I now thought I should be able to cope with.

My parents and sister came up to London to celebrate my birthday. The idea was to have a curry together one night and the following day go out to Greenwich Park with the kids. One of my wounds looked like it had started to get an infection and I was worried about it and convinced we hadn’t got all the gauze out. My mum and my sister, who are both nurses, were also concerned and so phoned their consultants (in an ITU and a hospice). They both said go down to A&E. I really didn’t want to, so we rang the ward where I had the operation done, but they also recommend I went to A&E. I was gutted. When I arrived, there was a man there on the floor and unable to move; the guy opposite had been beaten up or had been involved in a very rough game of rugby. They packed the wound, hoping that if there was any gauze left in it would be drawn up.

But two days later I was back to see the consultant, who was very unhappy about the infection. He took a swab, told me to take antibiotics and return in a week. When I returned, the consultant explained that the swap they had taken the previous week showed that I had picked up MRSA. Interestingly I had also had a swab taken when I had been in A&E, and this swab was clear of MRSA. The limb reconstruction nurse was nearly crying, she couldn’t believe I had been one in 250 who had avoided pin site infection with a frame on, and once it was removed managed not only to get an infection but to pick up MRSA, which is far more unlikely. She opened up, saying how unfair it was, how I had been so nice and my wife had been amazing, and how she felt so bad. Although the MRSA has now cleared up, it unfortunately makes the next procedure more complicated. Due to hospital regulations around MRSA I will need to go to a different, far busier ward for the procedure and it could mean facing cancellation of the operation date up to three times due to the different processes on that ward.

That news hit me really hard. It was like the straw that broke the camel’s back; it felt so unfair, and I was so disappointed. I started working as hard as I could (it’s not hard to get motivated in a place like XLP) but felt like I was running on empty and found it hard to concentrate, and hard to pray any prayer longer than “please help me God, I love you though I don’t understand you”.

My emotional wellbeing is as important as my physical. Since I no longer have a huge frame around my leg (which is obvious to everyone), I am now like lots of other people pretending to others and myself that I am ok, when in reality I am exhausted, frustrated and running on empty. The last couple of weeks I have felt like a phone that has been put on charge for five minutes. I am functioning but then get frustrated when I stop being able to contribute to things. To borrow another well-travelled illustration, it has been like driving a car around when the petrol gauge is on red: you know you should stop and fill up but you don’t have time so you keep driving and hope for the best. As my Dad constantly reminds me, this is bad for the car.

“It is often in places of fragility and vulnerability that our journey back to an awareness of God begins.” John Pritchard

I am a slow learner, but I am realising that our bodies, our emotions and our spirit are all interlinked. Going to the gym regularly, finding time to read, hanging out with close friends, going to the cinema or enjoying films are not often described as spiritual activities; but for me they are really vital to my wellbeing. Just ‘being’ isn’t about not doing anything, like rest isn’t about just sitting down. You can feel tired after watching a particular film. For me it’s about learning that I am not always in control, letting go and trusting God a bit more, learning it’s ok to be kind to yourself.

“Rest is a decision we make, rest is choosing to do nothing when we have too much to do slowing down when we feel the pressure to go faster, stopping instead of starting.”  Mike Yaconelli