If you’d asked me a few months ago what my spirit animal was, I might have told you it was a panda. I’m not big into spirit animals, but I’d like to think that if such a thing existed, or if I had a Philip Pullman-esque Daemon, that it might be a kind of cute, bumbling, playful creature. And what could be cuter than a panda?
Certainly not pigs!
Yet here I am, finding myself inexplicably linked to them. It may have something to do with the excessive amount of Percy Pigs I’ve been chowing down on (god bless M&S).
So when the Mum of another girl on the ward called into my bay with a bag of my favourite treats, I knew it was the start of a beautiful friendship. What I didn’t know, however, was just how beautiful that friendship would turn out to be or just how much both she and her daughter Vicky were going to come to mean to me over the next few days.
It might have been a telling sign that a new patient in the bay was called Vicky. After my experience with the Vicki of the numb fannies, I was immediately ready to make a new friend of the same name. Vicky was young and I was thrilled that I would have company of someone other than the older women who had been getting me down with their constant moaning and complaining. My only saving grace during the previous days was the very lovely Val who was an absolute treat to be next to during her stay and whose conversation and company was a pleasure to share.
My new neighbour wasn’t in the best shape for the first few days and I didn’t want to bother her with over-enthusiastic niceties. Instead, I started off with friendly nods and smiles, and the odd exchange with her Mum, Caroline and her boyfriend.
On the first day that Vicky and I were really able to chat, she vanished. One moment we were comparing battle scars and the next, my curtains were pulled for the kind of poking and prodding I’ve become accustomed to. When the curtains opened, Vicky and all of her things were gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye. Her bed had been disinfected and remade, ready for the next occupant. It was like she’d never even been there.
It was later that day when Caroline made her very welcome appearance, armed with precious Percy Pigs and news of Vicky’s whereabouts. She’d been moved to a different bay, but she was a short spin in my wheelchair away. My mission for that evening was clear. I wheeled myself to the little M&S in the hospital and stocked up on my beloved Percy Pigs, including the veggie ones for Vicky – just because someone’s vegan doesn’t mean they can’t eat something that looks like a pig. Especially when they taste so delicious.
Caroline’s visits became regular. Every time Vicky was taking a rest, Caroline popped in to see me with a smile on her face that always brought a smile to mine.
I’ve been lucky to have my family and friends with me for most of the time that I’ve been in hospital. My Mum abandoned her Spanish holiday to come and be by my side as soon as she heard the news. My brother left an important event to be with me after my surgery. My Dad, sister, uncle, friends and neighbours have hopped on a plane from Ireland at the first opportunity to see me. Many more have flights booked in the coming weeks. My best friend Shauna even took her beauty business international and came to paint my nails and shave my legs and all of those little things to help me preserve just a little bit of my dignity.
My London friends have been amazing too, from sitting with me for hours and hours in those first scary days to helping with laundry, picking up essentials and visiting me as often as they can. I’ve had surprise visits from special friends and people who mean the world to me. And of course, there are the invaluable calls, flowers, cards, texts, whatsapp chats and Facebook comments. There have even been colouring books. (Don’t knock them til you try them. I’m in love with them!) Friends, friends of friends and even complete strangers who read the blog have sent uplifting messages and kind thoughts. They’ve liked and shared and filled me with a surprised kind of joy that there are people out there who want to read what I want to write.
In fact, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that I’ve received. I had never realised before just how many friends I had and It’s been their thoughts and prayers that have helped me through some of the tougher moments.
As it happened, last Saturday, I was alone. Terrified by the return of severe back pain that didn’t ease even with high doses of morphine, and overwhelmed by the worries of employment and finances and unsuitable housing among all of the other obstacles ahead, It all became just a little too much. I hit my lowest ebb.
Just at that moment, Caroline came to say hello. I couldn’t help it. The floodgates opened. I cried and cried and Caroline had the perfect response. She sat next to my bed and held my hand. She said nothing. She held on, rubbed my hand and soothed me with just her presence. She stayed with me until I had cried out all my frustration and anger. When I was ready to talk, she listened without probing. She reassured and comforted me without spewing meaningless platitudes.
She was perfect.
In the absence of my own family, I felt as if I had the next best thing.
Later, I visited Vicky again and we talked about our struggles, our worries and that favourite hospital topic – bowels. Without going into graphic detail about it, mine had been over-stimulated by all the meds I’d been prescribed and so I’d found myself in the very distressing situation where I’d soiled my pyjamas.
All of them.
I felt that my distress was justified and Vicky, just like her Mum, reassured and comforted me.
And family moment number 2 kicked in. A few texts and a whole lot of collusion later, Vicky and Caroline hatched a plan and the end result was a great big bag of pyjamas plonked onto my bed the following day along with my favourite essential oils.
When I cried this time, it wasn’t from distress or feeling a bit crap. They were tears of relief and gratitude. During those days of feeling overwhelmed by so many things, what resonated with me the most was the kindness of strangers. It conquered all.
I have a little glass angel hanging above my bed and a little gold angel hanging around my neck – both were sent to me by friends at home in Leitrim. I don’t know much about angels, but I appreciate the thought behind them and the love they were sent with. When Caroline and Vicky came to see me on their last day, they left me with words of encouragement and love. Vicky and I set a goal. We promised each other that when the time came that we were both well enough, we were going to go Up at the O2 – climbing to the top of the iconic O2 arena in London.
They also left me with a crystal angel for healing. It meant more to me than just a piece of stone. Because if there are guardian angels in this world – those that care for you and protect you at the moments you most need them – then I’m pretty sure I found mine last weekend.
You might ask what Guardian Angels and M&S treats have to do with spirit animals. Well, I’ve settled on the pig for a much more important reason than the yumminess in a bag that Caroline brought to me. It was a quote from Winnie the Pooh that I discovered that weekend. It shows the kindness and compassion of my favourite character, Piglet and reminded me of those friends and family who have been my lifeline over the past month. I read it to Caroline last weekend because it seemed apt under the circumstances.
I will leave you with this Pigletism:
“Piglet?” said Pooh.
“Yes Pooh?” said Piglet.
“Do you ever have days when everything feels… Not Very Okay At All? And sometimes you don’t even know why you feel Not Very Okay At All, you just know that you do.”
Piglet nodded his head sagely. “Oh yes,” said Piglet. “I definitely have those days.”
“Really?” said Pooh in surprise. “I would never have thought that. You always seem so happy and like you have got everything in life all sorted out.”
“Ah,” said Piglet. “Well here’s the thing. There are two things that you need to know, Pooh. The first thing is that even those pigs, and bears, and people, who seem to have got everything in life all sorted out… they probably haven’t. Actually, everyone has days when they feel Not Very Okay At All. Some people are just better at hiding it than others.
“And the second thing you need to know… is that it’s okay to feel Not Very Okay At All. It can be quite normal, in fact. And all you need to do, on those days when you feel Not Very Okay At All, is come and find me, and tell me. Don’t ever feel like you have to hide the fact you’re feeling Not Very Okay At All. Always come and tell me. Because I will always be there.”