Temenos Journal II

July 29, 2011

an Attitude of Gratitude… for Life

Universal Symbol for Gratitude

When I was in my 30s, I was in the hospital recuperating from emergency abdominal surgery. This was caused by a misdiagnosed ruptured appendix that had become abscessed and was speading like lava to other parts of my body.

I thought I was in hell. I rarely ever even caught a cold, and now I found myself immobilized with an open rotten belly (they didn’t stitch me up for five days), with needles in my arms and tubes down my nose and up my crotch.

Boy was I bitchy. I was in a room with two other ladies. One was in her 60s and was having trouble holding the enema they kept giving her for diabetes testing. There was crap everywhere. I could have endured this for one day, but the second day of flying crap when you’re immobilized began to grate on my nerves. The poor lady, by the way, was also suffering greatly, and she was so embarrassed and very apologetic.

The other lady in the room had to be 90-something and she, too, was miserable. She continually cried and moaned and yelled for the bed pan. The poor thing was having a lot of false alarms, so it seemed as though the nurses were now paying less attention to her calls for the bed pan. Of course, it was inevitable that there would be accidents, with all the confusion going on.

So I was trapped in an environment of random flying crap on both sides of me. I thought that being in that particular hospital room at that particular time was the worst luck in the world. Being one of those people with an acute sense of smell, I thought this must be what hell is like.

There was no privacy. Some of the nurses were rude and obviously hated their jobs. Some of the doctors would pat you on the knee in a condescending way and ask, “And how are we today?”

I wanted to say, “I’m fucking MISERABLE!” and I don’t even swear. I wanted to choke his stupid neck and slap him around, but of course I’m too polite to do that.

That is, I was polite until I started feeling stronger… about the 5th or 6th day after surgery. I started asking each doctor who came in, “When can I get out of here?” and their answer would always be some version of “not yet.”

This scenario went on day after day until one day I got quite belligerent and demanded that I be released from the hospital. I was miserable in this place and I wanted to recuperate at home. And another thing, take me off these horrible drugs — they are making me sick to my stomach and they’re making me hallucinate!

I will never forget my surgeon’s response to my demand.

“Now you listen to me. You are damn lucky to be alive. Your appendix was abscessed and had turned gangrenous. Your belly was so infected that we do not want to take any chances removing the IVs before we know that the infection is under control. You are healing quite satisfactorily, but we cannot rush these things. Do you understand?”

He didn’t holler at me, but he was stern. Of course I understood. I felt chastised, but, given the circumstances… that was the least of my worries.

The day before, a friend had brought me a copy of Louise Hay’s book, A Garden of Thoughts: My Affirmation Journal. The first page I opened had this affirmation:

I allow the love from my own heart to wash through me and cleanse and heal every part of my body and my emotions.

This touched me. Something opened up, like when your ears pop after being plugged by an altitude change. Well this was an attitude change, like Scrooge in the last scene of A Christmas Carol.

I smiled at the lady next to me, and appreciated the sweet person she really was. I even smiled at the next doctor who visited — I was healing! I caught a glimpse outside the hospital window of green leaves on a tree branch against the gray Cleveland sky and I thought it was the most beautiful nature scene I had ever seen. I was no longer irritated when the old lady began her hollering for the bed pan — at least I was alive and could hear her hollering! I could smell!

I was getting better, wasn’t I? I could stand it here for a few more days. I’m healing. Now the world took on more of a golden glow, and even the crap on the walls became more humorous than horrifying.

I believe I experienced, as they say, a spiritual awakening. I grew up a bit.

Since that day many years ago, the feeling of gratitude has continued to permeate every corner of my world. Gratitude has become my way of life.

So sometimes I seem less than sympathetic when a parent focuses on their child’s hyperactive nature as if it were a catastrophe. (The child is alive and healthy! Would you rather have a listless child with no spunk?)

Or you might think I’m callous if I don’t think it’s the end of the world because your son is skipping a year of college to travel across Europe with his girlfriend. (What a great adventure! How fortunate that he has the means and the health to do it! He can always return to college.)

And I may not sympathize when you complain about never having enough money, when you live in a 3-bedroom house, with two cars, multiple TVs, central heating and air conditioning… and a swimming pool!

A dear friend of mine used to talk about the “lottery of life.” We loved each other and he used to ask, “What are the odds that of all the millions of people in the world, you and I would meet? How lucky are we to have been born in the U.S., where there is an abundance of food and clean water and where we are free to do just about whatever we want to do? We are the winners in the Lottery of Life!”

What are the odds that of all the doctors in the world, that I would get one who would chew me out and change my whole perspective on life at the same time?  I feel like I won the lottery! (Although I didn’t even know it at the time.)

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