What Resilience Means To Me
Picture this: a middle-aged man, in a hospital side room. He’s sitting sideways on his unmade bed, he’s dressed in a white hospital gown. His arms end just below the elbow, his legs below the knee – all four stumps are bandaged, as is the lower part of his face. His eyes are staring at the windows. He’s been crying. This is me, at Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge, in April 2000. I had just surfaced from a four-month coma following Sepsis, and I was busy trying to work out who I was, what had happened, what the world around me represented.
At a very basic, almost primeval level, it felt to me like my very viability as a human was being challenged. Physically, mentally, spiritually, I was suddenly reduced to half the man I was, I was on a rapid downward spiral – and there was no guarantee I could come out of it. All my memories of the past had gone, and at 38 years old, I faced the prospect of having to rebuild myself. Could I do that? Did I have what it would take? I didn’t hesitate for a second. Why? Because, I’m a creative person, with plenty of determination.
My wife needs a good husband, my children need a great Dad. Both these roles have been crucial in giving me the inspiration to meet all my challenges. From the moment I woke from my coma, and my wife re-introduced herself to me, I’ve been working as hard as I can to try and be the best I can be. That has sometimes meant learning to put others first, even though my disability can make things difficult for me. But really, it’s been such a joy to be in this marriage and to do what I can for our children.
I want other people to feel like they can overcome their challenges too. Because, I’m not the only one in the world to have suffered. We see people around us, every day, being severely tested. There is relationship breakdown, loneliness, disease, debt, bereavement, persecution, hunger. We can’t always offer easy solutions, but as empathetic human beings, we can show solidarity, we can reach out a (prosthetic) hand, and give suffering its voice. Nic and I have tried to do this in our Sepsis awareness work, specifically because we felt so vulnerable when the crisis hit us. Resilience, in this way, brings people together.
There have been moments in my rehabilitation where kindness has saved me. There have been nurses who stayed long after their shift to reassure me, when I was confused, doctors who explained procedures three times over so I could understand. Hospital porters who took me outside to find the sunshine after months of being inside, cooks who cut lunch into thin slices so I could eat even though I no longer had lips. Later, when I needed a job to keep my family together, the local call centre took me in and offered me a role that lasted for thirteen years.
Resilience means all these things and more to me, as I continue to try and make my life better.