Wednesday, March 18, 2015

All about the attitude

Meditating and doing mindfulness courses over the past half a decade have taught me one very important lesson in life . . . it’s not what happens to you that counts, it’s how you react to the highs and lows which come your way.

It’s safe to say that my life has not gone to plan since I took voluntary redundancy late last year. A job I was offered did not materialise, leading to a bit of a panic almost as soon as I left the newspaper, and my hopes of qualifying as an English teacher were dashed when I ended up in hospital for four days.

I thought I was in dreamland at one stage, about to work for a cause I deeply believed in straight after leaving my job of 22 years. Then I thought I would finally do a course which would allow me to teach anywhere in the world or improve my skills if I was to return to volunteering in Central America.

My shoulder injury put paid to those plans. 
Walking along the Salthill promenade

As a person who always runs away for winter sun, the past few months have been challenging.

If you asked me a year ago what my worst nightmare would be, I’d say it would be to be sick, unemployed, and stuck at home in the middle of winter in Galway.

Yet moving to the other side of the world is no guarantee of happiness and old friends have inspired me through some of the most challenging months of my life.

Since the end of October I have had surgery three times on my troublesome left shoulder and spent almost every day getting my wound dressed by a team of Public Health Nurses.

The nurses have been superb, but I can’t say the same for the public health system. I picked up a couple of infections, the MRSA bug and klebsiella, which not only stalled the healing process but posed a serious threat to my health if they got into my bloodstream.

It was frustrating to be rushed to the Emergency Department (ED) at UHG to have a leaking wound drained, when I was supposed to be on the mend. And then to find six days later that my specialist had no knowledge of the fact that I had surgery on the shoulder for a third time – in the same hospital.

It was even more frustrating to see old people lying on trolleys, sometimes being given devastating diagnosis within earshot of a dozen people, when I spent 26 hours in the ED.

That experience awoke the rebel in me. In my mind, I raged against the injustice of a country which pays off unsecured bondholders while forcing ordinary people to spend night after night on a hospital trolley.

If a nation’s health is reflected in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, then Ireland is a pretty sick country right now.

I have gone through, I think, seven courses of antibiotics, including a powerful pill which is the “antibiotic of last resort” for the MRSA bug. Just over a week ago, with no sign of the infection disappearing, I thought I would be re-admitted to hospital and put on a drip. 

It seemed there was no end in sight to a problem which surfaced when an abscess on my shoulder became swollen way back at the end of October.

The whole experience has shown me the importance of taking one day at a time. There is absolutely no point in worrying about what life will be like in three or six months. None of us has any control over the distant future. All we can do is make the most of the here and now.

Instead of whisking myself across the world to Nicaragua, China, or Thailand, I have been able to spend quality time with my family and friends. I have learned to calm down and control my wild thoughts as the wind howled and the rain poured down outside.

In January, I experienced absolute despair. Drained of energy by so many antibiotics, I spent New Year’s Eve on my own rather than attending either of the two house parties I’d been invited to. It felt like the darkest hour. Even at that stage, I thought I would be well on the road to recovery by mid-March.

Today, though, the nurse had good news. There was no sign of infection for the eighth day in a row. My daily visits to the clinic would be reduced to three days per week. A real sign of progress.

I met a former colleague to walk the prom in the sunshine and neither of us were bothered that we no longer had “9 to 5” jobs to go to. His enthusiasm about leaving work after so many years and going back to education has inspired me. 

We had our health and the sun was shining, the sea was flat calm. No matter how scary it has been, we have both got out of our “comfort zones”.

This afternoon it felt as though the darkest hour had passed and I had just seen the dawn.

During our walk, I met one of the most inspirational people in my life. Old schoolfriend Liam, who has battled meningitis for over 20 years, was walking along the seafront with his customary determination.

He told me he’s about to become a paralympian, representing Ireland, in cycling. Given how that man has battled for good health – and how much he has defied medical opinion over the past two decades – I was in no position to doubt him for a second. 

If Liam says he will be cycling for Ireland next summer, I know for a fact that he will be. I have never met anyone who has faced such obstacles and yet shown such determination to live a full and healthy life as Liam.

Last week I spoke to another good friend, Karl, whose life was almost destroyed in a motorcycle accident 12 years ago. Like Liam, he has learned to face adversity head-on. 

Neither of them sits around thinking about how unfair life has been. 

Today Liam and I chatted in the sun and I realised that my self-pity had evaporated. I remembered how good it is just to bump into people I hold dearly in my heart, by chance, during a walk in my home town.
On a glorious, sunny day in Galway, I felt like I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

I’m already looking forward to my first swim in five months, my first visit to the gym, and my first trip abroad since having surgery three times. I am beginning to see how pointless all the panic was as I mulled over voluntary redundancy last year.

I am half way through an excellent 12 week Build Your Own Digital Business course in which I have met some great people. I would never have done the course if it wasn’t for my shoulder troubles. The infections clipped my wings in terms of global travel, but they gave me time to take stock and realise what's important in life.

In recent days I have also been invited to get involved in two exciting new projects in Galway. The financial rewards might be minimal, but it’s great to experience the energy involved in getting new ventures off the ground.

I would not wish the last five months of my life on anyone, the scares, the frustrations, the countless medical appointments, and yet they have taught me very valuable lessons about my life.

It’s only when you experience ill health that you really appreciate all your blessings. As long as you are breathing, everything else can be worked on.


  1. Good for you ciaran. Meditation and mindfulness won't necessarily give you the life you want but can help you fall in love with the life you have. Glad you are on the mend.

  2. Thanks Bairbre. It has been an awful long and frustrating process, but also a valuable learning experience. Ciaran

  3. lovely words ciaran, good luck at omig x

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