Like the old adage goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone.
We don’t appreciate our health until we realise how fragile it is and how its not a given when we go through a health crisis. Growing up in NZ with parents who were from the ‘you’ll be right, nothing a dose of sleep and sunshine won’t fix’ school, set me up for never sweating the small stuff when it came to my health. I’d never had a reason to challenge the belief that I was healthy and just need good sleep, good activity and good food to thrive.
Enter my 40’s and after the birth of my daughter Indii, at 42 this belief was shattered. After Indii’s birth at a hospital in Bali and coming back home riding a huge wave of love, I received the shocking news that my other baby (my beloved 7 year old pet pug) Ruby, had been stolen. It was soul splitting dealing with such a high of this new life alongside this absolute grief of losing something as precious as Ruby in the very same moments. It was what factored into my immune system crashing and thus allowing a very simple sinus infection to develop into a very deadly case of Bacterial Meningitus. Some 6 weeks later I would wind up in the very hospital I had just left, fighting for my life.
I started adjusting to life with this precious new baby and 6 weeks later, after 5 days of struggling with some mystery annoying illness that prevented me from working and looking after Indii, I finally agreed to go to hospital. After battling with this intense head ache where I couldn’t pick up my daughter for 5 days, my eye sight failing and hearing going were the last straws and I accepted that I needed help and agreed to go to hospital.
I conceded perhaps it was just Malaria or Denge and thought, ‘ok I’ll deal with this’, get whatever medicine is needed then be out in a day or two. All I can remember is going into emergency at the very same hospital 6 weeks before I had given birth at. After a quick evaluation the dr’s asked to speak to my fiance. I was then admitted and told I had Meningitus which they believed was viral so I was being put in isolation and would have a lumbar puncture done that day to assess. I had no idea what Meningitus was but remembered hearing it wasn’t good.
Trent (my fiance) called to say bye and that he and Indii had to go home but he would be by his phone whenever I needed and would take care of things at work and on the home front, so not to worry. Dazed and confused wondering how this happened, I was wheeled up to my new home a small cell with thankfully a window and a tv (bonus!). I thought about how lucky it was I had all those complications trying to breast feed and after repeated visits to a lactation consultant was told that I should change to bottle feeding to ensure Indii got the supply of milk she needed. Oh my, Meningitus was fatal in almost every case with babies, how the gods must have been smiling in our favour with that chain of events which meant I didn’t pass it onto Indii due to stopping breast feeding some days earlier.
Three days later whilst lying in my bed in isolation counting down the hours, the neurologist came and stood over my bed with two other colleagues in white coats and delivered two pieces of news:
- You are lucky – your brain scan showed you were about to have a stroke. ‘Your MRI shows the same picture as I would expect from a 70 year old women’s brain that is about to have a stroke’ The neurologist explained it was due to blood clots in the small vessels in my brain. I had to immediately drop any form of stress from my life and stop working so much. What? Huh? I thought I just had Meningitus? Appears having Meningitus was actually my blessing as without this, I could have easily charged on in my busy life and ended up a stroke victim at 42 years of age. Wow, another hidden blessing and stroke of luck. oh my.
- ‘I’m afraid we got your results back from your lumbar puncture and your Menintigus is bacterial (not viral) which is a lot more dangerous then viral. Your levels are very high and so you require close monitoring and will be here on high doses of anti biotics for 2 or 3 weeks’. Wow, ok, so its treatable and I just have to wait, cool. I can deal with this. I’m sure I’ll be out in no time and importantly before my birthday in 2.5 weeks time where my fiance had planned a surprise birthday week away. I’m not going to miss that.
After they left, my head was reeling and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of either revelation and had forgotten to ask any questions being in such a daze with the delivery of this news. I started thinking of the impact of being in hospital for so long and how I would cope with not seeing my new born baby for another 2 or 3 weeks. I was told even though it was bacterial I was not able to see Indii as she was a new born and it would be dangerous. Would her daddy be ok? Would work be ok? the most scary question….Would it affect my bond with Indii?
Then I did what I promised myself I wouldn’t and I googled Bacterial Meningitus. When you are in hospital and confined to a bed its so easy to take to google between dr’s visits. The things I found out floored me – possible death, loss of sight, hearing, brain damage, seizures and loss of ability to walk were all potential outcomes. I didn’t know how to cope with the information I had received so rang my fiance and finally crumbled. Could Indii lose her mum after just coming into this world? How could this happen to someone who had always been healthy, right through pregnancy and been told everything was great? How could my immune system crash straight after and let something as harmless like a sinus infection attack my brain and develop into Meningitus? and a stroke – huh? I was told to contact my family and research blood clot history.
So I then had to get my head around working less and removing stress out of my life? Doing business in the third world would always be stressful to some degree. I was so thankful to have a great team in place led by my superman of a fiance (same team that I luckily have today 18 months later) and could step back and focus on surrendering to this and recovering.
Trent and I would speak multiple times during the day about those things that really mattered, what it was all for? what this was teaching us? how to surrender and what that meant? what I would change as a result? how to avoid stress? what life style changes we would make? As a couple whose tone was generally light and fun, here we were suddenly in these passionate deep discussions about things that really mattered that were changing our fate and path without us even fully realising it as we manifested a new chapter. When you are in an environment devoid of any stimulation, its surreal what thoughts you are faced with and the reckoning you experience. There was nothing to distract me from my thoughts and they were coming in thick and fast.
In those hours upon hours of phone chats over the next few weeks, we decided that life was short and precious and it wasn’t guaranteed. Sure we all read about it right, someone’s friend, or perhaps the degree of seperation is even closer to someone losing a life that is very close to us. For a week or month after, we make a pledge to see life in a different way and it changes how we think. We make a promise to ourselves to not take it for granted, until we do, and reality and every day living and stresses get the better of us.
This time it was us in the centre of this story. We decided to make some big changes – we both loved the ocean and knew the powerful affects it had on healing. We are both huge boaties and we decided to bring a dream forward a few years of buying a launch and living on it when we were back for our annual 4 -5 months in NZ. This focus was very comforting in hospital and I spent my days researching boats and discussing options with Trent imagining this dream lifestyle we could share with Indii going from bay to bay, island to island and slowing life down. As crazy as it was, we bought a boat on line without seeing it and without knowing if Indii would be have her sea legs. Crazy perhaps but after two summers now living on our boat, we are so grateful for this big lifestyle change and these precious memories we are making with our family. Importantly, it aided my recovery greatly.
We also made a promise that we would create a no drama layer of protection around us. This can be quite challenging in an environment in Bali where the unpredictable happens on a regular basis. Trent sheltered me from anything stressful work wise and set up secret watsapp groups with the team sheltering me from all operations issues. He managed things with the huge support of our amazing team. On a personal and professional note, I evaluated things now with ok so no one has died, its all good and let go of sweating the small stuff. This was a huge change for someone who was a perfectionist, a planner and detailed.
I also promised myself to take stock of the present more, including who I was with. As a reformed workaholic that was driven by passion for what I had created, it was a big step change to switch off. I had to change what I got fulfilment from and realised the less I planned and dabbled in the future, the more I enjoyed and loved the present moment and being really engaged in it. Interestingly, the less I worked, the more dreams came true on both a professional and personal level with last year being the most successful and happy year yet.
So what did that all mean to me? It’s only recently some 18 months on that I allow myself to really reflect on that crazy time and event that changed so much for me. My road to recovery was 12 months of hard slog and fatigue however I made health a priority and as a result of this health journey became pregnant again naturally at 44. Another gift that came from this episode.
So upon this recent reflection, like with anything in life I think its the hard times that are our greatest teacher. Here is what I Iearnt.
- Health is the foundation for life. Respect it and realise its not a given. Don’t be a hero if you are not feeling well and seek help as the longer you wait, the more serious the implications can be. if I had waited another day, I may have lost my sight, my hearing, developed brain damage or even died. As it is, my hearing and memory were impacted due to waiting so long. Even still, I realise I got off lightly.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff – when it comes down to it there is very little that really matters in the end. It’s the things that are in your heart that do, not in your head that governs most of your waking thoughts. The whispers of my heart were spoken to me in those empty hours in my hospital bed contemplating life and meaning. Relationships with those you love and family are everything. Doing the things that you really love in the time you have and importantly, being present to fully appreciate them. Let go of the rest, often its ‘the rest’ that distracts us and prevents us from experiencing the very things that matter most in the end.
3. It’s ok to edit. Step back from people and environments that aren’t supportive or that don’t make you feel good. It’s ok to edit your life and those in it.
4. Ask for help, its ok not to be a superwoman. People like to help. I was so humbled by people’s care and compassion which made such a difference in those dark weeks.
5. Let go of control and surrender more. You’ll get a better outcome from not managing every move and it will be a lot less stressful too as you won’t be married to a particular way of things happening and upset if the plan deviates from your vision. The more you push and hard graft with life, the less flow you will achieve and the harder the grind will be. Instead be more focussed on the big picture and not the detail and less concerned if ‘the how’ changes. Surrender to how things may evolve, you simply can’t control everything. Set the intention, do the work and allow it to happen and reserve your precious energy for the bigger things.
6. Pursue what sets your heart on fire. Think about the things that set your heart on fire, that give you the feelings of peace and happiness and pursue those. We know that whatever we spend our energy and attention on, we manifest. Make sure it’s the things that really count. It’s so easy in our quest for success to forget to seek the passions of the heart. Put them on your list, they matter and make the difference.
7. Have a good support team in place, you are not an island. I was fortunate that I had a strong and stable relationship with my fiance. It wasn’t always that case as I met him later in life at 41. Before that I spent most of the past decade single and prioritising work. We also were very lucky to have a very strong, loyal and supportive team in place. Without a great support team, its impossible to do anything and you never know when that may be tested and you have to lean on others. I’m forever grateful to my team and Trent, that I could.
8. Count your blessings because when you step back and look at it, life is pretty amazing and is all about perspective. This is such a precious journey and you are the one at the helm. Make it a good (and a grateful) trip!