I had a modest, suburban upbringing in Australia. My mum, dad, sister, brother and I lived together until I graduated from university and moved away to work. I loved my new corporate job but desperately missed my old life with family and friends.
10 years ago, some really bad luck changed everything. I was 24 when a rare virus attacked my body and caused a brain haemorrhage. I spent the next year in hospital having over a dozen operations including the amputation of my left leg, all of my remaining toes and nine fingertips. In the coming years, I returned for more operations including a total hip replacement and open heart surgery.
Sure, I have lost a lot but I’ve never lost the love and support of my amazing family. Some of my former friends stopped coming by because they couldn’t handle what happened to me then and my subsequent disabilities. But the friendships I have now are stronger and genuine.
An accident that changed everything
For about two months, my family camped in the hospital while I was in a coma, on life support. Every cell in my body died; my family were told that they might have to turn off my life support.
It was traumatic for my family but they supported each other. As each new day dawned, they were grateful for the beeping sounds that came from the machines keeping me alive.
After coming out of the coma, I couldn’t do anything for myself. It was overwhelmingly frustrating, especially considering I had been so independent in the past. However, having my family and friends there made it easier. Their commitment to my wellbeing was unwavering and for that I am forever grateful. Here are just a few examples of the things they did to help me heal.
As each new day dawned, they were grateful for the beeping sounds that came from the machines keeping me alive
I was fed through a tube for the first six months but eventually I learnt to eat ‘normal’ food again. However, it was many more months before I could use my hands, so my family would take turns feeding me, like an infant, until I could handle cutlery.
Their support didn’t end at meal times. During the day, dad would read books to me and take me outside in my wheelchair to see the sunshine.
After a full day at her demanding job, my sister would come up to the hospital in the evenings and sit with me while we watched one of my favourite shows.
It was approximately one year before I could pull my hair back in a ponytail after my fingertips were amputated, so my sister always did that for me too.
It’s the little things in life
The examples I’ve mentioned above may seem ‘small’ but that’s just the point I want to emphasise. If you’re helping someone through a difficult time (regardless of whether or not they are in hospital), you needn’t feel compelled to make overtly grandiose gestures of support. For me, it was all the little things that had the biggest impact (like Mum’s home cooking!). I had countless hours of physical rehabilitation with medical professionals. However, my mental wellbeing was well looked after by my loved ones.
Connection with family and friends is an integral part of wellbeing. You needn’t have a ‘perfect’ family unit [nobody does!] to reap the benefits of love and support that family and friends provide.
During the day, dad would read books to me and take me outside in my wheelchair to see the sunshine
If you’re helping someone through a tough time, here are some other things to consider.
- Be their cheerleader! My family always encouraged me to push myself and challenge the bleak outlook of medical professionals. Together, we celebrated the smallest accomplishments, like brushing my own teeth for the first time.
- Help them see the positives in a bad situation. In the hospital, I frequently received bad news about my health. My family helped me smile and see the lighter side of serious times.
- Walk the talk. If you want your loved one to be positive, you need to set the tone and do that yourself. My family and friends did their best to be positive around me and it helped lift my spirits, keeping me optimistic.
My life today
A couple of years ago, I married my best friend. It was a small ceremony attended by our closest family and friends.
Coping with an unexpected illness
Because I can take a few steps with assistance, I was determined to walk down the aisle. With my mum and dad each holding my arms for support, I shuffled and stumbled down the aisle towards my handsome groom. It was such a special and symbolic moment for me to share with my parents as they had supported me through so much in the past.
Since then my family has grown to include my husband’s relatives, some of who are Indian. Each year we all come together for Diwali and celebrate our blessings with family and friends.
There are many things that I was told I’d never do again; writing was one of them. But the continued support of my loved ones has helped me climb many a metaphorical mountain and pursue my passion for writing, including two books and now this article!
Indeed, the marvels of modern medicine kept my body alive while my family and friends kept my spirit alive—and still do today.