Hospitals are unavoidable, no matter how hard we try to stay away from them. I never intended to spend a week hospitalized back in 2012, nor did I intend to be there with my parents this past year when they were each briefly hospitalized. It’s not something we plan for, yet the experience allows for a certain clarity. When those we love are ill, suddenly we are able to focus on what’s most important. I have had valuable moments of self-reflection in the hospital, and these specific lessons stayed with me.
Life is shorter than you think
We sometimes fall into the trap of believing we’ll live forever. At the very least we think we have more time, until one day there isn’t any time left to spend chasing the dreams we’ve put off. Illness and death sneak up on us, and can leave our best laid plans undone.
Sometimes you’ll hear about an acquaintance passing away - they’re 105, and while it understandably makes you sad...you almost expect it after such a long life. On the other hand, it's always shocking when the young among us are taken so soon. One of my high school classmates passed away only a year after graduation - she was 18 years old.
You never really know when your last breath will be. That can be scary, but it can also be liberating. Mortality puts everything into perspective by forcing us to examine our own lives and prioritize the people and pursuits that truly matter.
You might get more time
My mom was in the hospital last April for high blood pressure. She proved to be hypersensitive to one particular drug they used to lower her blood pressure, and it nearly stopped her heart.
She became incoherent and started to cry and fade away. I squeezed her hand and I kept calling out to her as she fought against it. The nurses were busy trying to find the doctor when she finally reopened her eyes. Her heart rate slowly returned to normal and she regained consciousness without any medical intervention. I don’t know how she recovered, but I’m grateful to still have her in my life.
For a moment we thought we were losing her - because we were. Not everyone is that fortunate, and it emphasized to me how important it is to spend as much time as we can with those we hold dear. Cherish the time you have for as long as you can.
Having good company makes a difference
Being alone in a hospital gets lonely. Injury and illness are bad enough without having to spend the countless recovery hours in solitary bed confinement. Yet even when you are sick or afflicted with a degenerative illness, the company we keep can make all the difference. Laughter has the power to drive away fears, calm nerves, and connect us.
“Maintain a network of family and friends that support and understand you. Everyone needs someone who can make them laugh, pick them up when they’re down, and provide perspective when things are difficult.” - Cyndi Amato
Life is about connections. Friends and family are important to our health. The experiences that we share with others make up the sum of our life here on this earth. It is in those moments when someone you love is hurting that you realize how important that person really is to you, and you don’t want to lose that connection.
Remember to take care of yourself
It’s easy to run yourself into the ground if you aren’t careful. I have struggled at times with getting caught in a cycle of caring more about others than myself.
“Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, then we can give from our surplus, our abundance.” - Jennifer Louden
Your health and happiness matter, too. We all have a different amount of time on this earth, and we should all try to live a life that is true to ourselves. Be honest about your own desires, needs, fears, and dreams and take steps to cultivate your own happiness. Above all, treasure the time you have. Surround yourself with the people and passions that fill you with happiness and a thirst for life.