Thanksgiving – mixed blessings

In nine days, millions of people across the North American Continent will be celebrating the annual festival of Thanksgiving. This will be done in a myriad of different ways, but all will adhere to one basic tenet: gluttony in the company of as much of your family as you can fit around a table. And don’t get me wrong: I love Thanksgiving Dinner (although I am more in favour of a roast ham than a roast turkey) and a little food-coma-inducing gluttony is good for the soul (even if it is one of the Seven Deadly Sins…).

However, many will only have a basic idea of why, exactly, they are shovelling turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie like there is no tomorrow. Which, indirectly, is why they are doing so.

On the last Thursday of November, we citizens of the US of A (whether we live there or no), give thanks to the kindness of strangers in a strange land who pitied the poor, starving colonists who had come to start new lives in this vast, unknown (at least to Europeans) land as unprepared as newborn babes. For thousands of whom there was no tomorrow as sickness, starvation (due to failed crops and a lack of knowledge of the indigenous fauna and flora) and attacks by the (quite rightly angry) native “Indians” took their toll.

In a fateful moment of kindness (or perhaps just acceptance of a fait accompli) local natives brought the inhabitants of one colonial town food, drink and renewed hope that they could indeed forge the new lives as they had hoped. We colonists then repaid this by killing our hosts in vast numbers (both intentionally and via introduction to diseases against which they had no resistance), taking their land and then confining the remaining Peoples into what amount to no more nor less than concentration camps (in the original sense of the term). Nice.

All historical guilt aside, one of the things I like about this festival is that it makes us stop for a moment and think, “for what am I truly grateful?”

So for what am I grateful? Well, this year I am grateful that I was safely delivered of (another) son (as the Royals say…) and that he is just as wonderful as his siblings. But mostly, and forever, I am grateful to the wonderful team of doctors and nurses at the hospital in Brussels, Belgium (where I was living at the time) who, four years ago this month, saved my life.

It was late November, so when my throat started to hurt I did not really think much about it. Another cold. At worst, perhaps another bout of tonsilitis. Meh. I went to my GP and he diagnosed just that and sent me on my way with a prescription for amoxicillin. A misdiagnosis that may actually have helped save my life, as it turned out. A day later and the crick in my neck was now a painful ache between my shoulder blades, which only got worse. An out of hours doctor was called to our apartment and she diagnosed a pinched nerve and gave me a shot of heavy-duty muscle relaxant. I slept.

When I awoke I was cold. Freezing. Shivering. But boiling hot to the touch and sweating like the proverbial pig. I hit the shower, yet no matter how hot I turned it, I just could not get warm. I got out of the shower, collapsed onto the bathroom floor in the foetal position and screamed with terror to my (probably petrified husband) that something was trying to take me away from him and my baby girl (who would be turning one year old in just over a week from then). He dried me off, got me into my pyjamas, into bed and brought me some water. I could not keep it down. All that day I could not keep anything in my stomach. By evening, he called another doctor who came round immediately.

At that time, Swine Flu was sweeping through the country (and most of Europe) and with my 40 degree fever, the good doctor suspected I may have caught a dose. He called an ambulance, which arrived with much flashing of lights and screaming of sirens. Men wearing masks carried me out on a stretcher before the big, big eyes of my baby girl and the curious gazes of our neighbours. At the hospital they did a lumbar puncture. And that is when they found out that I did not have tonsilitis, a pinched nerve or Swine Flu. I had meningitis. They never did determine whether it was of the bacterial or viral variety, as my taking amoxicillin had half killed it, but also made it impossible to differentiate (at least that is how I remember the explanation…)

I spent the next week in lonely splendour in the isolation unit of St. Pierre’s Hospital. I don’t remember much, as I was alternately at the mercy of fever or asleep. But the kindness of strangers shone through like a lighthouse in a storm. The cool hands resting on my forehead. The fact that they never, ever let the pain medication drip run out before replacing it. The calm, quiet voice in the wee hours of the morning that told me, “everything is going to be ok”. The fact that they took me seriously when I said I would be going home in time for my daughter’s 1st birthday.

Thank you.

And I did. I fought and I made it home on the 22nd of November: Belle’s birthday. We opened her presents together while I lay in bed. It was the best birthday party ever.

So, what are you thankful for? I would love to know. Leave a comment below.

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