Category Archives: Suffering & Grief

Learning Patience

Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude whilst waiting. – Joyce Meyer

There is nothing like hospitals to teach you the virtues of being patient.

I am writing this, in hospital, after a relapse. Neurologists think I have a recurring CSF leak which perhaps exacerbates post traumatic migrane symptoms from my original concussion.

When better to write a post on patience! 

Hospitals require patience.
Patients need hospitals
Learning to be a patient patient is hard.

Being unwell makes being patient so much harder. You go to hospital because you are unwell. Being unwell is unpleasant. Your ability to function normally is challenged. You just want to get fixed, get better and go home.

But often instead you have to: 
Wait
Wait
Wait
Then wait a bit more! 

For everything!

The wonderful medical staff are so busy with all the patients trying to be patient whilst ill. Which can’t be easy.

So everything takes a while. 

When my husband brought me to A&E, a couple of days ago, I was having one of my ‘drunk like’ episodes. Basically amidst all the head pressure, dizziness and general head & neck pain, my head also goes a bit funny and I act rather tipsy. (A symptom that has appeared occasionally when things have got bad. Which wasn’t helped by waiting sitting upright for so long – which is not helpful if you are leaking Cerebral Spinal Fluid).

All this meant I waited in the A&E assessment waiting room a bit like a small unwell child.

Speaking loudly,
Reading all the signs out loud,
And asking my husband every five mins:

When is it my go?”. 

I kid you not – that is literally how it was!

It’s both half amusing and half troubling for Matt and I (and probably exceedingly annoying for everyone who probably assumed I had vodka in the water bottle I constantly swigged).  

Why is waiting so hard? 

  • We are not used to it. 
  • It feels like a waste of time. 
  • It can make us feel anxious or frustrated. 
  • We want quick fixes and quick answers. 
  • We are too used to our fast paced world. 

However, 

Perhaps, if we realised there are lessons to be learned from waiting, we would embrace times of waiting more easily. Maybe then we would not allow ourselves to get so frazzled.

I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else as I write this. There is nothing like a lesson learned in real time, as I wrote in my last post Breaking Free! From Self Pity. And there is nothing like being ‘stuck’ in hospital to refine your waiting skills.

It’s a challenge to say the least. 

But we must try to find positives in hard times or we will become consumed by the difficulties. Being frustrated, annoyed and impatient usually does nothing to help the process and certainly doesn’t help get you better.

I do know how hard this is though, especially when you feel desperately ill. 

My first night after being admitted was tough. I wasn’t in the best way (although not ‘as bad’ once I actually got to lie down flat of course). I was on a medical ward because they firstly wanted to rule out a brain infection, such as meningitis, so I had lots of doctors coming to check me out.

During the night I somehow laid on the cannula they had put in my arm and pulled it out. Once I realised, and had called the nurse, I looked down and saw the bed and me covered in a pool of blood, from it leaking.

The nurse came, sorted out the cannula and started changing my bed and I got myself to the loo to try and change. (which was a challenge in itself because my walking and balance were affected by my general CSF leak/ post concussion heady symptoms). But in true Becky Hill style I was intent on doing it myself and thought I felt OK enough to manage.

How wrong I was! 

I started to try and clean myself up and during the process pretty much fainted, but seeing as I was by then half undressed and smeared in blood, whilst trying to wash the blood out of my clothes, I thought I would try again, not wanting the nurses to have to rescue me.

Unfortunately, that was wishful thinking and in almost passing out again, I managed to unlock the door and ring the emergency buzzer.

I was lying on that hospital toilet floor, feeling extreamly weak, desperately vulnerable and overwhelmingly nauseous. I then had to wait for someone to hear the buzzer and come.

I could hardly move, hardly talk and certainly couldn’t look after myself in that moment. 

But I still had to wait. 

It probably wasn’t even that long before the nurse came. But it felt like forever. Listening to that buzzer, hoping someone would come.

Trust me I know how hard it is to wait when you are desperate. 

It turned out my blood pressure was very low and the wonderful nurses put a lovely hospital gown round me and wheeled me back to bed, the doctors came and they had to give me IV fluids to help sort me out.

Waiting can be so hard, especially when we are feeling weak, vulnerable and desperate. 

It’s also hard to get waiting right in those moments. (Hopefully others can then empathise more with our impatience in those moments). 

In general though, we can all learn to wait more patiently in both easy and harder times. Here are some of the ways the process of waiting can help us.

1. Waiting teaches us how to be patient. 

Well that’s obvious, isn’t it? 

But it’s not always the case. Waiting is often enforced upon us and hence it is something we ALL complain and get frustrated about.

Who likes enforced waiting? It’s just down right annoying isn’t it? 

Yes it is! However, being patient brings peace and a lot less stress during difficult times. Stress just produces tension in our bodies and minds and usually just makes the whole ‘waiting’ experience more traumatic than it needs to be.

We may still need to challenge the process and find out if all the waiting is really necessary. But we can do that from a place of peace and understanding rather than anger and frustration.


2. Waiting can help our empathy of others’ difficulties. 

When I have to wait, especially in a hospital, it’s easy to start to look around and try to work out how important my case is compared to others.

If we are not careful the selfish tendency we all have kicks in and we are blinded by our own problems and cannot even begin to see the difficulties others face.

‘Me, me, what about me!’

Patience instead allows us to show more empathy to others around us and see the difficulties they face as well.

3. Waiting can be an opportunity to rest.

We are often not very good at resting when it also involves waiting. I know that I am certainly not! We complain about our busyness and then can’t cope with resting either.

This is because enforced rest is often neither convenient or welcomed – because we can’t choose it or use it how we want.

It feels like a colossal inconvenience and a waste of our precious time. Which may well be the case.

However, rest is a good thing when used correctly. Sometimes it is only thorough rest that complete healing comes. But only if we let go of our anxiety in the process and attempt to fill our thoughts with better things.

4. Waiting increase our endurance. 

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character…” (Romans 5:3-4 The Bible)

Endurance is a great virtue. Without endurance we won’t get very far in life. It is endurance that spurs us to keep on keeping on, even when the going gets really tough.

It enables us to push through difficulties and come out stronger the other side. Without endurance we become floored by every trial, however small. We give up trying, aiming or working towards better things.

  
Learning how to ‘wait’ better can do a deep work in us that enables us to face the challenges life brings and overcome them as best we can.

Patience brings us peace amidst the storm because we stop allowing the storm to control our feelings and actions.

In this way, we not only ‘survive the storm’ but we can ‘thrive in the storm,’ because ultimately that which came and brought chaos in our lives, actually produces more peace, contentment and thankfulness.

Maybe if we see things differently we will no longer fight ‘waiting’ so much. Maybe we will instead find a way to embrace it, with wisdom, allowing it to do the work in us it can do;

If we will just let it. 

“Without patience, we will learn less in life. We will see less. We will feel less. We will hear less.” – Mother Teresa

_________________________________________________
Next time you have to wait. Have a look around you and perhaps ask yourself:

What can I learn, see, hear and feel from this process?  

How can I contribute to a peaceful atmosphere amidst the wait and even in challenging it? 


To read more about my journey since my concussion and CSF Leak please see my first post here.

To read more about my ongoing story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Surviving the Storm: My Battle With Concussion & A CSF Leak.

‘The longer I live the more I realise the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude to me is more important than failures or successes, than what people think, say or do, it is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. The remarkable thing is that I have a choice everyday as to the attitude I will embrace and I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.’  – Charles Swindoll

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. In fact, only a few days after I started the blog, I had (what I considered at the time) a little accident and fell off a step ladder and hit my head, neck, & spine as well as sustaining some other minor bruises.

The end result of this little fall was two and a half months of, at times, severe symptoms which were diagnosed by various medical professionals, firstly as Concussion, then Post-Concussion Syndrome & Whiplash and finally, about 3 weeks ago, I was diagnosed in hospital by neurologists as having a spinal CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid) Leak. (This is a tear in the membrane that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. It results in the spinal fluid leaking out and absorbed into your body, reducing pressure and causing your brain to drop in your skull.)

I am not sure we really fully know which of my symptoms could be attributed to what diagnosis, at what point. However, in the end, the CSF leak seemed to fit many ongoing symptoms, a lumbar puncture confirmed ‘low pressure’ spinal fluid and I received treatment for this which helped a lot. (This included an epidural blood patch following over 2 weeks of lying flat in hospital whilst taking caffeine supplements & pain relief).

In short I had battled for weeks with an array of symptoms which included:
Severe dizziness
Lack of balance
Pressure headaches
Severe head and neck pain
Cognitive (thinking) impairment
Sensitivity to light and noise
Nausea
Body shaking and spasms
Struggling to walk very far (and only with support)
Struggling to talk at times
A constant need to lie down flat to alleviate/ ease symptoms. (typical of a spinal CFS leak).
Exhaustion of body & mind

Over the last 11 weeks I saw multiple NHS doctors & consultants, nurses, physios, had 3 trips to A&E, one ambulance to the house, a two and a half weeks stay in an NHS neurology ward, a CT scan, X-rays, 3 MRI scans, (all inconclusive) 1 lumbar puncture and 1 epidural blood patch.

I am currently still on the journey of recovery and building up my strength. Not fully back to normal and still have to lie down at times during the day, especially in the evenings, but I am so much better than I was.

It’s certainly been a challenging 11 weeks which totally disrupted my, and my family’s, normality. I spent 22-23 hours a day, for the first couple of months, lying in bed in a dark room, mostly on my own, doing very little and then two and a half weeks in hospital lying flat as much as possible whilst I waited for various tests and procedures.

Grunge Background

After starting my blog in January, the third blog post I wrote was about Perspective: Stepping Back From The Detail To See The Bigger Picture. I wrote about how our perspective is really important and how we sometimes we need to step back from the details to see the bigger picture. I spoke about how sometimes it’s not circumstances that need to change but the way we see what is happening. Sometimes we have to choose to see things differently, we have to see with new eyes.

Who could have known that the words that I wrote at that time could be so significant for me in the days, weeks, and even months after I wrote them. Sometimes it’s our own words that become powerful in speaking back to us. The words we say or write in one season of our life becomes so applicable to another season of our life, in a new way.

So over the past few weeks I’ve learnt a lot about perspective. Many hours, of many days, I’ve had to step back from the detail to see the bigger picture. I have had to step back from the symptoms to get a larger perspective.

Some days you have to fight for a better perspective.
Sometimes you have to push your way through the details to gain a better understanding.
Sometimes you have to step back from the circumstances and choose to change your attitude.

Especially when things can be:
Scary
Unknown
Different
Exceedingly frustrating
Exhausting

When you can feel:
Very unwell
Naive
Helpless
Weak
Uninformed
Mentally impaired

When the new season requires new:
Patience
Endurance
Wisdom
Strength
Faith
Determination

Grunge Background

The past number of weeks again opened my eyes to new perspective. I can’t recall in my life ever being ill for more than a few days. I’ve never had a brain injury before and I really didn’t know a lot about them. I now have a much better understanding, and a better perspective of people who experience them and similar things.

The challenge of mild traumatic brain injuries, is that they are often unseen. They are not a visible injury. Concussions, whiplash, and often CSF leaks, don’t appear on normal CT or MRI scans so it creates problems in diagnosis, all you have is the symptoms to go on.

It’s a humbling process as you try and work your way through the symptoms, often having to rely on the information you seek out yourself, to work out what on earth is wrong with you and how to get the right treatment. It’s a challenge when you are diagnosed with something that people don’t know a lot about. When your illness or injury is not fully tangible, yet so debilitating, and can often only be diagnosed by the symptoms that you experience and have to try and communicate to medical professionals.

So it’s been a season of learning.

Challenge and hardship are often a place we grow, a place we learn, a place we develop. If we choose to approach them in the right way and with the right perspective.

The Bible NLT Translation, James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4. You can experience joy through challenging times because you know that it is stretching your ability to endure.
The Bible NLT Translation, James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4. You can experience joy through challenging times because you know that it is stretching your ability to endure.

Sometimes:
We just have to be patient.
We have to keep walking through the storm and trust the calm will come.
We have to face the challenges of life and then use what we learn to make us stronger and help other people.
We have to keep holding on to hope without knowing all the answers.
We have to fight to stay thankful and see the positives within a difficult time.

It’s all about having the right perspective.

It’s not easy.

Some days you have to fight through the frustration, the fear, the worry and the negative thoughts. Until you can again see with a better, more positive and hopeful perspective and step back from the details of your circumstances.

When I stepped back from the detail in my situation, I could see that it could have been worse. Yes this accident interrupted my life, yes it was frustrating, a real challenge. It totally changed my life for a number of weeks and months. However, I had so much wonderful help and support from my family and friends. I have learnt so much and gained a better perspective and more appreciation of life. And I am now coming through my storm, I am doing well in recovery and I am getting back to some kind of normality day by day.

There is never any point in wasting energy on the ‘why me?’ or ‘what ifs?’ A negative mindset, looking backwards or forwards, just destroys you from the inside out. Even amidst very difficult times there’s always something to be thankful for and others worse off than you. I always chose to believe that my storm would pass (even when I seemed to be getting worse rather than better), others don’t have that blessing, the storm just gets worse and doesn’t go away.


Some days you have to fight through the frustration, the fear, the worry and the negative thoughts. Until you can again see with a better, more positive and hopeful perspective.


So again, with new insight, I say that so much is linked to perspective. We can choose to see the positives or become consumed by the negatives in our lives. We can choose remain thankful for the good things, even when we are going through a dark time.

Often it’s not the circumstances of our lives that need to change. It’s our perspective, it’s our attitude, it’s the way we ‘see’ and think about our life.

Sometimes we need to step back from the detail to see the bigger picture. We then realise that often the storms in life come and go. And with the right attitude and a hopeful perspective we will come through it:
a little stronger,
a little wiser,
a little more thankful for daily life,
and have a little more compassion for others.

It’s all about perspective!

I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.’ – Charles Swindoll

Lets keep asking ourselves: What parts of our own lives could we see with a more positive perspective? Self awareness is always the first step to personal change.


I have now written two update posts about my recovery journey at 6 months and at 8 months; I then have a series of posts about a relapse at 9 months  when it was decided that I probably never had a concussion and all my symptoms could be attributed to a spinal CSF Leak

To read more about my 20 months on story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Click here to read more about my spinal CSF leak recovery following my 4th blind lumbar 40ml epidural blood patch in September 2017 and subsequent ‘rebound into higher CSF pressure/ hypersensitivity to higher pressure’ following that treatment. 

A fantastic informative video that you can refer to about spinal CSF Leaks, their symptoms and treatments is The Mystery Headache: Migraine, Positional Headache, Spinal Fluid Leak? by Professor Ian Carroll at Stamford University Hospitals.

To find out more about Concussion and Post Concussion this video is a great resource: Concussion Management


A Year Ago Today: A journey through grief and what I have learnt.

A year ago today we sat in an ICU relatives room being told that today was the day that they would turn off my Mum’s life support.

Those few days were a tough and exhausting journey.

In November 2013 we discovered that she had a brain tumour. On January 8th 2014 the doctors operated on it. The operation was complex and took 14 hours. In their eyes it was a success. However, the next 48 hours proved fatal as it emerged that she also had an infection in her pacemaker that caused septicemia, and this combined with the brain surgery overwhelmed her already fragile body.

Those few days opened my eyes.

This was my first experience of ICU. There were critically ill people everywhere. Attached to machines keeping them alive. Many of whom would recover and yet many of whom would not make it or at least only ‘make it’ through to a life dramatically different from their previous one.

Mothers,
Fathers,
Sons,
Daughters,
Sisters,
Brothers,
Friends,
Lovers,
Husbands,
Wives.

And the waiting room was full of people waiting for them. But unlike most waiting, it was often waiting to see whether a loved one would live or die. Waiting to see what that life-changing injury, illness or surgery would do. What it would look like within their family. To say goodbye or to welcome someone back. And even if they came back, their life may be radically changed.

And in that room it was different. A different perspective. An unsaid understanding that people were fighting a battle. That people were riding a storm.

Waiting.
Hoping.
Loving.
Holding on.
Surviving.

When you left that room and went out into the wider hospital or world outside, it was different. Staff at work. People visiting patients. A coming and going of life and normality….for some.

But our experience was far from normal.

There was a part of me thankful to have been there and seen it. To be there and remember & realise that while we go through our ‘normal’ lives, others are facing turmoil, crisis & pain. Sometimes it’s hidden away behind a door titled ICU in the middle of a hospital. Sometimes it’s in a hospice down the road. Sometimes in a house next door. Sometimes it’s hidden in the lives of those you work with, walk past, sit next to on the bus. The shop assistant, the teacher, the security guard, the single mum.
 
People are hurting even though you may not know.

wolken

We lost my Mum a year ago. A year ago I experienced my first real experience of personal grief, along with all the questions and thoughts that go through your mind.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.” – C.S. Lewis

For the first few days & even weeks after it happened, I felt an anxiety & what was like a ‘fear’ I hadn’t felt before. The above quote from C.S. Lewis resonated with me. It’s a feeling like anxiety and fear and yet you are not actually afraid. A heaviness. A pain within. A pressure that builds up inside you and you don’t know what to do with it. The thought of going out and seeing people you know can be hard. A ‘fear’ grips you. An anxiety I had not felt before.

And yet…

I chose to push through, to fight, knowing that I couldn’t let those feelings debilitate me. I had to push through, to break through. To discover purpose through pain. To face the questions. To let go of guilt & embrace the way forward. The way out. The way that sees good triumph over evil. The way that does not allow death to destroy.

I have learnt that the best way in life is not denial.
It is to face challenges head on.
Knowing that you will get battered through the journey.
But knowing that taking a battering and coming through stronger is better than allowing yourself to be destroyed inside due to denial.

So that is the journey I have walked. A journey that turns difficult things into challenges that make you stronger and wiser. A journey of self-awareness. A journey that helps you to feel more empathy & compassion for others. And a journey that becomes part of your identity, but that does not define who you become.

Some great words that someone sent me at the time that really helped.

So, one year on, I sit here and I remember the pain. I remember the exhaustion. I remember those days in hospital where my loving God was my only strength & the source of the deep peace I felt throughout. When words from the Bible, music & other inspiration carried me and become an anchor that held me tight.

I remember the relief when my husband, Matt, was able to come to London a day after my Mum died. I remember the drive back to Leicester in the car: utterly spent, physically & emotionally exhausted and yet finally being able to share with my husband the full journey of the last few days.

I remember when I got home. The desperate need to find a photo of my Mum looking healthy, so as to replace the image of someone who hardly looked human lying in that hospital bed. Grotesquely swollen from head to foot. Covered in wires.

I remember the pain, the questions & things to work through in my mind. The tears. The memories. The exhaustion of sleep lost, of pushing through.

But here we are a year on.
Today marks the anniversary of that day.

I have learnt that each person deals with and faces grief differently. There are few rights and wrongs. I have always felt grief was much easier for me than some. Partly, because I lived over 3 hours away from my parents. Our lives were no longer as intermingled as they were as I was growing up. I did not have to look daily at the empty chair. I was not reminded hourly, daily of the person lost. And perhaps because my relationship with her was quite complex anyway and had been for a long time. (Although that brings its own challenges into the grieving process).

And yet I know that what gets me through this, and all the things we face, is an ability to see the positive amidst the negative. A training of the mind to face challenges head on & to learn and grow through them. An inner strength that comes from my deep relationship with God. An innate gratefulness that there are always blessings, hope & joys in life to be found – even amidst the pain of death.

While we were in the ICU waiting room there was a couple waiting for their 20 year old son to wake up. He had been in an accident & was in a coma. They didn’t know if he would wake at all.

They waited,
ate,
slept,
and washed,
in that hospital waiting room.

They had been there about 10 days. They didn’t want to leave in case he woke up and they were not there.

On that Friday afternoon my family sat with my Mum as they turned off her life-support. An agonising time which seems to go on forever as the heart continues to beat for a good few minutes after the breathing has stopped. And the heart rate goes up and down until finally, agonisingly slowly, dropping to zero.

It was horrible.

I tried to put music on my phone and hold it to my ear to drown out the beeps of the heart monitor that lie to you that a person who is gone is still there.

However, as we left the ICU that day for the final time, I saw that couple we hardly knew still waiting for their son to wake. We had shared a connection. We had shared the pain of watching a loved one in the throes of death. And as I looked up at that mother she immediately knew what had happened.

That anxious mother, who did not know if her son would live or die, responded like this:

She held me.

In that significant moment, someone I hardly knew hugged me.
With a touch that I needed.
A touch that understood and felt the pain.

And I whispered to her, with all the strength I could muster “I really do hope things are different for you.” She replied with deep gratitude and briefly shared how touched she was for someone to say that in the midst of their own pain.

I will never know what happened to that family. But I do hope things went well for them.

Never let your pain define you.
Never become so consumed with yourself that you cannot feel another’s pain.
Instead allow your heart to become tender.
Allow yourself to reach out to others amidst your own struggles & vulnerabilities.

Everyone you meet is facing some kind of battle. Some are having to fight harder than others at that moment.

The beauty of humanity is that suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart. It has the power to break through masks, if we let it, because it touches who we really are.

And we all need that:
Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed.
Our weaknesses need to be seen.

Because it is then we realise that we are ALL just fragile humans. It is then we realise that we are ALL more similar than maybe we thought. It is then we know that we ALL face challenges and we ALL feel pain.

So let’s choose to journey through life with compassion and care. Understanding that we are not dissimilar. We do not need to fight one another. Instead we can support one another and choose to ‘hold’ one another even in the midst of our own pain.


Suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart.