What a pathetic sight we must have been! Here we were, at Frimley Park Hospital, in the leafy county of Surrey, which is renowned for its wealthy, well-to-do population, perhaps the English version of Beverly Hills in California, but far less eventful and with a gentler climate.
My wife was an excellent sprinter, who would have left me behind at the start line while dashing to the finish. In turn, my memory was filled with swimming, fast cycling, and running, the three-in-one endurance race known as the Triathlon, with myself being a member of Thames Valley Triathletes between 1985 and 1992 inclusive, with one year as a member of the club's committee, and also the editor of the club's semi-annual magazine, Triangle.
|Half Marathon, 1986.|
It was during those years of peak physical fitness when, of these three disciplines, cycling was the dominant one. This included the 300-mile 483 km Newcastle-to-Reading sponsored cycle in less than three days, with some from our club alongside members of the Reading Lions. This was the inspiration for the End-to-End cycling accomplished a year later in 1990. The real difference between the two separate trips was while the Newcastle-Reading ride was fast, the End-to-End, which was completed in eleven days, was tedious, due to carrying our own luggage on our bikes instead of having a service van as was the case of the other.
What more can I say when it comes to a hilly hike along the West Coast Path, also along the Hadrian's Wall trail from Carlisle to Newcastle, or those lovely trecks across the Lake District, including looking down from "the Throne of England" (Scafell Pike) - not to forget the Manhatten City Hike or the Grand Canyon trails from rim to river.
Memories, memories - are they a source of joy or a source of torment? And so I was thinking as I sat in a wheelchair whilst wheeled by a porter from one department to another. Feeling melancholic as I endured intense pain at the knee joint. After an X-ray, the doctor came back to me to say that I have arthritis.
This was quite a shock! I have always interpreted this ailment as "an old man's disease." Arthritis is when the cartilage at the joint between two bones has worn thin until the gap - in my case, between the femur and the tibia - becomes narrower until the two bones threaten to touch. So the doctor tells me.
I was very concerned! Is normal living over? Will I be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life? Will I suffer sharp knee pains until I can have surgery? And being an elective, non-life-threatening procedure, most likely having to wait months, only for the op to be cancelled on the day.
How did this happen? Well, it occurred while I was preparing to exercise in the gym. I was approaching the rowers when all of a sudden there was this unexpected sharp and intense pain. I leaned on a nearby elliptical, trying to steady myself. I found that I was unable to stand up, let alone walk. Eventually, one of the gym's instructors saw me in such a state and along with her colleague, I was examined and an ambulance was called. In front of all the other patents using gym equipment, I was wheelchaired out of the gym to board an ambulance waiting for me outside.
Was it a coincidence that my knee gave way on the same day when Alex my beloved happen to have an appointment at the same hospital to have a cyst treated? After my knee was X-rayed and diagnosed, I was free to go when my wife arrived at the outpatient's department, having been given a lift by the same gym instructor who dealt with me that morning. After her ailment was examined by a consultant, it was decided for treatment straight away. That is, after a two-hour wait for her to digest the lunch she just had as well as being at the back of the queue of patients, all in need of day surgery.
It was during this two-hour wait when I allowed thoughts to pass through my mind. I dreaded life in a wheelchair or of constant use of crutches. Especially as a carer myself, I cannot afford to be incapacitated. Here we were, husband and wife, each in a wheelchair, next to each other. One has already received a diagnosis with no treatment on the horizon, the other also diagnosed and actually waiting for treatment.
Where have we come since our wedding day very nearly two decades earlier? Life in a wheelchair or on crutches? No more swimming? No more gym? No more walking and no more cycling? No more this or no more of that? The very thought brought shivers. It was a moment of blasted hope, a dread, the loss of independence. For example, for the church, I would have to rely on the generosity of others to give me a lift every week instead of trusting in my own two-wheeled steed. I kept on thinking. It could have been a lot worse.
I remember hearing or reading stories of auto-crashes. If the driver or passenger survives, then he's likely to suffer paralysis from the neck downwards. Whether it's from a car accident, or from an act of daring stupidity, for the spine to break at the neck is the worst possible injury one could ever suffer. Permanent paralysis of the whole body from the chin down. Only today I read in a newspaper about this noted golfer, in his mid-twenties, who was away on holiday. He was visiting a water theme park which featured fast and daring flumes. So he stood at the top of one and decided to slide headfirst. Apparently, at the splash pool, he hit the bottom with such force that he broke his neck. After he was rescued and hospitalised, he is now permanently paralysed.
I try to put myself in his shoes. Just moments earlier I was in good health, fully mobile, independent, happy and living a normal life. Then this happens. All of a sudden, in one fell swoop, I lose everything except my life. The agony, the terrifying prospect of life in a wheelchair, completely immobile, and in need of constant full-time care, including being spoon-fed like a baby. What dread this would be! Realising that never again would I enjoy the freedom of mobility and independence I took so much for granted. If only I could turn back the clock, even by just a few minutes! I would have altered my fate by sliding feet-first, or even descend the steps if those behind me would let me through.
It was by realising the reality of such injuries, whether it's the patient's fault or the result of somebody else's error or an act of stupidity, that has brought me to my senses. What I had was a knee injury due to a life of wear and tear. I was not at all paralysed. Compared to total paralysis, what I have is a minor ailment, one I might cope with on a better level. Yet, as I sat and waited for Alex to be called in, I couldn't help but think about how I have taken all my blessings for granted. The ability to see, to hear, to speak, to walk, to run, cycle, swim. The ability to use my arms for all manner of tasks, including eating. The ability to kick a ball. Also, I was always endowed with the ability to read and write as well as to work out mathematical problems. All these things I took for granted and hardly ever gave these things a second thought. I also looked back to my days of travel, when it was quite easy to arrive at the airport to take off for a far-away destination. If left immobile, I would cry out for a revival of those glorious days. Indeed, to put me in the place of the former golfer would have brought terror!
Aloud enough for Alex to hear, I began to recite this:
The Lord is my shield and my strength, my rock, and a strong tower, into it the righteous run and they are saved.
I began to feel my spirit rise as I began to thank God for everything I have taken for granted. And then I began to edify Alex, not to allow her faith in her God to fail. After this, I rose and fully supported by a pair of crutches, I tried walking. Despite the feeling of discomfort, I was able to manage some steps - a big improvement from the gym that morning and a source of greater hope - that life will return to normal. Today, while this blog is written, I took breaks and found that I can walk a few steps entirely without the need for crutches and without discomfort.
This leads me to believe that life will return to normal, but knowing that I have arthritis, I am now aware that my knee can suffer again in the future. The pain is imminent, it can come suddenly, at any moment. Whether walking, cycling, in the gym or even in the swimming pool, or during a church service, or while sitting in a train, or as a passenger in a friend's car, my leg can convulse in sudden, sharp pain. If such pain can literally immobilise me, like it did in the gym, then the situation can be catastrophic!
Really, by comparison to others, I'm not an old man. I have a friend in church who is two years my senior, yet his health is enviable. Therefore, at this point, I would like to ask: What has led me to such a state, and for that matter, Alex's illnesses?
Here I'm talking about illnesses which have developed on a gradual basis rather than by an accident. According to one Christian doctor with a lifetime of experience, nearly all illnesses are caused by an upset mind.* This GP has named nearly a hundred illnesses which are linked by an upset mind harbouring negative emotions. Emotions such as fear, persistent worry, excess stress, prolonged anger and bitterness, along with unforgiveness, constantly bearing a grudge against the wrongdoer.
Diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes, alimentary canal disorders, circulatory disorders, disorders of the genito-uninary system, and nervous disorders are just a few types of illness which can be caused by harbouring unhealthy emotions towards someone, a group of people or an unfavourable circumstance. This doctor points out that the two adrenal glands, each one sitting on each the two kidneys, are responsible for many illnesses, as these glands produce the hormone adrenaline. Normally, adrenaline is a life preserver when coping with alarm. For example, when under threat of danger, adrenaline triggers a sudden fight-or-flight response. One true story is that of an adolescent who was with his father under his car as he was maintaining it. Suddenly the jack gave way, and as the car threatened to crush the father underneath it, the lad, in fright, was able to lift the car so his dad can crawl out from under it.
When the lad tried to lift the car again under peaceful circumstances, he wasn't able to budge it whatsoever. Here, adrenaline had its proper purpose. It was to enable the lad to act in an emergency.
But negative emotions cause the two glands to constantly secrete adrenaline. Emotions such as fear, anxiety and anger are the chief negative emotions along with hatred and bitterness. This cause higher-than-normal amounts of the hormone to be constantly pumped into the bloodstream, which will eventually upset the delicately balanced systems which maintain the body's health.
But we don't have to rely on a book to see for ourselves. We have the experience. Take me for instance. For several years the Big Three was the main cause for fear and anxiety. The Big Three are Brexit, Alex's health, and Future Financial issues. By allowing myself to worry over these issues has allowed adrenaline to constantly infiltrate my bloodstream. This has accelerated the wearing down of the cartilage lining the knee joint, bringing arthritis at a comparatively early age. That was why only this morning, while I was hobbling to Starbucks on a pair of crutches, I was overtaken by a man walking without any aid and who looks to be in his seventies.
This was confirmed by a recent newspaper report that those with a pessimistic temperament are more likely to fall ill at an earlier age than the natural optimistic, and probably die earlier too. But really, I have to admit my lack of faith in God. As I see it, Brexit is more likely a judgement from God rather than redemption or blessing. This is due to the nationwide rejection of God and the dismissal of the historical truth of the Bible, to embrace a lie. Personally, a nation which rejects God is not likely to be blessed.
Hence my anxiety, leading to arthritis. And here, I'm not blameless. Rather, I need to nourish and strengthen my faith in God's goodness, which would give me peace during such turbulent times. Faith in God is the only hope which will hold out in these last days.
*S. I. McMillen M.D. None of these Diseases, 1966, 1980, Lakeland Paperbacks.
*S. I. McMillen M.D. None of these Diseases, 1966, 1980, Lakeland Paperbacks.