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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

What is your act of kindness for today?

My family and my children are my lodestar, my reason for being and I love them beyond words. (Thankfully, they never read my blog, so I won't get locked in the loft again for being so sentimental!)

At the weekend, my youngest son suffered a nasty injury as the result of an accident that required reconstructive surgery to his right - and writing - hand. That's pretty hard to come to terms with when I brought them into the world, thankfully physically perfect, and have navigated them through endless childhood scrapes to try and ensure that they stay that way.

Anyway, such is life and its rich selection of lessons that we were chosen for this particular one. Consequently, in the last 48 hours, we must have been managed by at least 25 people face to face, and countless people behind the scenes and I want to take a few moments to reflect on the contribution of clinicians - and the kindness of strangers.

From a whole night spent in Accident and  Emergency on Sunday, through to the surgery today, we have experienced nothing but kindness from complete strangers to a level that is both humbling and moving and I have been struck by being so kindly treated by so many people from such a wide variety of nationalities, cultures, skin tones, languages and origins that I have lost count.

Today, as I saw my "baby" disappear through the wide double doors on his way to the operating theatre and out of my control or ability to keep him safe, I was moved by the simple humanity of the whole experience and quite literally by "the kindness of strangers".  I couldn't help feeling that if the whole world operated on this currency, it would be a pretty wonderful place in which to be.

Then, I went outside for some air and as it was a London Hospital, nearly collided with two heavily armed policmen,  with sub-machine guns strapped across their chests, as they strolled up Fulham Road in the summer sunshine. The contrast was like standing on a rake, with the handle of "reality" rushing up to thump me on the head.

I spent some time thinking about how lucky I am that a) I wasn't particularly scared of the police or their guns, and b) to have been able to commit my precious child to such safe and trustworthy hands in a fully equipped and hi-tec hospital with drugs a-plenty - and without money changing hands. This is more than would be true for a large percentage of the very people who had shown us such kindness since the weekend.

I don't want to use my own blog to make any political point in particular - but I do wonder what our level of treatment would have been like if people had not immigrated to London from countries without this level of human and medical care or where to encounter armed police would have resulted in a different outcome?

I think the "kindness of strangers" was a line from Tenessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire - and it is the second time I have been directed by it in less than a week. The other reference was an article written about an Afghan refugee who is devoting his life, post-asylum seeking, to becoming a paediatrician in the UK. He had such amazing care from the community when he arrived as a frightened child, that he wants to put something back.

I have learned a lot in a short space of time and possibly it's a lesson that I needed. Whether that is true or not, I intend to squeeze every ounce of learning from it.

I also intend to see if I can perpetuate "the kindness of strangers" for each day from now on by engaging in my own act of kindness and respect for my fellow human beings.

If everyone woke up each day wondering what kindness they could bestow on the world in general, I wonder what effect it would have?

I realise that I am feeling particularly sensitised and vulnerable right now - but I will still ask the question...

What will be your act of kindness for today?

I am planning to keep this question close to my heart - next to the photograph of my children...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

How are you choosing to keep your head above water?

Each morning at my local gym, there is a golden window of time, somewhere between the briefcases departing and baby buggies arriving - but just before the back problems descending, when the pool is ideal for me.

I try to get there most mornings when I can as it offers a great thinking opportunity where my left brain counts the strokes and generally keeps itself busy in perfect linear fashion, whilst my right brain plays around with how it is going to achieve the various challenges of the day ahead. 

Anyway, just recently, I have been jolted into realising that the pool offers a rich slice of life analogy, so my morning swim has taken on an added dimension...

This particular pool is divided by floating marker lines into three lanes, marked "slow lane", "medium lane" and "fast lane" and the instructions on the side inform us that we should swim in a clockwise direction. (Another notice sternly informs us of all the things we can't do - which immediately makes me want to run, dive, splash and shout like a lout!).

I love watching the choices people make between the lanes and their process of deciding whether they are  "fast lane" people or "slow lane" plodders as the whole pool begins to resemble an organisational hierarchy. 

To swim in the fast lane, it seems that you have to have the right gear and take yourself very seriously, (although it must be a challenge in a tight hat that makes you look like a rubber gob-stopper, goggles that make you look like the mother-ship is waiting for you to re-join it and a nose clip borrowed from a synchronised swimming team.)

The fast-lane swimmers take it very seriously indeed, hardly ever greet or acknowledge each other, enter and exit the pool by shunning the steps and thrash up and down in seeming oblivion to whatever else is going on in the pool. These guys know exactly what they are tasking themselves to achieve and it's a purposeful, productive and performance-based part of the pool that a less competent swimmer would be well-advised to steer clear of, in case you were mown down by someone in a rubber hat with photos of Michael Phelps in their waterproof wallet.

The slow lane over on the other side of the pool is the entire opposite where people enter and exit by the steps, take rests at each end, greet each other, talk to each other, occasionally bump into each other - and if there are only two swimmers present, muck up the clockwise arrangement by agreeing to take a side each and swim up and down at their own pace.

Instead of rubber hats, they sport a collection of rubber flip-flops, often with sparkly bits on, that they park by the steps in the same way that small children keep new shoes by the end of their beds so that they can see them when they wake up next morning. The slow lane swimmers don't need a rubber hat because they seldom get their hair wet and couldn't perform a tumble-turn if their lives depended on it so don't need a nose clip either. They do, however, know each other's names and are good sports in navigating round slower swimmers and helping less able people up and down the steps. You can always tell a slow-lane swimmer too because they test the temperature of the water before getting in and have some stock phrases to share about their toe-led research once they are in.

In the middle lane are the "middle management" class of swimmers. The fast lane is too - fast - and the slow lane isn't enough of a stretch. The middle lane is the narrowest of the lanes and also the splashiest as the fast lane people unawarely make tidal waves next door and splash-as-they-thrash. The middle lane swimmers are very earnest and well behaved. The best view of the clock on the wall is from the middle lane, so they tend to swim by time with strokes that are invariably careful and controlled. A middle lane swimmer will always know how long they have been in, how many lengths they have done and how that compares to yesterday's performance. They set their own goals and quietly get on with it, but I suspect it is not very challenging.

In my curious, quirky fashion, I find myself wondering whether the lane that we choose in which to swim has any correlation with how we choose to live our lives once we are all dry and fully clothed?  After all, I doubt that fish consciously recognise the water they swim in.

When and how do I swim with oblivion in the fast lane? Potter with pleasure in the slow lane? or stay safely in the narrow middle lane? What would it be like if I used the pool in a different way and swam across the lanes in widths, instead of lengths? What if there were no lanes and we all rebelled one morning and robbed the pool of the floating markers in one combined act of liberation?

I am left thinking that perhaps the lane itself doesn't really matter. What does matter for me is the nature of conscious choice about my current lane and the consequences for me, and others, in making that choice. Are there times when I lose my sense of self and stay too long in the fast lane, with my ears covered by a rubber hat, my eyes covered by goggles and a further sense blocked off by a nose-clip?

When do I limit myself by staying too safe in the middle lane - not taking risks and not pushing my boundaries?

What am I likely to miss if I spent too little time in the slow lane - with no flip-flops with sparkly bits and awareness or time for acknowledging and caring for others around me?

In correlating my swimming thoughts to my own life experience, these are fundamental questions that I intend to live in for a while.  

How are you choosing to keep your head above water?