Gratitude Works In The ER

The practice of gratitude isn’t large enough if we’re only grateful only when things are going well.  I’ve written before about appreciating our doubts, mistakes, even our crises.  Trying to see difficulty as another blessing helps get us past the need to separate our lives into good and bad, putting us right into the seamless whole of a fully lived life.

It’s also not easy.

That concept became more evident to me when I ended up in the ER a few months ago. How I got there is a story for another time, since this tale takes place entirely in an MRI machine. Such machines are a nightmare for someone as claustrophobic as I am. Heck, I even avoid being the first person to slide in a six-person restaurant booth because two people between me and open space is too much. Unfortunately, patients experiencing any kind of neurological emergency* can’t receive medication to reduce MRI-related anxiety. The test was necessary to diagnose what was going wrong and it had to be done immediately. 

A doctor, nurse, and several other people stayed in the room with me as I was loaded into the narrow tube. I willed myself to be calm. Electronic beeping and buzzing, whirling and whacking started. It sounded quite a bit like the machine was falling apart. 

“You have to lie completely still,” I was told. I thought I was lying still.

I was cold. I was in pain. I felt trapped in that tight space, even more trapped because my head and neck were locked in a “cage” clamped to the bed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I’d already been told I might be having a stroke, I might need brain surgery after the MRI.

I prayed silently, but my whole body trembled. I asked my beloved deceased parents to be with me, the trembling continued. I tried affirmations, which seemed to make the trembling even worse. I was cautioned that the test might have to be repeated if I couldn’t stay entirely still. I couldn’t imagine going through it again, nor how I could do any better. 

Then I considered this might be my last day, even my last hour. What did I want from it? To appreciate every moment I had left. I began bringing to mind all I was grateful for, starting right there. I thought of the care I was getting and the wisdom of the people in that room. I realized how fortunate I was to be getting this help. My body started to soften into the experience. I pictured the faces of my loved ones in turn. It seemed as if they were right there too. By the time I decided to picture autumn trees, blue skies, and singing birds the cage was being unlocked from my face. 

Gratitude definitely isn’t a switch to turn on only when things go well. It’s a light that shines in darkness too.


*I’m going to be okay.

15 thoughts on “Gratitude Works In The ER

  1. I’m very glad you’re going to be OK.
    You’re right about gratitude shining in the darkness. I’ve lain in the tube a few times (luckily without claustrophobia as my companion) and have poured out a vast wave of gratitude: that I had intelligent, proactive and observant doctors, that I was strong enough to beat this problem, and that there were people who loved me, to whom I owed it to fight without question and without snivelling. To turn overwhelming feelings of terror outwards and into something positive is so much more constructive than allowing them to consume us.
    Be well. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad you are ok, and hope you continue to be. This was good advice, I will try to keep it in mind. I don’t normally go in for Gratitude, but I will say that last week I was hooked up to a machine with a drip going into my arm and I looked around at all the people in the room who were getting treatment for much worse things and I felt very grateful indeed. And it did help.

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    • I read once that negative emotions can’t exist at the same time we feel gratitude. I don’t think that’s entirely true, I know in that MRI tube I was still afraid, I was just able to manage the fear. But I have definitely found gratitude works when I’m grumpy, annoyed, or otherwise dealing with petty grievances that have no business wrecking another blessed day on this planet. Not easy to summon when hooked to a machine with an IV drip, but still, better than kvetching….

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  3. I agree! Gratefulness is especially crucial in a time of crisis. I’m so glad it had a calming effect on you and that you’re going to be ok! I had gratefulness come to my rescue in 1996. I was on safari in South Africa, having traveled there to backpack alone because doing so was “bigger” than the pain I felt since my husband left. While I sat at camp, feeling utterly alone, with hyenas literally laughing at me on the one-year anniversary of my divorce, instead of crying, I decided to write in my travel journal all the things I was thankful for that had happened in the last year. The list was long! It lifted me up. And the water buffalo that watched guard all night under the baobab tree was still there in the morning.

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