The Importance of Anniversaries

The Importance of Anniversaries

This week marks four years since I lost my sight.  That phrase always makes me think I should be patting down my pockets to find it or berating myself for being careless enough to have lost something so precious in the first place.  If you don’t already know the story behind my blindness, read a brief summary here.

In my family, we have different reactions to the anniversary of those events that we all experienced so differently.  For me, it was like falling asleep in the back of the car on the way home from a night out as a kid and waking up in your bed the next morning, wondering who carried you inside and tucked you into bed for the night.  How long had it been?  How had you changed into these pyjamas?  What time of day was it?   As the one at the centre of the drama in April 2016, my experience was more disorienting than traumatic.

For my daughters on the other hand, they were days of terror, sadness and uncertainty. They say that their clearest memory was of hugging each other tightly in the corridor outside the ICU while Dad spoke to the doctors behind closed doors and I lay comatose, hooked up to a bajillion tubes.  Their skin prickled with the chill of the air-conditioning, the smell of antiseptic was strong in their noses, and their ears were filled with the unnervingly loud sound of lots of nurses, doctors, patients and family members all speaking quietly to each other but collectively forming an awful 24-hour backing track to the hoosh splurk of the trachea  tube pumping air directly into my throat.  They almost didn’t notice the incessant beeping of monitors from the machines whose job was to keep me alive.  They were so afraid that the machines would fail to fulfil their duty, just as, in their minds, the doctors had failed to deliver me safely through my surgery.  Would they be left to navigate their way through life without my love and guidance? They whispered to each other that, even though Dad looked sadder than they had ever seen him, they would be OK.

Regular readers will recognise my tendency towards slightly black humour about my blindness but the reality is that, sometimes I calculate the number of days since I saw the world in full colour.  (I need to pause to work it out but, as of now it is 4 times 365 + 1 for the leap year -3 because it’s only the 13th today, so that’s 1458 days I have spent in the grey.

My husband doesn’t really understand the need to observe this particular anniversary. In his mind, every single day, he remembers what I, and therefore we, lost on 16 April 2016. I also think he considers keeping track of the time that has passed to be a maudlin waste of time because it signifies a pointless longing for things to be the way they were before the event you’re tracking through time.

Respectfully, I disagree.

We don’t celebrate birthdays wishing we’d never been born.

We don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries wishing we’d never tied the knot.

Nor do I observe the anniversary of losing my sight because I wish it had never happened.  I mean, I do wish it had never happened, but that’s not the point of observing the anniversary.

I keep track of the time that has passed since my life changed so irrevocably to pause and wonder at how far I have come.  I do that, not as an excuse for self-congratulation, but in order to stay inspired about my capacity to make things happen in my own life and to inspire change in the lives of others.

In the past 1458 days, I have beaten off death and debilitating disability through the grace of God, with the support of loved ones and wise professionals, and by virtue of the sheer force of my own will to grow and learn and challenge myself to do things in furtherance of being the sort of person I want to be: strong, calm, connected and of use to my community.

After the dust of nearly dying had passed, I was reliant on calling out for a nurse from my bed because I couldn’t locate the remote with the call button that was hung somewhere along my bed frame.  Now, I am home with my family and able to call anyone in my contact list with my iPhone or Apple Watch, or through Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Then, I was being hoisted rather inauspiciously from my hospital bed into a wheelchair that I then had to be strapped into.  Now, I leap out of bed in the morning to complete 30 kilometre exercise bike rides before breakfast.

Then, I was sleeping sixteen hours a day and merely laying in bed while my children came to visit in the evenings.  Now, I am fully engaged in the choice of a movie for Saturday nights in and chiefly responsible for cracking the whip on homework on weekday afternoons. 

Then, I was relying on medical professionals to control and administer a myriad of medications as well as making all the decisions about my diabetes treatment.  Now, I liaise with my GP, endocrinologist and diabetes educator to make my own informed decisions about all aspects of my medical care.  I do my own finger-prick blood glucose tests and perform my own insulin injections a number of times across the day and night.

Then, I couldn’t shower without assistance.  Now, I am confident to travel alone to stay in unfamiliar hotel rooms, having had only a rudimentary familiarisation with where the essential items are located.

Then, I was occupied squeezing Thera-Putty (a kind of resistant playdough) to address a serious weakness in my hands. Now, while I still need to remember to use my left hand for everyday activities, I am back to touch-typing and lifting 12 kilo dumbbells with each hand.

Then, I was being reminded by a speech therapist to “use a big voice” to make myself heard.  Now, I am back to addressing rooms full of people (at least, I was BC) and calling out teenagers on bad behaviour.  No need to be reminded to use a big voice then!

I can’t say for sure on which of the 1458 days each of those abilities was regained but, by pausing on the anniversary of it all beginning, I can see the road I have travelled unfurled behind me.  And, with every step of the journey so far, I have greater confidence that a long and rewarding road still lays ahead of me.  Whatever challenges might lay along the road ahead, I can be sure that the journey this far has equipped me with the skills to face them with courage and determination, and forge ahead to live the kind of strong, connected, meaningful life I want to live. 

Hopefully, my story will also inspire others that it is possible to live well and be happy, even after encountering extreme adversity.

If this post has inspired you, please leave a comment below, or just like what I have written, if you do.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ruby Peddell

    Today the tears were flowing as I read Karen’s blog, but also my heart swelled with pride as I remember with her how she has been challenged and has risen up to meet that challenge head on with grit and determination. I give thanks to God for her husband, children, friends and colleagues who walk with her on her road to full recovery each day. Four years ago I like her children wondered if she would be here with us today. The one most poignant incident that happened in that time was the day that my darling daughter asked me this question. “Mum tell me what it was like for you when all this happened”. It was like she gave me permission to share my pain with her, even while she was still in hospital recovering, that is the person she is. Today I want to say thank you Karen for loving me so much that you recognised my need to cry with you. I know that I share my thoughts on this blog each time Karen writes and whether that is self indulgence or not it feels good, a lasting reminder of how we are all travelling together through each day and each anniversary as they come up. Her experiences are inspirational to all who read her words.

  2. Colleen Mitrow

    Another great insight into your experience and into Life itself, Karen.
    I just love your essays – you continue to inspire so many of us. Thankyou.

    1. Karen McCarthy

      Thanks Colleen for always giving such swift well-articulated feedback on the impact of my posts. It helps focus my mind to know that you, at least, will read what I write closely.

  3. Jaimee Thompson

    You have been incredibly inspiring the last 1458 days, and your beautiful girls have definitely inherited your strength. But then, you have been an inspiration to me for those dayS plus another 35 or so years. I may be a whole 10 months older but you are the friend I look up too. I mean which other friend would I have first shaved my legs with or been able to leave cubbies up for days on end. Thank you for all you are sharing and the insight into your fight back. Love you always. BOFA xx

    1. Karen McCarthy

      Thanks Jaimee. I have indeed been fortunate to have had great friends all my life. I have no doubt that lessons I learned in your company have helped to shape who I am and, there for, how I cope with life’s curve balls. BOFA

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