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Making the best of your life

5 Apr 2014

There is no failure, only feedback.

Last Wednesday, I went for my final appointment with my eye surgeon at Lincoln County General, the end of a journey which began in October 2012. My check up was to put the seal on after three bouts of surgery, and to have a stitch removed from my iris. A stitch so tiny I could hardly see it, even when removed. A miracle of skill and science.
My surgeon, Mr Castillo, thanked me for the postcard I had sent him from Thailand. It had been, of course, my pleasure. I sent it from Ko Chang, one of a cluster of breathtakingly beautiful islands in the region. With the gift of full sight that my surgeon had given to me, I was able to do full justice to all that I noticed there visually. The innocence of a child’s joy, the responsiveness of those taking pleasure in that innocence: the sheer natural stunning beauty of the island, its silver seas, it lush green foliage, its bright sky and shimmering air;a busy pier, supporting a bustle of islanders and tourists, with its tapestry of clothes, aromatic and colourful foodstuffs, bespangled jewellery, toys, glistening bric a brac; fascinating facial interchanges between people,a myriad of expressions betraying the nuances of hope, hurt, disdain, appreciation, uncertainty, derision, pleasure, hilarity, love. 

I remember being moved to send the card, as I sat in the dusk after a wonderful day exploring. I was moved to remember that twelve months ago I’d have been only able to see all that I saw through a light brown haze known as cataracts: three months before, after surgery went wrong and I lost the lens in my right eye, I could only see through very dark glasses and a contact lens: yet just three weeks prior to my visit to Thailand, after some self healing and yet  more corrective surgery, now I was privileged to drink in the beauty around me.

When mid surgeries,  in a deep uncertainty of prognosis and possibilities, and ruminating on the operation that did not go well, I confess to a mental blip, and a degree of natural curiousity.  Could anything have been done differently, I'd asked my surgeon, would better conditions in the operating theatre have prevented the unfortunate outcome? Mr Castillo had listened to me patiently, explained all that he could, made no empty promises, was truthful.

And after a time, when he discovered that he was able to make the corrective surgery, I believe that in his own frame, he was as delighted as me.

At the end of the process, the day before he gave me the all clear to fly, Mr Castillo told me the following.  
`You know, when we work in this area, we never know exactly what will happen.  And you have to learn something from everything and anything that happens, because we are dealing with people, not tins of beans.  I say to my students, a great surgeon is not about being perfect all of the time, because now and then the unexpected will occur.  The great surgeons are the ones who know how to deal with the unexpected, to be able to evaluate when things have not gone smoothly, to be patient and explore every possibility with attention, and then learn from that process. The great surgeons are not those who seek only perfection for their egos.  They are the ones who learn from the problems they encounter. And that, that is what I tell my students.’
At no point had this wonderful man considered my surgery a failure, simply a process that had not yet run smoothly. 
I loved him for that, and I hope to send him more postcards, more celebrations of the outcome of his deep understanding and philosophy, without which he might not have bothered to continue to improve and share his outstanding. 

2 Apr 2014

People Create Their Own Environments

Some notes from the day that I arrive in Thailand :)

I wake up on the plane, somewhere in the ether between time zones.  I hear two people, The Moaning Minnies, their voices carping to each other in the seats in front.
I can never get to sleep on planes, it’s just so uncomfortable, isn’t it?
I stretch, adjust my blanket, take a swig of water.  I notice the guy on my right, one seat between us, who is cozied up in a Parka, black neck rest in place, blankets up to his chin. Fast asleep, just as he was 4 hours before.
And then there’s the time lag.  That’s going to be a nightmare.
Hmm. Well, if that’s what you think, I imagine that’s how it will be.

I get up, go and make my ablutions, do some yoga stretches, settle back down.  I open my Kindle, don headphones and get back into my audiobook, the excellent What a Carve Up, a Jonathan Coe masterpiece of political satire.

Clearly, all parties alluded to here, although on the same plane, were in highly different environments.

A memory jumped from back to front of my consciousness, a memory from many years ago, when I was admitted to hospital to have a second bout of surgery connected to a cancerous tumour in my breast.