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Here in Australia we don't celebrate Thanksgiving. I, as a non-Christian, also don't celebrate Easter as anything more than an excuse to make (and eat!) hot cross buns and copious quantities of chocolate, and to take it easy for four days.
That just changed.
Yesterday something happened that made me realise how thankful I was for so many things. Easter is also a time for miracles - raising the dead, in a non-zombie way, is nothing short of that (whether or not it happened is irrelevant). So today, I want to give thanks for my miracles.
My miracles are all of you.
Last night I was in the changerooms at David Jones, West Lakes, trying on a pair of jeans (size 13! Whoohoo!) when my heart started to play up. For those of you who don't know, I suffer from Long QT Syndrome, a congenital heart condition (although I'm the first in my family to have it - lucky me! *sarcasm alert*). It affects the electrics, not the plumbing, and it wasn't caused by eating too many Big Macs (though I have had one or two in my time). The long and the short of it is that the repolarisation of the potassium channels in my heart sometimes takes too long, which can throw off the next heartbeat. It usually corrects itself but it can precipitate into ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation, which means the heart speeds up (my record is 260bpm! Not a very useful speed, mind you..) or twitches instead of beating. This can cause diziness, fainting and worse due to oxygen starvation and a drop in blood pressure. I am safeguarded against the worst case scenario by the presence of Zappy McPhee, my Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (like a miniature automatic version of those crash carts they use on ER, a bit smaller than a deck of cards, made of titanium and implanted under my right pectoral muscle) but at times I can feel my heart race or it throw in an extra beat. It's not pleasant, and it's pretty effing scary, depending on how long it goes on for. Last night it came and went for close to ten minutes, which is about nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds longer than usual. Suffice it to say I freaked out a little, which would have made things worse.
I suffer from Type 2, which can be triggered by emotional or physical stress and sudden loud noise. Physical stress includes beign tired, run down or unwell with viral illness. Considering I had a cold this week and it knocked me around a fair bit, it's not entirely surprising that my heart started to play up at about the same time I was thinking I might just go home and fall into bed.
Anyway, it went away, but as I tried on the second pair of jeans it got worse. I decided at this point that a) it was a sign that I shouldn't buy the jeans, and b) that it would be prudent to put my own pants back on immediately, just in case I blacked out and ended up unconscious on the change room floor with my pants about my ankles. Ahh, the things that go through our heads! I got my stuff together and sat out on the floor of the changeroom, where I could be seen, and when the attendant (Alana) came back I told her I wasn't feeling well, told her about my heart condition and said that if I blacked out she should call an ambulance. The dizziness came and went, and I went quite pale and shaky, but my vision never started to crumble so I probably wasn't actually all that close to having a serious episode, I was just freaking out about it. Or not. I don't know. I'll find out at my next specialist's appointment whether Zappy McPhee charged himself up, ready to go, and then I'll actually know how serious it was. It's probably best I don't know the answer to that question in the moment, cos it could just make things a wholllllle lot scarier.
Anyway, Alana got the first aider, Meghan, who decided she wasn't going to let me go home on my own, and that I either had to go to a hospital to get checked out, or that I had to get a friend to come hang out with me. At this point I got a little emotional and told her there was nobody who could come because I was from Melbourne, that my boyfriend was out in Arnhem land, and that everyone I work with had gone back to Melbourne for the weekend. I also told her that there was no point in me going to a hospital because a) I knew they wouldn't admit me because nothing had actually happened to me, and b) this is my life, this is how it's going to be and I've got to learn to deal with that. A lady who was in the changeroom offered to drive me to hospital if nobody else could come. Meanwhile, I made Meghan cry because as it turns out, she has a heart condition too and knows what it's like to be alone when stuff happens. Sorry, Meghan!
Those who know me know that I am an extremely proud individual, and abhor relying on and inconveniencing others, particlarly non-family members, which is probably why it took a little while for my brain to realise that I do in fact have friends in Adelaide, but that I just didn't want to interrupt their evening. Jody and Brad drove 45 minutes across Adelaide to pick me up and drive me home, and then took me back to their place so I didn't have to be alone for the night. I realised today that by default, friends who I rely on at times like this actually become family.
This explains why I have such a large family now. A lot of these date back nearly two years but they are no less relevant now than they were then.
I give thanks for my mum, who I call every time I feel dodgy and it doesn't go away, and who then talks me through it even though it must terrify her beyond belief.
I give thanks for Jody and Brad, who must have been looking forward to a quiet night before a weekend full of obligitory social events, but who came to get me anyway.
I give thanks for Grant, who never knew the "invincible Ness" who could conquer mountains in a single bound and work and play until she decided she'd had enough, but who has chosen to love me anyway, or perhaps even because of it all. His steadfast belief, courage and support have made such an impact on me - and he probably doesn't even realise that he gives me those things. Perhaps he does now. He helped me conquer my first of what I am certain will be many more mountains, which I would not and could not have done without him behind me, and I have no doubt whatsoever that if I had been literally unable to find anyone in Adelaide to be with me last night, he would have swum across a crocodile-infested river to be with me (you think I'm exaggerating but I'm not - I don't think flights run out of Gunbalanya that late at night, and the river's too high to drive across at present, thus the swimming. And yes, there are crocs in that particular river!).
I give thanks to Meghan from David Jones for understanding what it's like to be scared and alone.
I give thanks for Kirsti, who was there in Peru when I nearly died and who bravely decided to travel with me again anyway.
I give thanks for Ben Hayward for making be believe I wasn't alone when I needed it.
I give thanks for Scotty, Mark and Dan for making sure that I wasn't alone back when there was nobody else.
I give thanks for all the unexpected people who came out of the woodwork when I first got sick, to lend me a book or a DVD or just to say hi and how's it going.
I give thanks for anyone who hasn't known me any other way and who accepts me anyway.
I give thanks for anyone who recognises that LQTS is part of me and doesn't pretend that it's not there.
I give thanks for anyone who hasn't treated me any differently, because I hate remembering so, so much.
I give thanks for anyone who has realised that sometimes I need to be treated differently, but that they need to wait for my word to do that, because it's bloody hard to ask for help but it's even harder when people assume that you need it.
I give thanks for anyone who yelled at me for calling myself a mutant or a cripple, because it reminds me that they don't care that I'm not perfect, and that they don't see the negatives that I do (or perhaps don't think they matter).
I give thanks for anyone who agreed with me when I called myself a mutant or a cripple, or was able to laugh at a joke I made about myself in a non-awkward way, because it reminds me that people understand things are different now but that it doesn't matter.
You may have noticed that the last four contradict each other. There is a very good reason for this. It is because, every day, you - my miracles - help me play the shit hand I was dealt, and in different ways, and for that I give thanks. Just because you're not personally named on the above Honour Roll doesn't mean that you haven't made a difference, because every single one of you have, just by being around me. You treat me as a person, first and foremost, and for that I am grateful. For those who are closer, I understand that it must be difficult to choose to stay close someone who may suddenly, one day, not be there anymore (although I'll do my darndest for that not to happen!), and I truly appreciate that you are here.
Sometimes I hate the hand I was dealt and how unfair it seems (I say seems and not is because I have gotten off a lot more lightly than many others have). It would be so easy to play the victim and hate the world and sit on mum's couch for the rest of my life. But then I remember that where I am today, and the people who are around me today, are the sum of all my experiences and decisions and random everyday occurrences, and that includes having Long QT Syndrome. I wouldn't trade you all and this life I lead today for not having Long QT Syndrome, because without you all this life would be so very meaningless.
Happy Easter everybody, and may you find it as easy to count your blessings as I do. Giving thanks for living, for breathing, for being capable of movement and of intelligent thought, and for the friends and family who surround you, is an excellent starting point.