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  • iaindryden1


Over the road they are judging the next Open-Art exhibition and I know I won’t get anyway this year, having won last June. They’ve had 100 artists entering! due to the excellent quality of last year’s show, which was loaded with superb artworks from top-notch professional artists. I think I only won because my abstracts were, as I’ve been told by galleries from New York to Amsterdam, totally different to anything anyone has seen before.

I’m surprised each time one pops out (well, they take several months work to complete). They come from a deep meditative place which I go to, a place that helps me cope with my present condition. This thought makes my mind drift back to my beloved Kenya and finally, to a dramatic drive through the savannah and along dry river beds in a 4x4. I was taking an old woman to hospital two bush-driving hours away, or one day’s walk. Had we not done that drive, she’d have died without medical care or pain relief. My ‘cousin’ was annoyed to learn of our action when we returned one of his many 4x4’s some hours later, but that’s the ex-colonials for you, and one of the reasons I won’t go back to Kenya.

The contrast to my existence here in Britain can’t be better shown than by yesterday’s experience. We had yet another of my dramatic dashes to hospital. I’m now on the highest dose of steroids to stop an expanded artery in my head squeezing the optic nerve and causing instant blindness. Three years ago this same condition gave me crippling headaches but these pills quickly killed them. We thought the condition, Giant Cell Arteritis, would never return, but that’s life. At least I’m not in Africa.

As a young man, the few times my mind rippled forwards from an exciting life, I used to look forward to old age. I assumed it would be a sublime period ruled by wisdom gained form experience and calm from a satisfying life, I assumed creativity would occupy the space once held by activity, that paintings and novels would fly from a desk overlooking a well loved Zen-ish garden into which dear old friends and pleasant neighbours would drift. The reality is very different.

We have the Zen inspired garden and it hangs beautifully above the town’s lovely old roofs, but our neighbours disliked our widely admired fencing and even said out of spite they’d told others in this street that we are not pleasant. This dispute has cost us a welcome and also thousands. The house had already gobbled up all our money and savings, so we’ve had to borrow to pay. On top of this is my dire health.

But… you know what… life is not defined by what happens to you but by how you take it.

We’re not bothered by what others think of us, and although we are poor, we save the pennies until we can treat ourselves and I am as creative as my energy or brain fog allows me to be. Unable to walk far, I am Zen master of our wee Zen haven. When self-pity enters my head, I think back to those in neighbouring hospital beds, some who didn’t make it, and yesterday at the hospital I talked to a depressed young woman whose legs are weakened by internal infections. I showed her my innovative French crutches with pneumatic joints that soften gravity’s pressure on the elbow and shoulder joints. When I showed her that my crutches can also act as a shooting-stick type seat, vital when exhausted, she laughed with joy and took photo-notes to buy them.

In the fog created by pain and fever, your diminished energy supply is drained before you even start the essential chores of daily life. This makes the demanding work of mentally adjusting to your situation an even bigger mountain to climb. But you must. Adjusting, no matter your condition, is the only option, unless you pine for a depressed existence. Take this morning. I asked my wife what she feels about the disappointing home existence my problems have given her. Camilla’s smile was sweet, “It is what it is!” And we hugged one another.

Camilla has always faced what is, it is partly why we get along so well, for we each live without regret. When sadness invades, we quickly shift aside to find the positives in any situation, even when things are really dire, such as when in hospitals we’ve thought we’d never see one another again. That this has happened several times has not stopped us being positive. You have to. This one life is not a practice run.

I had a stark choice yesterday - consume those nasty pills or not. Three years ago, these same pills dramatically increased my vulnerability. Defences lowered, I caught an internal infection which has never left and has swelled to give me 20 horrible rounds of itself over two years (& 20 rounds of powerful, destabilising antibiotics). It invaded my collapsed them, almost killed me; it gave me near uro-sepsis, nearly ending my days; it caused a frightening internal rupture that almost took me. I went on to suffer several disorienting seizures. These pills play havoc with the body - I snapped a tendon and another time my bicep literally broke in two. They made me lose 10% of my weight, having no fat this stole over 40% of my muscle, I’m now an insect. They also disrupt your sleep and effect your mood.

What’s to like? But I can’t imagine life without sight. I’ll also be glad when these temple-located headaches go, for the intensity stops me writing, it invades my entire mental existence. Despite the Nation’s Health Service being on its knees through lack of funding and government foresight, within two hours of my phoning the doctor I’d been treated in hospital. OK, due to all my other problems, I’m on the red-list, but that is still an impressive lot of empathy and action from several dedicated medics. You’d be amazed to get such care, even with private health insurance in places such as the USA, and here it is free and all provided with smiles all round. Bless our NHS!!!

How fortunate to be in a land, tired of our stupid Brexit government as it is, which is capable of such marvels.

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