At my GP surgery the other day, I overheard a mother talking to her young son, who must have been about 5 years old. “We’re going to have to wait a while I’m afraid, but the doctor will see us at the end of her clinic.” Wow, I thought, that’s a pretty long wait for anyone, let alone a young child. She then followed up with, “I’m really sorry but I left my phone at home by mistake – we’ll have to entertain ourselves.”
I was struck by how composed and gentle she was. There had been no complaint or eye-rolling at the receptionist, no sighing to the rest of the waiting room. Just an attempt to put her son at ease and prepare him for the long wait (by my calculations it was going to be at least 2 hours!) The little boy didn’t sulk or make a fuss, he just nodded and sat on her lap. Five minutes later I tuned back in and they were playing silly word games and giggling away together. This lovely moment stayed with me and challenged me. How often do I inwardly writhe as I watch the clock tick further and further past my appointment time?
One of the most important lessons we have to learn in life is patience. My experience is that it’s a lesson that gets more deep and nuanced as you go through life with a chronic illness. As much as that can be frustrating, patience is an valuable, admirable and increasingly rare quality. So having to practice it, choose it and find more of it is not necessarily a bad thing.
Here are some things that exercise my patience muscles:
- Waiting for appointments/test results/prescriptions to come through.
- Waiting at appointments (see above!), although I’m finally actually remembering to take a book with me so I’m not left twiddling my thumbs in the signal-less bowels of the hospital (who has ever been to a clinic or hospital that has good internet signal?! They’re like secret nuclear bunkers or something).
- Not getting housework done when I’m feeling rotten.
- Having to cancel nice plans.
- Incorrect prescriptions (seriously, how.many.times?!)
- Waiting for my kids to listen (absolutely universal and unrelated to chronic illness!)
So how do I choose patience, how do I find it in these situations? I don’t have it all pegged, but here are some suggestions that help me:
- Be prepared. Here in the UK, in the NHS, a wait is more likely than not. Expect it, book longer childcare, put more time on your parking ticket. In terms of frustrating health episodes, I’ve filled the freezer with fish fingers and waffles so that I can feed the kids quickly and easily if need be.
- Bring entertainment. As I said, a book is a must now for waiting rooms. I was a bit annoyed the other day when my appointment was on time and I didn’t get to tuck in to my new novel! If I’m having an arthritis flare, having some things on my Netflix watchlist saves me the effort of having to look for something to watch. Sounds silly, but I find it really difficult to be decisive at those times. Planning ahead is helpful.
- Let off steam. Have a good old moan if you need to, but do it with someone you trust who will help you see a way forward.
- Be thankful. This is the ultimate antidote to worrying about my rights and what I’m entitled to. A recent blog I read about the Spare a Rose, Save a Child campaign really hit me – I have insulin, for free. Wow. So many people don’t have access to the healthcare that I have. I really need to be grateful for it, with all its faults.
But it’s not just me this need for patience affects. I’m aware that my family and friends sometimes have to exercise a bit of extra patience with me. I’ve written before about how I believe living with pain and restriction helped Small develop patience that will hopefully be an asset throughout his life. My husband has to pick up my slack when I’m in pain or super tired. He is uncomplaining even though it is a cost to him, and I am trying to see his help as a beautiful gift rather than allowing myself to feel guilty that he has to do extra. My friends need to be understanding when I need to cancel plans or can’t commit as I’d like to.
And I’m so grateful to those who do choose to be patient for me – it makes a huge difference and helps me to be patient with these often frustrating conditions.