To the Doctor Who Told Me to 'Be Thankful' for My Diagnosis


After spending a day in an ambulance, lying in the ER, hooked up to drips while you ordered test after test, I was finally admitted to a ward. Having spent quite a lot of time in hospital over the last few years, I was used to the exhaustion that followed hospital admissions. I was also used to the excruciating pain that followed endless tests, so when the pain started, it wasn’t a surprise.

I have quite a high pain tolerance, something you need if you’re going to live with this problem, but when the pain reaches this level, no breathing exercise or mindfulness is going to help or stop the pain. The nurses all know when this starts, it can take hours to pass, even on painkillers, but they know I need my usual concoction of painkillers to make those hours bearable. The other doctor, who had come to know me from all my admissions, came and knew exactly what I needed. He prescribed the usual and reassured me it was going to be OK, that he was going to help me get through this. He was a lovely doctor who cared about his patients.

That episode lasted seven hours. Seven hours of electric shocks down my spine, burning in my thigh, and severe back spasms. I was numb from my thigh down, no movement in my right leg and had lost all control of my bowel and bladder. The nurses were so nice, coming in to watch a movie with me in the hope of distracting me, but they knew we just had to let it pass.

You came in during your usual morning rounds and came straight over to me. You aren’t my consultant surgeon, but you were the surgeon who had control of my care until I got transferred to my children’s hospital. “What was all the trouble last night?” you asked. “You have to learn to cope with pain better. You should be thankful that you don’t have a serious condition. You should be thankful for your diagnosis.” You then prescribed more painkillers and left.

Learn to cope with my pain better? Be thankful?

I have always had a positive attitude towards my condition, and I realize things could be a lot worse, but to tell me to be thankful for my condition? Be thankful I may never walk the same way again; that in the last two years I’ve had to learn to walk three times; that I’ve spent six months in the hospital having operations, minor procedures, tests and every type of therapy under the sun.

I’ve had my teenage years taken away from me. While my friends were out partying, I was stuck in the hospital watching all the Snapchats of them. I missed two years of school but have still managed to take my state exams. I have been separated from my friends and family in a hospital five hours from my home.

How would you like being told at 15 that a sport you were considered good at and had worked super hard at was no longer an option because you’ve no control over your foot and one knock could mean more surgery and learning to walk again? It was my life, and to be told I can’t do it anymore broke my heart, but still you told me to be thankful.

At first I was just angry, but as the day went on, I started to calm down and think…

Mary with a service dog in the hospital

I am thankful for all the brilliant people I’ve met during my hospital stays. I’m thankful for the nurses who sat with me when I needed a shoulder to cry on. I’m thankful for the doctors who cared about me and believed in me. I’m thankful for the physios who pushed me to my limits and got me walking with a crutch and splints. I’m thankful for all the play specialists, teachers, volunteers and friends old and new who helped me get through this and made my home from home a happier place.

But most of all, I’m thankful for having the strength and determination to get through this. It would have been a lot easier to sit back and feel sorry for myself, but instead I was determined not to let this condition control my life. I may not be able to do things the way I used to do them or go to as many discos as my friends, but I’m going to make the most of any opportunity I can.

And do you know what? I am thankful for my condition because it has made me a stronger person who takes nothing for granted and makes the most of every day.

To the doctor who told me to be thankful for my condition — thank you for making me appreciate the people around me who support me and believe in me. You made me realize we may come up against people who will try and put us down, make us feel bad about things that are out of our control, but people like that aren’t worth it. I’m a stronger person than they’ll ever be.

To anybody else who has ever been told to be “thankful” or is in pain — keep fighting. You can do this! You’re stronger than any person or illness you’ll ever come up against. As long as you believe in yourself, you’ll find others who also believe in you.

As Dory in “Finding Nemo” says, “Just keep swimming.”

The Mighty is asking the following:  Tell us about a stranger’s comment about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness that has stuck with you for one reason or another. Why has it remained significant to you? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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