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Losing Control

The needle stung as it entered the back of my hand. Blood flowed out initially only to return one second later, this time laced with a benzodiazepine- my pre-med had been administered by a very caring nurse called Patricia. I knew her from meeting her on some of her lunchtime walks around the park that lay just beyond the window beside my hospital bed. She smiled at me,


“That’s it underway now.”


That’s it underway now. It sure felt like something was under way. I was lying in a bed on the orthopaedic ward of Musgrave Hospital, in Belfast, Ireland. The date was Friday 3rd February 2012- the day I lost control.


For eight months I had been on crutches after tearing the cartilage in my right knee. I had been struggling through but I was happy to be at the point where something was going to be done. Happy until…


The experience of being admitted for surgery feel a bit like being processed. Name given. Date of birth given. Process repeated. Clothes and possessions given and locked away. Hospital gown (just about covering the dignity) given. Bed given. Name given again. Date of birth given again. Leg for surgery identified by drawing a big blue arrow on it. Pre-med given. And that’s it under way now.


I knew there was good reason for all of these processes but they had left my head spinning; not to mention the nerves had kicked in. Those nerves fought for supremacy with the relaxing effect of the pre-med drugs. The nerves won. My body shivered- part nerves and part drugs.


“That’s it underway now. Someone will be here in ten minutes to take you down to theatre.”


Patricia smiled and walked away. I looked around the ward; there were five other people in various stages of being processed. Some were changing clothes with the curtain closed around their bed. Some were lying waiting for their pre-med. Others had a far-away look of drug-induced calm. I wondered what their stories were. Mine was a story of a simple twist of my right leg- not even that painful- leading to an injury that changed the routine and rhythm of my life. My wondering was interrupted by a shake. Someone was at my bed and footering with it (to footer means “to mess with or otherwise interfere with” in Northern Ireland speak). I looked round and saw an orderly working at the side of the bed.


“Alright mate? Here we go.” He said.


And then it happened. The bed jolted ever so slightly. It moved. And when it moved, I moved. I didn’t cause myself to move. I just moved. I felt acutely aware of being scantily clothed in a bed that was being pushed by someone I didn’t know, through a building I didn’t know, towards a theatre I had never been in, to undergo an operation for which I would be rendered unconscious. I suddenly had the most intense experience of no longer being in control.

The reality was, of course, that as soon as I had entered the hospital that morning and had begun the process of admission I had already given up control. Any sense of having being in control until that moment the bed moved, had been an illusion- as any sense of being in control always is. There were greater forces than mine at work leading me to the surgical theatre that morning. I just didn’t know or refused to acknowledge them until then.


As the bed moved in almost frictionless motion through ward and corridor my dawning realisation of losing control was initially an uncomfortable, almost frightening thing. What was going to happen? Who would be there? Would it all end badly? Thoughts swirled as I grasped at answers as if they would give me back some control. I became aware of my breathing being laboured and my body tight. However, as the bed moved inexorably to its destination I began to let go. I came to accept that I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what exactly would happen when I got there or who would be there waiting for me. I began to breathe easier and accept that I was not in control- and hadn’t been for a long time. My body relaxed and a sense of calm washed over me.


The bed bumped against two large doors, which gave way under the bump and swished open into the theatre. The first face I saw was Patricia. What a gift! She smiled and used my name,


“Hello, Jim. How are you feeling? Everything is going to be OK.”


And it was. The surgery was a success. I was discharged later that day. Three days later I walked without crutches for the first time in eight months. I had a tremendous sense of being free.


Attempts to exert control in our lives are usually fruitless. They are often frustrating and very often end in someone being hurt or annoyed. The reason is because we are only a very small (though wonderful) entity in a plan greater than our own. Acknowledging our lack of control is not resignation to failure or chaos. It is claiming our freedom. It is the prelude to accepting that there are greater forces at work than our own- I call that God. Trusting in God’s greater force and God’s greater plan will lead us to live happier, joy filled lives, even in the middle of the struggles and mess we all face at times. Our job is simply to discern where God is leading us- where he is pushing our bed if you will- and going in that direction. When we do, all will be well.


  • Theresa

    Losing control. The number of times I felt I was in control and God had literally jumped into the massive mess ( as you use often Jim ) One such time in the 80’s I lived in Antrim just five doors from my sister. She took breast cancer at 29 years of age. I thanked God so many times because I was there for her in the good times and the bad times. Magdalene lost her fight on Halloween 1985 she was 13 days away from her 35th birthday. Her goal was to reach her birthday because our mum had died at 35. Magdalene left her husband and two children. A few weeks later life had to begin again. There were bills to be paid, the children had to go to school. A routine developed the kids came to me after school until their dad finished work. The sorrow and grief was so strong that winter we could all almost touch it.
    The routine continued as best as we were able to keep our heads above water and shout at God for this terrible unfair disease which had taken our Magdalene.
    The following summer Magdalene’s husband went to see family in America. He needed the space and time to come to terms with his loss.
    While he was in America our landline rang – no mobiles in those days. I answered the phone and a stranger asked if Peter was there. Casually I asked who was speaking please and the menacing reply was “Put Peter on the phone”
    As I watched Peter’s face go from white to grey with an expression I had never seen before, Peter only said one word “okay” and hung up the phone.
    Paramilitaries were going to shoot him if we didn’t leave Antrim the next day.
    We knew quite a few families had to leave but never in a million years thought it would come to our door. We had lost control. My sister had just died a few months before, I was helping to look after children, our children were in bed sleeping and my brother and his wife were staying in our house with their two children.
    I was angry, terrified and had no idea what to do ?
    Barricading every door, putting cushions down in case a petrol bomb came through the window.
    After contacting the police and reporting the call, we sat quiet the whole night. All trying to think yet not knowing what to think except my husband was going to be shot and our two children were going to be homeless and without their daddy to help.
    We alerted the rest of the family early the next day. Truth be told I was so so angry with and at God. How could he allow this to happen. I was finished with him. As I believed every once of control in our lives had been taken from us.
    Having two big families it didn’t take long for us to leave our beautiful home behind, brother in law and two children I felt I was going to help being a mother to them.
    We ended up staying with one of my sisters in a two bedroom chalet bungalow. Cramped, lost, no houses to be had in Belfast. A total nightmare. After a long few months and life definitely not in our control. A friend approached Peter and informed him there was one last house in Poleglass being held for anyone who had been put out of their home. We moved into our brand new house on Halloween Magdalene’s first anniversary. I still refused to give God credit. Then in December my daddy was diagnosed with lung cancer and as God knew this was in front of us and I would have to be close to dad. Eventually I realised God had control all those years. I can accept everything but sometimes I look up and say. God was there no easier way ? I thank God now for bringing me home to be close to daddy while he fought his battle.

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