Today I went in for a visit with my stoma nurse for a very minor skin irritation issue. Her office is right next to the hospital where I had my surgery and also next door to my surgeon’s office. As I was pulling into the parking lot, I realized I had not been back to this area of medical establishments since mid-March. Quite a record after driving there every couple of weeks for four months while I was preparing for and healing up from my ileostomy surgery. As I drove by, the tiny park next to the hospital caught my eye.
I had some complications after surgery due to my body being difficult and stubborn in its healing, which required some additional hospital stays. At first, I had no idea this little nature-nook-of-a-park even existed. One day, knowing of my love of the outdoors and my somewhat anxious state during one such hospital visit, my surgeon phoned my room and told me that the weather was gorgeous and that I should head outside to visit this place.
Though it was nice outside, it was a bit chilly and I had left my jacket in the trunk of the car before checking in to the hospital a few days prior. I also had a large drain hanging from my butt cheek. Not the most ideal situation, but I had been given permission to go outdoors!!! Nothing could have stopped me. As I headed through the gate of the park, and situated my sore butt carefully on the bench, peace came over me. It was winter, so there were no leaves on the plants, and I only saw one bird up in the branches. Still, this tiny bit of nature provided just the soothing effect I needed. For the first time since checking in, I found my mind wandering away from the hospital to thoughts of future adventures. I wrote in my journal for a while, soaking in the sunshine and fully enjoying the moment until the cool air finally hastened me back inside. I returned to my room feeling rejuvenated and hopeful.
It wasn’t the first time I had realized the importance of being outdoors during difficult times with my illness. I spent 16 days in a different hospital than the one mentioned above during my final ulcerative colitis flare. I spent many moments at that hospital gazing out the windows at my beloved mountains to the west, wondering if I would ever be strong enough to hike and climb in them again. Thankfully, the nurses had been very good about allowing me to go outside to stroll through the rock garden with visiting family and friends. These walks had become the highlight of my days.
One evening in my room, I bent over to pick up a marker I had dropped on the floor after tallying one of my many bowel movements on the dry-erase board for the nurses. The bending movement was too much for my greatly atrophied legs; they buckled and I crashed to the ground, slamming my shoulder and hip on the hard tile. Not hurt badly, I crawled back into my bed, trembling, crying and in complete shock that my body had failed me with such a benign movement. Was this the same strong girl that had been climbing rocks just weeks before? I almost pushed the call button for the nurses to report my mishap, but I decided at the last minute not to. I realize now that it was pretty stupid move, but I feared that they would take away my opportunity to go on those walks outside. This was the one daily reminder for me of the outdoor life I longed for… the one I knew I had to fight for and do whatever I could to return to.
In the months during my recovery from surgery, I frequently went outdoors– even if I could only walk a block.The feeling of the wind on my skin, the sounds of birds and the smells of nature became so important in my recovery and did wonders to lift my spirits during difficult times.
As I am now heading outdoors on more grand adventures, I often think back to the nature nook and rock garden at the two hospitals. They may have been small and unassuming, but at the time, they provided the same amount of hope and promise for me as the miles and miles of wilderness that I am once again exploring.