Lessons Learned in the ICU

As you may already know, I belong to the internationally recognized club, Toastmasters. From speech #4, “How to Say It’, here is my fifth speech, “Lessons Learned in the ICU” given on February 5, 2013.  For more info on our club, please go tohttp://www.westconntoastmasters.org.

“The greatest wealth is health.”  ~Virgil, Ancient Roman Poet

Good evening Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests.

As many of you already know, in May of 2012 I was fatally ill; I spent a total of 71 days in the hospital or ICU.  I survived a life-saving liver transplant, and two life-saving brain surgeries to remove a fatal fungal infection in my brain, called invasive aspergillosis.  While spending as much time in the ICU as I did is not something that I wish upon anybody, I did learn three very valuable life lessons from my experiences in the ICU that I’d like to share with you tonight.

The first lesson I learned in the ICU, is that you might not always be able to change your circumstances, but you can always change your attitude, and a positive attitude almost always preserves over a negative attitude.  When you are as sick as I was in the ICU, you can’t always take care of yourself, and when you can’t take care of yourself, that means someone else has to.  Initially, it made me feel uncomfortable to have all of the nurses and doctors poking and prodding at every nook and cranny of my body.  One time in the ICU, I was with my aunt Caryn, and cupping one side over my mouth with my hand I leaned over and whispered to her, “Aunt Caryn, I’m embarrassed they have to wipe my butt.”  Aunt Caryn started laughing.  I was shocked! “Are you seriously laughing? I just told you that I’m embarrassed about them wiping my butt, and you’re laughing?!”  While chuckling she responded, “If it makes you feel any better, you will be wiping mine in 20 years!”  At this time we both started laughing uncontrollably!  While I was humiliated at first by my lack of privacy, it was something that had to be done for my greater well-being. By being surrounded by my hilarious family, I was able to laugh and make light of the very heavy situation going on, which made things appear to not be as severe as they actually were.  Instead of dwelling on all of  the negative that surrounded me, I was able to focus on positive energy, and I think that played a huge part in my survival.

The second lesson I learned while being sick in the ICU, is that life really is about the “little things.”  I learned that we should learn to appreciate the “little things” while we are fortunate to have them, because you just never know when they will no longer be available to you.  When I was in the ICU, there were many things I couldn’t do on my own.  I couldn’t walk on my own, shower on my own; at times I couldn’t even breathe on my own. I was also restricted on what I could and couldn’t eat, and sometimes I couldn’t eat or drink at all.  When I was discharged from the hospital, I was instructed no restaurants, no movie theaters, and no shopping malls for six months.  This meant no Cheesecake Factory, no Loews to catch a movie, and no Target for six months. I am on a life-time restriction of no gluten, no alcohol, no sushi, no salad bars, and, as of now, no driving.  I guess that means no more driving to Ruby Tuesday and hitting up the salad bar before the 6:00 showing of “Lone Survivor” and then driving my friends to go grab an ice cold beer and some sushi after the movie.  I was restricted from common, day-to-day things that we don’t even think twice about; we just do them.  My entire lifestyle has had to change, and I didn’t realize how important some of the “little things” were to me until now, that I can no longer enjoy them.  I wish I had appreciated these “little things” that I was so privileged to experience and enjoy before my illnesses.

The third and final lesson I have learned from my time in the ICU, is that your family is the most important thing you have in your life.  Being sick is a burden.  There’s no way to say it besides it “sucks”.  It sucks for you and it sucks for anyone around you, because as I mentioned before, when you can no longer take care of yourself, that means someone else has to.  While I was sick in the ICU, I learned that some people just couldn’t be bothered.  Those same people who couldn’t be bothered, are sometimes the people you needed the most.  My sickness brought out the best in some people, and it also brought out the absolute worst in others.  I’m only going to talk about the best though.  One of the best things that could have happened to me is when my aunt Caryn and cousin Rocco got on a plane, flew down to SC, picked me up and drove me up here to Connecticut.  One week later I was admitted to Yale receiving the best medical attention I could receive. Without a doubt in my mind, I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for my aunt Caryn and cousin Rocco coming to get me and bring me closer to some of the most reputable medical facilities in the country.  I learned family is something you should never take for granted.  When all else fails, for me it was my health, my vision, my strength, and my hope, I always had my family.  Because of my family’s love and support, I was able to get my strength, my health, and my hope back and I am making a fantastic recovery, despite the horrific odds against me!

After being ill, I have learned that no matter what circumstances you are given in life, a positive attitude almost always perseveres over a negative attitude.  I have learned that life really is about all of the “little things,” and that your family are the most important people in your life, and with their love and support you can rise above any challenges or adversity that you are faced.  I will leave you with this:

“Some lessons can’t be taught; they simply have to be learned.” ~Jodi Picoult

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