Spending time in hospital is never fun. After my injury at the beginning of 2004 I spent two months in the intensive care unit and 10 months in rehabilitation.
When I was discharged from rehabilitation I attempted to rebuild my social, academic, and professional lives. However, a recurrent pressure wound saw me return to hospital for 10 months, 12 months, and four months respectively. When I was first re-admitted to hospital I was worried my disappointment at not being able to rebuild my life could turn into depression.
Relating to staff
I could never relate to the mental health staff that would occasionally do the rounds. While their concern was genuine, unless someone has experienced disability directly they can never exactly understand how you feel. I have the utmost respect for the fields of psychology and psychiatry, but in my particular case the relationship felt manufactured.
As I lay bedridden day in and day out I began to privately question how much worth my life had if I was both disabled and constantly unwell. And then I met Joan.
A welcome surprise
I will never forget the day an older woman in a wheelchair, complete with portable ventilator, wheeled into my hospital room. I am not a religious person so I thought,
Oh no, they've put one of those church people on to me. But Joan just said,
I hear you've been stuck in bed for a while, that's gotta suck.
I don't know what I said next but I do remember feeling immediately at ease. We chatted freely for the next hour or so. She asked if I wanted her to pop by at the same time the next week. I told her to go for it.
A heart of gold
Rain, hail, or shine Joan Beverley Gillespie visited me at the same time every week. She would bring her dog Charlie, as well as her evil sense of humour, a wicked laugh and an open ear.
Joan battled various health issues after contracting polio at a young age. Her childhood was marred by ignorant and often cruel attitudes towards disability. Through steely determination she rose above this to build an interesting career through which she also met her husband and best friend, John.
retiring she began volunteering as a hospital visitor at The Austin and its repatriation campus. Through this work she quite literally touched the lives of hundreds of people, if not more, including children, people with disabilities, and war veterans of all ages. On 14 July, after a short illness, Joan died.
Joan, not many of us will be able to say that we left the world in a better state than that which we found it in, but you can. Your warmth and attitude to life has inspired me to always remain strong, no matter what I might face.
Your light has not burned out. Instead it lives on in everyone who crossed your path. I know your faith kept you strong so I hope you have found your rightful place in God's right hand. Rest in peace my beloved friend, you will be missed.