Mindfulness field report: illness, recovery and meditation

A stint in hospital was a lesson in mindfulness. Breathing meditation brought acceptance

Illustration painting print drawing of a hospital bed in a ward

Hospital bed in a ward – an unlikely site for a Mindfulness meditation. Or is it? Laura Eades 2014

I was lucky, this pregnancy, not to get morning sickness. I was reminded of this by a vomiting virus. A gastric bug which made me throw up continually. It lasted nearly a week, and after a couple of days I was admitted to hospital and given anti-vomiting and rehydration drips. Apart from dehydration, it wasn’t dangerous, but it was hellish.

‘Make it go away’

That was my main thought: primitive though it is. ‘Won’t somebody help me?’.

Nausea came each night and possessed my body. In the day, I’d sleep again. It was diagnosed as viral gastroenteritis. Doctors couldn’t do anything curative, they could only alleviate the symptoms, and reassure me that my unborn baby was fine.

At night, I prayed for death. Turned out all I needed was a suppository, but hey. The mind gives up quickly.

‘How long will this last?’

After about four or five nights there was a shift. I realised I had no idea when this would end.

I thought: ‘I must get through this night. What will I do when the sickness comes?’. I got my headphones ready and when the night came I listened to meditation CDs to take my mind off it. It gave me a sense that I could do something, however small. That I wasn’t locked into just pushing the sensation away. That this sickness was what it was for me, and just ride the rollercoaster.

Another kind of rest

Fed up with sleeping, I also decided to use some of the lying around doing nothing daytime in hospital to meditate. I actually hadn’t been doing my meditation regularly – when I first did the MBSR course I’d only ever done it few times a week anyway. But it made sense to meditate in a hospital bed: Some of the time I was rigged up to various monitors for a spell and told not to move, so there wasn’t much else to do.

In doing so, I reluctantly reinhabited my body. I went inside it, and told it I was here with it, even if it wasn’t working that well for me right now. I found some acceptance. I passed the time. It felt healing.

I resolved to begin again

I read a bit of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living and realised that the MBSR courses are founded around an 8-week intensive experience of daily meditation; that the dailiness of the practice was something I’d never taken in. So I decided to resume it and try to build in a daily practice.

Mindful birthing?

The whole vomiting/hospital thing was also a bit of a wake-up; a reminder of the sensations of labour. I decided that the meditation might help me give birth again… I’ll keep you posted, since at this point it looks like a C section is on the cards.

But having just done the MBSR course again (I followed the free online Palouse Mindfulness one, and was diligent in meditating every day for 4 weeks and then have become a bit random again, but I’ll go back and repeat again later, and I am meditating more often) I’m better prepared for hospital, and convinced meditation can play a role in a recovery process, this time.

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Experience of illness and mindfulness meditation? Remember a stint in hospital? Love to hear your thoughts. Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign below the blogpost to open the comment thread.

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