|Life After Death...|
|Written by Bridie O'Donnell|
|Saturday, 18 June 2011 08:51|
Life after death
…and divorce, disease and disappointment
When I failed a biochemistry exam in 2nd year Medical school, all my helpful Da said was, “ah well love, it could be worse.”
No kidding. It could always be worse! I could have a flesh-eating illness! I could be studying Engineering!
There marked the birth of a relativity scale, that I’m certain, he was only employing to help me feel better. A tool that ensured there was always some more unpleasant situation that your own.
Given the era, it was important to find someone who had it bad, so bad that every first world problem was trivial in comparison. And so, everything was compared to Nelson Mandela’s 27y imprisonment at the less-than-friendly hands of the South African Government.
Even a frustrated, perfectionist Medical student could see that she wasn't doing so bad.
I decide to give this scale an acronym, seeing as how Medicine can’t survive without TLA’s (three letter acronyms).
Some are very professional: SDH (sub-dural haematoma), CML (chronic myeloid leukaemia); and some less so: FLK (funny looking kid), NLM (nice looking Mum).
I called it the PONEMARS. The Paul-O’Donnell-Nelson-Mandela-Relativity-Scale. It was so damn devious, it rendered any other situation minor.
Eg ‘You think getting dumped by the captain of the St Lawrence’s 1st XV is hard? You should try political imprisonment!’
Or, ‘You wanted to get into the hospital of your choice for Intern year? You think Nelson didn’t want to escape unlawful removal from the political arena!’
And on and on.... But of course, my Da was right.
I hate that. (I’ll never tell, tho’)
It’s really not until truly awful, terrible or devastating things happen in your life are you able to put the annoying, difficult or just plain unfair events into perspective.
Important note: I am not, for a moment, wishing hardship on others! When people tell me it’s character building, I tell them I have enough character, thankyou very much.
Nor am I claiming my hardships have been any shittier than yours, theirs, or Mandela’s, god forbid! (Though I bet Nelson never raced in a shitty team with a lunatic Director who was having it off with his star rider …but that’s another story).
So in an effort to properly sell the PONEMARS to you, I thought I’d do some self-indulgent sharing about my day and the thoughts that ensued.
Today was the first stage of a hard, short tour in Trentino. It’s used as a lead up to the women’s Giro d’Italia by lots of the UCI Women’s Pro Teams, and there are steep mountains, technical descents and it usually rains. In other words, Tour d'FUN!
But there I was, after the stage, sprawled in the bag of the team van as we drove to the next hotel, feeling pretty good, happy even, despite ‘arriving late’ in a small group.
My legs felt ordinary, and I neither climbed nor descended like the fearless Italian, Vincenzo Nibali. (I’m not getting his rumoured new team salary either, maybe that helps with the skinniness and the fearlessness – I’ll let you know when I become a ProTour bloke & get my contract with Astana).
As I watched famous scenery rush by, incredible craggy Dolomites and fields of corn, I thought about this days’ frustration, compared to some more difficult things I’ve endured, and a few events in particular.
When you study Psychiatry, you read that list of all time top 50 most stressful life events (or to avoid, if you're lucky). I’ve ticked too many in the last 12 months:
I got divorced. That was pretty shit, to put it mildly. I can’t recommend it, although for me, it was better than staying married (there you go, PONEMARS strikes again).
Divorce was accompanied by its horsemen - being a bit place-less, having your life in boxes, searching for a home to call one’s own, finding out who your friends are, and relying on the generosity or hospitality of those that remain. Bless them!
Following that, my very good friend, coach, mentor and a great driving force behind my transformation from zero to hopeful-hero in cycling, endured a terrible and devastating tragedy when her 12 year-old son died.
I was around the family in the days immediately following, and I still feel terribly sad, angry and scarred by what I saw.
I can imagine she wonders how the world continues to go on, after such a loss. But she is indeed living her life, forging ahead. I hope, every day continues to be a little better than the last.
Next, and high on the list of things to avoid, is cancer. My wonderful and inspiring Mother went and got herself breast Cancer again, and the only thing worse than cancer is having to make incredibly hard and important decisions about surgery, treatment, pretending you're informed and calm instead of frightened and overwhelmed. Mama had to find all sorts of new ways to endure hospitals and the doctors housed in them.
(On behalf of the medical profession, I would like to issue an apology to all cancer patients for any repeated lack of sympathy, empathy or just our often totally ineffectual methods of communication. We are too often better at cutting, dosing, watching, waiting and trying than we are at listening and imagining ourselves where you are. Sorry.)
But I’m digressing. Which is pretty minor on the PONEMARS, so I'm sure you're coping.
There I was in the orange furgone (team van) emblazoned in sponsor logos, watching Italy rush by, with my tired legs and tight back, and all I could think was, ‘how lucky am I?’
I have the whole back seat to stretch out! (Granted, there’s no seatbelt, so it could have been a James Dean kind of situation going on, in the event of a autostrade collision. Senza trenchcoat and cigarette).
I have a job where I get paid to ride a bike in Italy! If you google professional + cyclist + Italy, you'll find a job that lots of people I know would like.
In fact, fools that they are, more people want my job now than when I was a doctor, making an actual salary, wearing different clothes every day (and not a cute bear logo in sight), not sparing a thought for the caloric value of my next meal.
My job now certainly isn't quite how many people perceive it to be, but it does mean I have this great, strong, fit body that does nearly all the things I want it to (except be a World Champion already!)
I stress it, test its capability, see the improvements, and most of the time it doesn’t feel old and tired. Actually, that’s a total lie. It feels old & tired every morning. But Italian espresso seems to be helping.
My job motivates me. I have desire each day to improve. I still want for more, to be better (which of course, leads to being permanently frustrated or disappointed, but aye, there’s the rub).
I have people who love me. Good, kind, supportive, funny and generous people who (mostly) understand why I’m doing this and who believe in me.
My great family, wonderful friends, the support staff at home in Melbourne, my inspiring masseuse (a 60yo mountaineer and masters hockey player), and the amazing companies that give me first class equipment, ways to measure progress and accoutrement to make this life easier.
Oh, and then there's the disappointment. I got dropped today, I didn't even figure in the equation or make any impact on the race. But this is road cycling in Europe, man. It’s all about managing disappointment!
So, after a shower, a massage and some time to put 'bad day on the bike' into the PONEMARS, I wandered down to team dinner, tired but already managing the frustrations of the stage.
Next to me at the table was the perfectly rotund Berto, our acting DS, who could pass for a silver moustached circus ringleader. He regarded me a while, then asked how I was.
‘Non c’é male’ (not bad), I replied.
He gave me a wonderful look, one that only a kind man who has seen hundreds of days of bike races in his lifetime could reveal. You see, Berto knows about managing disappointment too - about putting the useless emotions away and preparing to be great the next day.
He patted my shoulder and said “oggi, é passato. Domani é nuovo giorno.” Then he poured his 8th glass of house red and raised it to my glass of water.