Grateful or taken for granted

Dr Cathy Donald poses an important question: are you grateful for your body or are you taking it for granted?


Martha Beck, in her moving account of her family’s journey with their Down’s syndrome child, Expecting Adam, tells a story which I think about often and grateful to have read.

The story takes place at Christmas when all family members are taking it in turn to open presents. Martha and her husband watch uncomfortably as both of their daughters, having opened the presents they had requested, are disappointed that the gifts aren’t exactly what they had hoped for. 

When Adam’s turn comes, he unwraps a present, unaware that it’s a two-part present, and comes face to face with four D-size batteries. These would fit into part two of the present which has yet to be unwrapped. Flustered, Martha tries to explain this to Adam. But he isn’t listening. His jaw drops and his eyes sparkle. This is how Martha explains what happened next.

“Before we could divert his attention to any other gift, Adam leapt to his feet and began running around the house, locating every appliance, tool, and toy that ran on batteries. The whole time, he babbled excitedly about all the things he could do with this fabulous, fabulous gift. As we watched, it began to occur to all of us ‘normal’ people in the family that batteries really were a pretty darn good Christmas present. They didn’t look like much, on the face of it, but think what they could do! Put them in place, and inanimate objects suddenly came to life, moving, talking, singing, lighting up the room. Something about Adam always manages to see straight past the outward ordinariness of a thing to any magic it may hold inside.”

Be grateful for your batteries

I love this story for several reasons: the joy and unconditional gratitude of this special child, the magic of the mundane; but in the season of New Year, as I look out on the blank page of 2020 ahead of me, it has a special significance. 

Sometimes I think our lives are just like those battery-operated toys. It’s easy to feel grateful for what we’re able to do in the flashy shells that house us. With energy from our batteries we’re able to see, hear and experience so many things as living, moving beings. We can strive for and achieve so much, physically, mentally and emotionally. But how often do we reflect on the power source that makes us able to do all these things, the batteries that are so essential to our functioning? 

That power source is, of course, our health. Health is a gift. Not a glamorous one that brings admiration or envy from friends, but an essential gift that makes us able to live full lives. Sometimes we only appreciate our health when it fails, when the batteries fade and need recharging. All of us have experienced these times to a greater or lesser extent.

I want to encourage you, like Adam, to appreciate these batteries. With appreciation comes respect. And with respect comes care. Yes, these batteries may have been knocked around a bit. They aren’t brand new. And to extend the metaphor, they might need the occasional recharging session with various treatment modalities. 

I want to propose as we look towards the new year ahead of us that we don’t lose sight of a few basic suggestions for good health.

Take an audit of the power source 

Do you have four large D batteries presently or just one small triple A? Accept your liabilities and recognise your limitations, but also acknowledge your strengths at this moment in time. Work within these parameters to take the best care of your body. 

If you’ve just gone through chemo, you are in a very different state from someone who is three years’ post-cancer treatment. You’ll not be able to run a marathon, but you’ll perhaps be able to walk around the garden or even around the block. And if this isn’t yet possible, it can become a goal to work towards. 

Likewise, you may not be able to eat a whole steak, but with careful planning and research, and attention to your treatment plan, you may be able to take in enough for your body’s requirements for that day.

Maintain the power source: act before things go wrong

Firstly, recognise the factors that energise your power source. These are not new and are things your mother (and doctor) may have been telling you for years! They are sensible balanced nutrition, graded exercise appropriate to age and stage, a good sleep routine and mental and emotional wellness. 

In most of these areas you’ll be able to make appropriate changes to ensure that the power supply is uninterrupted! However, there are specialists in each of these areas who could help if needed.

The second factor on this topic is that you need to go for all appropriate check-ups, even if you are feeling completely healthy. A dying battery can look just like a fully charged one from the outside. So, make sure that you give time and attention to your annual check, your mammogram, blood tests or any other tests that have been recommended for you.

Recognise when the power source needs recharging

Finally, look and listen carefully for any signs that the power source is failing. And take action. On the great journey of life there are times you’ll need to admit to yourself and others that things aren’t going well, whether physically or emotionally. Sourcing that help is an extremely important part of wellness. You’re not admitting defeat. You’re merely saying that your own powers to energise your life have been exhausted and you need support. Your body may need help in the form of a particular treatment modality, medication or supplement.

Health can become a Cinderella

Health can become a Cinderella amidst the glamour and excitement or even the mundane everyday functioning of our lives. Let’s learn not to take our bodies for granted, but rather be ever so grateful for thme in 2020, giving them care and respect that they need to see us through whatever projects and dreams we want to fulfil this year.

Dr Cathy Agnew Donald is a medical doctor who has a Women’s Health practice 
in Somerset West, Western Cape. She has also published two novels The Reluctant Cuckoo and Miles to Go which are both set in SA and tell the story of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges and learning to overcome them.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Dr Cathy Donald

Dr Cathy Agnew Donald is a medical doctor who has a Women’s Health practice in Somerset West, Western Cape. She has also published two novels The Reluctant Cuckoo and Miles to Go which are both set in SA and tell the story of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges and learning to overcome them.


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