Do you remember those saccharine sticks of rock you used to buy at the seaside? The ones with words like ‘Southend on Sea’ impossibly inscribed along the middle.
If you sliced through my bones, you would find the word ‘Planner’ debossed in indelible ink along their core.
How does an inveterate planner prepare for an unfamiliar medical procedure and drawn-out recovery?
Professionally, planning is my raison d’être.
I research, organise, negotiate, juggle and execute the multifaceted elements of events, which – for the briefest moment in time – need to go off without a hitch.
The key learning from my 2 decades as an event producer:
Nothing – ever – goes according to plan.
Speakers drop out at the last moment – leaving the organiser bereft of anything valuable to present to a roomful of expectant delegates.
Attendance can be rock bottom – leaving the organiser to abate furious sponsors who have no potential clients to pitch.
Sometimes, a keynote speaker is knocked into a coma just days before an event when – while wandering through a park – a tree branch falls on his head.
Sometimes, 90% of an audience succumbs to norovirus and spends 3 days relegated to a hotel bathroom, while a mere dozen robust delegates potter around a near-empty conference room.
Sometimes, no-one can access the venue because rioting mobs are throwing petrol bombs in the surrounding streets.
Yes – this has all happened.
You cannot make up the ways that a meticulously planned event can go awry.
And yet I continue to plan – even in my private life
While expecting my first child, I wrote a detailed birth plan.
In my imagined scenario, I dance around my living room, to a playlist painstakingly curated to lead me through the various stages of labour.
I confront the pain of creation like a Pachamama warrior – swirling rhythmically around a birthing pool, welcoming the contractions as ‘waves of procreation’.
In reality, I endure 30 hours of pointless passive labour and vomit 6 times, before being strapped sideways onto a stretcher and carted into hospital – clutching my redundant birth plan and questioning where it all went wrong.
The unbearable lightness of surrender
At times, I have handed the mantle of control to another. Octavio and I entrusted the entire organisation of our Celebration of Love to my sister.
All we needed to do was turn up.
Nothing could go ‘wrong’ – because we had no notion of what was meant to go right.
And it was this stepping into the unknown that made the night so magical – and so relaxing.
But that was my sister organising my wedding. Not a doctor organising the annihilation and repopulation of my bone marrow.
Can I surrender with such abandon to the transplant?
Preparing for the unknown
There was nowhere to go during last Saturday’s torrential downpour. So I started packing – clothes, food, toiletries, books… and sensory crutches like essential oils and colourful throws, a salt lamp and a wind chime.
I plopped items into my case, as outside the trees bowed gracefully under the onslaught of wind and rain.
On Sunday, everything was still standing in the garden, and my enormous case was ¾ full.
“When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail”
That’s what they say.
But the old adage doesn’t reveal how to manage a spectacular screw up – a spanner in the works that couldn’t have been foreseen or mitigated.
I say “Prepare well…” – because the illusion of control can be empowering.
“…then scrunch your notes into a paper ball and toss them onto a flaming pyre” – because, once a plan is laid, the wind will blow the ways it wants to.
The more easily you can bend and flex – regroup and reset – when surprises blow your plan off course, the more chance you’ll still be standing in the morning.
The date of the transplant has now been fixed
Suddenly, everything seems more concrete. Preparations feel more urgent.
I will tinker with my plans until I cross the hospital threshold. That’s my nature.
I’ll go in on 7th December, with my over-the-top collection of items in tow.
But I’ll leave my plans and expectations by the door – so I can walk the path of whatever transpires.