I’ll never forget the feeling, after another night of fitful sleep, stomach cramps twisting me inward, folded into myself, the pain just as bad as it had been three days earlier, when I’d woken up feverish and uncomfortable, and managed to drive Simone to preschool, stop at Safeway for gatorade and soup, and drag myself up to bed to crawl under the covers and shiver.
Three days either in bed or on the bathroom floor, living off of tea and chicken broth, alone and in agony. My friends at the time either didn’t have an easy way to get all the way down to the Big Blue House, or just weren't engaged enough to care. And I hadn’t yet managed to learn how to actually ask for help.
So I finally gathered the strength to shower and drive myself to the doctor’s office. After three or four questions and three or four finger pokes at my abdomen, the PA said, “I’m pretty sure you have appendicitis. You need to go to the emergency room. I’ll call it in, so you don’t have to wait when you get there.”
Me being me, I drove home to grab my laptop and a book before turning back around and checking myself in at the hospital. I remember the immediate relief of being cared for — the IV with pain killers, people asking me questions and doing tests, someone bringing me water and making sure I was as comfortable as possible. When they finally figured out that my condition wasn’t acute (viral gastritis - poisoned by a chicken salad from a Chinese chain restaurant), they tapered off the drugs, gave me a prescription, and told me I could go home. I lied and said I had a ride, but I honestly almost started crying when they told me I couldn’t stay. All I wanted was for somebody to take care of me for a little while longer.
Weeks later, my father would gently berate me for not calling him when he was just a six-hour drive away (this was before he and his wife moved to California), and to this day I regret not reaching out to him. I missed one last chance to have him be the parent and take care of me — I’ll never get that back.
A dozen years later, I was back in the hospital, but this time for knee surgery.
After nearly two months of achy discomfort punctuated by three-day stretches of intense pain, my orthopedist informed me that I had a “complex tear to the meniscus,” and the best option was for him to get in there and trim it off. I’d ripped the cartilage in such a way that it was generally uncomfortable (and my knee was perpetually wobbly and swollen), but if I stepped the wrong way (or tried to hustle across a busy New York City street in the rain), the itinerant chunk would flip behind my kneecap and provide me with a glaring, stunning, blinding reminder that all was not well.
Because my specialist only performed surgery on Wednesdays, my options for timely healing were limited. And, because I’d have to fast and miss work for surgery anyway (and my mom declared that health was more important than anything else), I scheduled my time under the knife for the afternoon of Yom Kippur.
This time around, I didn’t have to drive myself to and from the hospital. In fact, several friends offered to handle it, which was humbling and wonderful.
Simone and I headed to services in the morning, and left early so I could change into sweatpants before our neighbor/friend picked us up. Simone had insisted on coming along, because she was genuinely worried about me. I’d tried to reassure her again and again, but when it came down to it, I was going under general anesthesia, and wacky things can happen.
I kissed my girl and gave her a hug before they led me to the back of the surgery center, assuring her again that I’d be fine. I knew our neighbor, who was also fasting for the holiday, would take her home and look after her, making sure she’d be okay alone for a couple of hours. Within a few minutes of getting my IV, I lost the woozy, Yom Kippur high that you get in the mid-afternoon, but it was replaced by another high in the form of the “happy juice” that the anesthesiologist provided. One moment I was being wheeled into the operating room, the next I was waking up to a kind (and pretty) nurse offering me water.
By the time our neighbor and Simone had returned to collect me, I’d snacked on Saltines (breaking my fast so the nurse could make sure my “tummy was okay”) and the surgeon had shared the photos from inside my knee with me (gross but fascinating). The nurse asked my neighbor if she was the kind of friend who could help me get dressed and we said “NO” in unison.
Once I was settled on the big, comfy couch at home, my leg elevated on pillows and iced up, the neighbor said her goodbyes, and headed home to break her own fast. Simone knew that she’d need to help out more while I recuperated, bringing me ice packs and paying the food delivery guy — at least for the first couple of days — but that didn’t stop her from asking, “Is this how it’s going to be?” when I requested that she hand me the TV remote from the counter.
And though she did her best, I still needed to be up and about that first evening at home. Just one look at how she loaded the dishwasher was enough to get me off the couch.
My baby sister checked in via text, saying that she, my middle sister, and my mother had discussed how one of them might come out to help me recover, but the truth was that my friends were very present for me, in ways I didn’t expect.
Not since the first couple of weeks after my father passed away had I felt so supported and cared for.
One friend took Simone to school the next couple of days (I still needed to crutch my way down three stories to the kitchen to make her breakfast and pack her lunch, of course), another picked her up at the bus stop and came over the next day to cook us Shabbat dinner and hang with us for the evening. Another friend brought a giant pan of lasagna and gorgeous salads layered in mason jars.
I received text check-ins, quick visits, even a hand-delivered lunch and conversation. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring — and though I did manage to ask for help (like getting Simone to school and back), most of the support we received was unbidden. It made me feel special and valued.
And it was a long way away from those days of pain and loneliness in the suburbs.
By Sunday, I was crutching my way down the block to the gym, intent on getting back in form for snowboarding season. At the two week follow-up with the surgeon, he called me “an animal” and said he knew I’d bounce back quickly.
Three weeks after surgery, the knee feels a little stiff sometimes, but the larger remaining feeling, by far, is that of gratitude and humility. I asked for help from my friends, and I got it. I didn’t ask for help, but I received it anyway. The network of love and support that surrounds Simone and me is strong and vital, and I am so damn grateful for it.