Category Archives: Sickness & Health

10 Commandments for Covid Times

Surviving Quarantine

Dear Readers:

Reality has settled in with us all. We are locked in without any idea how we will get out, except perhaps by ambulance. We are glued to the news or our phones. We are afraid, bored, worried about what we might run out of, either lonely or frustrated with our live-ins, and unsure how to act in these terrifying and unfamiliar circumstances. We see no end in sight, and are deeply saddened by the idea of a world where gatherings and human touch are a long time from now. We are reading too much scary information online, and spend so much of our days trying to stay germ free. Our hands are raw from washing and we are starting to get more than a little testy. We jump at every little cough and life seems ruled by fear and uncertainty. There is no old normal and the new normal is either terrifying or as yet unknown.

Below are Your JFG’s Ten Commandments for Covid Times:


Commandment 1: Stay home and flatten the curve!!! If you do not have anyone healthier than you who can bring you what you need, put on a facemask and gloves, go out quickly and maintain social distancing. Enough said.


Commandment 2: Trust your doctor. If you start to have symptoms, even mild ones, keep a log of them that you could send your doc efficiently. Take your temperature. Stay in your room and self-isolate if you live with others. If your symptoms do not resolve, contact your doctor about what to do next. Also, be sure your RXs are all filled.


Commandment 3: Be kinder. We are all tense. Sharing one wrong meme that you think is funny and your contacts do not can be a source of friction that will last longer than it should or might in normal times. The gallows humor we are sharing is often funny. The reasons it is here are not. Be softer and gentler every time you interact.


Commandment 4: Prepare, within reason. Like the TP hoarders, we each have some primal impulse to be sure we have enough. This may last many months, but you cannot keep enough of everything you might need in your house. Help ensure everyone will have something.


Commandment 5: Help others. We need the old, the poor, even those with whom we have been feuding politically. Whether you are able to donate food or money or can give your unused sewing machine to a neighbor willing to make masks, look for ways to share. Even putting a sign in your window saying something positive might help another person’s day. Google Margaret Mead’s definition of what defines civilization. Sobering and true.


Commandment 6: Breathe deeply regularly. There is tons of science to support meditation as a regular part of life. But even if you never have, Google stress reduction breathing. You will find all sorts of (conflicting) insights into inhale/exhale patterns like 4/4, 6/2/4, etc. Pick one and do it at least a few times each day or whenever your panic button self-ignites.


Commandment 7: Go on a news diet. What you weigh matters less these days than what you feed your head. Limit yourself to once or twice max a day of news, and read the stories about kindness as often as the scary ones. For medical, health, and safety information, trust only legit sources such as the: CDC, WHO, the Johns Hopkins Data Dashboard, or the state Health Department.


Commandment 8: Embrace beauty. Nature is breaking spring open all around us. Staring at any small piece of it is good for the soul. Search for free museum tours and nature videos. Join any online group that posts pictures of kittens and puppies. Look for beauty, laughter, and non-covid-focused inputs.


Commandment 9: Open your heart. It is terrifying to actually take in all the death and dying on the planet. Like the wildfires last year, the scale is simply beyond us. But it matters that we all feel it at least a little each day, so we can remember that we will need to be different when it is over. Say I love you to everyone you care about. Today and every time you speak to them.


Commandment 10: Believe you will live. Thoughts help make reality. Optimism may seem like a stretch, but wrap yourself in it at waking and bedtime. The rest of us need you around for long time. Say your prayers and make them come true by your actions.


Cooped Up


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

We are a family of five. Husband, wife, one teen, one pre-teen, and one second-grader. In normal times we are a comfortable middle-class family. We have a nice home and yard. We can telecommute. The older kids know enough about technology to keep us safe and connected to family members far away. We have regular check-ins with them and family meetings at home. Everyone has their own biorhythm, but we have evolved rules of consideration about shower time, music-playing, group activities, keep-quiet zones and times. The kids are engaged with meal planning and prep, and each is in charge of family game night once a week. But we are exactly the messy humans we write about in your book: we get cranky, bored, restless, impatient, annoying, patronizing, and every other trait that would normally drive us out the door. But as good conscientious citizens we are staying home to flatten the curve, and sewing masks for the brave medical and essential workers who are keeping our world afloat. Given that the news suggests we are going to be locking in together for much longer than anyone would want, can you suggest a way to improve communication in our little microcosm?

Cooped Up Mama


Dear Cooped:

If you are like most families, you did a Zoom Seder, likely with variations on the plagues and Four Questions to account for these extraordinary times. Most folks I knew added The Ten Gratitudes to their Seders. If you did not perhaps now is a great time to do so.

One game I know is this. It works great with a whiteboard and or even just putting three sheets of paper on the frig with magnets. Let every family member pick a color and use markers, crayons, or colored pencils. (If you want, stick them in a jar and everyone can pick a new color every day to preserve anononymity.) You, as Mama, are queen of the game, like the host at a bridge table. Label the sheets each morning: Gratitudes, Issues, Solutions. Put 1-10 on each page. Each family member may write up to two things per page. They can self-select the ranking. For example, It makes me CRAZY when so-and-so does such-and-such. But if that complaint is given a 7, it ranks lower than So-and-so spent 20 minutes in the shower and drained the hot water tank.

Another great game is Truth or Dare, also called Two Truths and a Lie. Each person tells three things about him/her-self, only two of which are true. If a person guesses right, they win a special treat, which might be picking the meal t be cooked or ordered in (or something such). Wrong, they get a chore no one wants like cleaning the backroom, or otherwise related to staying in.

If you are looking for group activities, go on the internet, or perhaps better YouTube, and look at what families are doing, from sing-alongs to Rube Goldberg marble chasings. Honestly the idea of trying to master a new language or start a big project sounds beyond most of us in these times, but more power to you if you are inspired. For most of us, getting through the day, from distance-learning schoolwork, connecting with friends by phone or facetime, or watching some TV/movie is enough.

I like starting each day with a list, so I have a sense of having accomplished something. The classic joke is, The first item on your list should be “Make list,” so you have something to cross off. Sadly some days that’s all you may be able to do. We all have low moods and bad mental health days. With your family you may be more acutely aware of symptoms of sadness or grief about how our lives have irrevocably changed or the death of people in your close or distant network. Encourage talking and sharing, crying and feeling all the feelings. The more you can let it out the better for you all.

If you have a mask, go for a safe, socially distancing walk just to get out of the house if you feel it is safe. Or do a little yoga in your yard. Thank God it is spring, and not November. Watch nature come back to life and believe this too will end, and that we very resilient beings will find a way to make a better world after. That may feel like a stretch in bad moods, but believing it will help us all.

Surviving Quarantine!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Even without knowing your daily life, I know you’re in the same boat as everyone else: locked in with the people they love (and occasionally get furious with) or alone and isolated, with access to the outer world only with phone, text, email, or Skype. I am locked in with a toddler and two teenagers. My sister, who lives close, lives alone. And our parents who are elderly and potentially at high risk live a few miles away. How can we all cope during this crazy time? We’ve already stocked up on basic essentials but there’s a limit to how much money we have to spend and food we can store. Who should check in on my parents? How do I keep the kids from going crazy? What happens if this is really last more than a few weeks? I can work remotely for a while but not forever. And my sister is at the edge of losing a job because her company will go out of business if this goes on for more than a few weeks. My parents are fine now, but each of them has underlying conditions. We don’t want to put them more at risk by visiting, but we worry.

In the Life Boat


Dear Life Boat:

Sadly I can’t solve a global pandemic. But I can give you some handy tips. Let’s focus on your parents first since they are the high risk factor. Check in with they daily by phone to keep their spirits up. That can rotate between you and your children. Skype is even better, and allows you a visual as well as verbal check in. Have them take their temperatures regularly. Do whatever immune boosting they can do, from plain old vitamin C to whatever herbal concoctions they can find or believe in. Make sure they drink lots of water, eat chicken soup, and fo everything they would do if they already had a cold. And if there’s ever a sign of a real fever or flu get a virtual doctor to tell them what to do next.

As from amusing yourself and your children, the Internet is proliferating with virtual tours of everything from museums to nature. There’s binge watching of course. Lots of great lists are proliferating. Learn new games. You and your kids can figure out how to do something you’ve never done before like art or music. Meditate together. Books are fabulous, as an individual or read-aloud activity. Let them have as much Facebook or Skype contact with friends as they want but being absolutely, 100%, zero exceptions cruel and relentless about no, none, No I said No, in person contact with others for at least two weeks. And then limit listening to whatever the guidelines are after that. Flattening the curve is a start, but this is going to last. I was distressed to realize all the early Passover displays around here translated to, This could be a while.

Your sister should be looking for a gig economy remote work now. This is going to change our entire social and economic structure. And it’s going to take a very long time to recover. So whatever she can do long distance now will likely be something that can contribute to her income later. People who alive alone face different challenges than people who are cooped up together. But if she has online interest groups, now’s the time to visit them regularly. When she’s done looking for work, she can do something like learning bridge which you can do online 24/7. By the way, when people have seemingly infinite time, we tend to be much less productive, so be sure to talk to her daily too and ask what she has been up to. A little accountability helps us all.

Beyond handwashing and prayer, I think of the three Ws as salvation: water, wifi, walking. As long as you can keep yourself hydrated, amused, and exercised, you can make it through this process. That’s assuming you have shelter and medical insurance, but those I cannot solve either. When evening comes, indulged in the new fad drink: the Quarantini. It must include vitamin C crystals. Beyond that, feel free to experiment with whatever keeps your spirits up.

We’re all in this together even though we’re all experiencing it separately. So do your best to keep your neighbors healthy and hope they’ll do the same for you. This is a time when we find out what we’re made of. With luck we will all make it through. Stay safe.

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom: Kind words are like honey: sweet to the soul and health for the bones.

Sobbing Sister

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My sister died in much more discomfort than necessary. She had
breast cancer for too long. She went through several rounds of chemo
early, and then it went into remission. We had a long good period of
time, but when it cam roaring back it came through everyone’s lives
like a freight train. I think we had all pushed it to the back of our
minds and were afraid to acknowledge that the change might not last.
In her last days she was in a hospital under a lot of medical care to
keep the pain and complications to a minimum. On her floor was a
very loud patient. I do not know what he was being treated for, but he
was clearly very unhappy with everything and made sure that
everyone in a big radius knew of all his complaints. We were trying to
keep Deborah’s passing gentle (think harp music and low prayers) and
this man was not just disruptive but a severe hindrance. The nurses
acted like we were being fussy until the complaints from other
patients’ families got loud enough and they finally moved him. I know
part of my anger is grief, but what can I do to make sure others do not
die this way?

Sobbing Sister

Dear Sobbing Sister:

In such circumstances, protecting the dying person is the single most
important thing.

Nurses have a great deal of authority but it is not unlimited. In the
future, should God forbid you encounter such circumstances, I would
do the following: Start with a complaint at the nurse’s station. Ask that
the disruptive patient be told to keep his/her voice down or s/he will
be moved into a room with a door that is kept closed. If that does not
work, start your way up the hospital food chain, both medical and
administrative. Ask each person to stand in the hallway outside your
sister’s room and listen for ten minutes to what other families are
being subjected to. That should be enough to do it. If not, ask your
doctor to request a room transfer to a different floor. As a last resort,
suggesting sotto voce that you prefer not to consult your attorney
should motivate almost any administrator.

Patient (Not!)

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Breast cancer has killed half the female members of my family. They
all fought hard but succumbed. I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I
gave birth to sons! Now I have been diagnosed, and learning from
their example I have decided to make fighting it the single most
important thing that I organize my life around. I am a divorce attorney
and high enough in the organization that I could negotiate leave for
the full period in which I will be doing chemo and related treatments. I
know the toll it takes not just in the immediate period but also in the
recovery time, so I wanted to have absolutely no distractions while I
shifted everything in my life around this battle. I expect to return to
work, but not until I feel whole again, and probably after a vacation.
The problem: Everywhere I go, from synagogue to the supermarket, I
bump into people who want to discuss both my medical condition and
“just one quick question….” Which never is. I cannot believe the
rudeness of the latter and frankly consider anything except “Good
luck” to be more than I can bear. What can I say to deter unwanted

Patient (Not!)

Dear Patient (Not!):

I’ll presume that you are not shy or you wouldn’t do what you do for a
living. Two simple things you can say when people start to speak
beyond Good luck. The minute they start to wind up and launch into
anything legal, hold up your hand like a traffic cop. That should stop
most but sadly not all folks. Then say, I am on a total sabbatical from
the law so I can focus on getting healthy. If you want to talk about
anything related to it, please call So-and-so at my office who will take
very good care of you. Then turn away and start walking.

If people come up to you and ask about medical details or want to tell
you stories about their own or a friend’s experience, do the traffic cop
routine again, and say, I’m only talking about medical things with my
doctor and family. Thanks for your good wishes but let’s focus on other
aspects of life, preferably ones that are filled with hope. Walk away as
needed if they do not comply, and don’t worry what anyone says or


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My godson has had a rough time figuring out what he wants to do with
his life since he got out of rehab. He got a job in a restaurant. Nothing
fancy, just a sous chef chopping vegetables, prepping plates, and
learning the basic of the trade. Then he got a bout of cellulitis, which
made it impossible for him to be on his feet. His mother, now more of
an ex-friend than a close one, decided to “teach him a lesson” because
he had not signed up for health care. She told him he would be
responsible for all his medical bills, so of course things got worse when
he stalled on a doctor/ER visit. I heard about it mid-week, offered to
pay for his doctor bills, and now he is recovering, and even got his job
held till his return. She is telling our mutual friends about how I
“interfered” with her parenting. I clearly see this very differently. I
know gossip is hard to fight. But what should I do?


Dear Helpful:

Teaching moments are important but generally we think of them as in
the non-life threatening side of the spectrum. If your godson really
had a medical issue that could have cost him his job, let alone his leg,
you were correct to step up and offer to help. His mom was wrong,
and could have found a better way of accomplishing her goal (e.g.
paying for the bills as a loan). We could talk all week about what’s
wrong with the medical industry in America, but when someone you
love is sick, you help them, and worry about the teaching moments

You may never hear what is being said about you. But if you do,
simply reply: I love Godson-name. He was in trouble and I stepped up
to help. I’m sure Mother-name meant well, but given what he has
been through already, I thought it best to support his recovery in
every way I could. I’m happy to talk to her about it, if she’ll stop being
angry and gossiping about me. I suspect whatever moved this
relationship from close enough to be a godparent to ex-friend is deep
and profound. You don’t say how long ago it happened. Focus on
helping your godson unless momma really wants to talk to you.

Money Man

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in the advice-giving business too, but people depend on me to
protect their life savings, which in these financially perilous times
means I have the burden of their fears as well as their expectations. I
need them to perceive me as smart, reliable, accessible, and
trustworthy. I also have a serious medical condition that has affected
my mobility in increasingly limiting ways. It is a multi-focal motor
neuropathy that it is possible, fingers crossed!!, an experimental
infusion therapy might reverse it but no one know if it will work or how
my body will handle it. I may need several series of these treatments
(five days in a row) and have no control of the timing. How can I
cancel my appointments without alarming my clients?

Money Man


Dear Money Man:

You need to communicate everything you told me in an email to your
clients. If there are particular people with very large portfolios you
may wish to communicate by phone as a follow-up, but telling the
basics in an email will allay a lot of their concerns and questions.
Here’s a draft: Dear ___[yes make it personal]___: I need to
reschedule your appointment for ___[date/time]_____. As you may
know, I’ve been coping with a complicated medical condition for the
past year that has impacted my physical mobility, though thankfully
not my cognition or insight. I have a tentative diagnosis of “multi-focal
motor neuropathy” (this means my muscles and my nerves aren’t
speaking well to one another). There is an infusion therapy treatment
option that requires a week of daily treatments, and no one can
predict how I will respond. How all this affects you: I’ll keep my
calendar as up to date as possible. Please reschedule from my website
[link] and I will try to provide you with a replacement appointment
quickly. It’s my intention to continue as your financial advisor as long
as you desire. My assistant [name/number] is available any time I am
out of the office. Thank you so very much for your patience and
support. Most folks will send a polite reply of support. The clients you
lose are not worth worrying over. Work with your assistant to keep the
good ones happy.

Flying Solo

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am newly retired and newly single at pretty much the same time. My husband
and I parted amicably, as such things go, because we realized we had very
different ideas about what we wanted to do with our newfound freedom. We
could have stayed together but honestly, after many sessions in counseling and
with one another, we realized that we were more excited about the idea of facing
life alone than together, with the proviso that if either of us really needed help, as
in facing a serious medical crisis, we would ask the other what would be
possible. So if we don’t find the new connections we hope to, there is some faint
hope of getting back together, though probably not legally, once we’ve paid for
the legalities of separation. My friends think I am nuts, especially the ones who
have been single for so long, and I think would love to find a nice guy like my
hubby. Once they know him intimately that might not be true, but for now they’re
talking about having my head examined. How can I explain that after forty years
of togetherness, I am ready to be responsible only for myself?

Flying Solo

Dear Flying Solo:

There’s an interesting knowledge gap in your question. You know far
more about your husband and your marriage than your friends,
regardless of what you’ve said over the decades, and the single ones
know much more about being single than you do. That’s a
conversation worth having, though perhaps not so quickly with a
“friend” who wants to supplant you in the marriage bed.

Being a senior single has its own perils and pleasures. Yes you are not
responsible for another person 24/7, which might be especially
onerous as medical complications increase. But like the great 30 Rock
scene where Alec Baldwin tells Tina Fey she might die choking in her
own home without anyone there to save her, the downsides of alone
are tangible and not always comic. If you are genuinely good buddies
you could suspend the “cleave only unto one another” part of the vows
and take some exploratory down time. But if you are both set on
freedom, then do all the legal niceties and do your best to keep it
amicable. I’ve seen it work, and seen it fail, but good intentions
matter. Tell your friends what you told me: It’s time. I’m happy. So is
he. Wish us well. And then go forth and do whatever it is you’ve been
longing to.

Had It

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband just had his third surgery to repair a hip operation gone
badly. This has been a year of intense trauma for the whole family,
and he is going somewhat nuts and getting very depressed with
enforced inactivity. He feels old and useless and is grumpy most of the
time. The doctors have said he needs to walk five minutes but no more
every waking hour. He is not to lift or carry heavy things, climb on
ladders, ride his bike, and on and on and on. I have to go back to work
but am terrified to leave him alone. Last time when he was not fully
recovered he actually climbed a ladder to get something off a high
shelf. When I went ballistic, he said “I forgot.” Forgot!!! His hip has
destroyed our life. Who can forget? How can I enforce caution?

Had It

Dear Had It:

Short of an armed guard, you will be unable to control his activities
when you are not around. You can threaten him with installing motion
sensor cameras and a baby monitor. You can lock up the ladders and
paper the place with dire warnings. You can spend each night having
him review what he did each day other than his walking. But honestly
not much can compel a person to take better care of themselves than

It’s always hard to think long run when you think you are more fit than
your body really is. But a positive approach would be to plan fun
outing for “after you are recovered,” a phrase that should resound
through your house like “Next year in Jerusalem” does at the end of a
Seder. Every day. Morning and night, promise him a better future.

Tip Toe

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I care a lot about my friends. Perhaps that’s because all my blood
relatives are dead or live far away. So my fiends are the biggest part
of my life for social engagements and emotional comfort. When one of
us is sick, the others rally round. Lately I’ve seen “slippage” in a friend
that is part of a weekly bridge game. She seems to have trouble telling
a story (even one we’ve all heard before) and makes more mistakes
on a regular basis than we are used to. Her physical health seems fine
but there is a feeling of hesitation, like she is working very hard to
maintain the organization of her life and it is taking a lot more out of
her than she has on reserve. She was once a very accomplished
pianist but has stopped playing. There are more symptoms, though I
do not know if other people are seeing them and I don’t want to gossip
about her. Is there a delicate way to start a conversation about what I
am afraid is a serious decline in her mental health?

Tip Toe

Dear Tip Toe:

You can approach this overtly or covertly. Overtly would be to say,
gently, [Name], you seem more absent-minded lately. Is everything
ok or is something bothering you that you want to talk to someone
about? I don’t want to be an alarmist, but if this is health related,
better look into it sooner than later. More covertly would be to claim
you are having the symptoms that you attributing to her. Then the
convo goes more like, I’m concerned because I feel more absent
minded lately. I’m going to do some research, online and with the
relevant support groups. Will you please be my partner and ally in this
educational process? I want us sharp for a long long time!

If you have any connection with a younger relative of hers, you could
ask if they are seeing any signs of slippage. The family has a strong
vested interest in catching things early. But if you talk to any third
person, be it family or friend, know that it will inevitably get back to
her. So start with her to create a safe space, and then see what she
says. No matter what, it behooves all of us to know symptoms of not
only aging, which includes the proverbial senior moments, but of more
serious conditions. Aging has blessings and curses, but most f the time
they outweigh the alternatives.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother was diagnosed with a terminal disease three years ago. At the time
she was given “one to three” years to live. We all became very indulgent towards
character flaws that have been driving us crazy all our lives, especially one that
over the last few months of holidays was enough to taint many family gatherings:
She hogs all the air time. She talks, whines, blathers, opinionates, and pontificates.
She does not allow anyone else to speak for more than a sentence or two before
taking over the conversation again. I love her and don’t want her to
be gone. But this is driving a wedge in our family. Her new experimental
medication seems to be working so well that now the doc says she could go
another five years. I can’t. How can I tell her the rules have to change?


Dear Earplugs:

Regardless of what you say, you will need to do it compassionately.
We’re all dying, but your mother is old enough (given that you have an
adult son of your own) that she lives with thoughts of mortality every
day, augmented by a terminal diagnosis. Sometimes people need to
hear their own voice just to reassure themselves they are still here. So
what may feel like an extra burden to you and your family is also part
of the process of being a kind person, and needs to be viewed through
that filter.

I’d counsel a one-on-one to start. Take your mother out for a ladies
lunch, in a nice restaurant where raising one’s voice would be very out
of place. Explain very simply that you are delighted that her treatment
is working and she will be among the living for far longer than the
doctors had originally projected. Then say, But I think that when we
were afraid we would lose you far too soon, we all got into some bad
habits, that for the sake of family congeniality I’d like to amend.
Explain that her current habit of dominating conversations has become
a social liability to you and other members of the family who are
beginning to shy away from time with her, the opposite of what you
and she presumably want. Suggest that she expand her social network
so she has other social outlets, and say you’re happy to give her tips
on being a good listener as well as a good talker.

Don’t expect her to be appreciative. She may even pull rank as your
dying mother. Continue to profess your love, and set up a cue word or
signal that you’ll use to alert her if she’s crossed the line. It will take
time, perhaps more than she has. So be kind.

Fear of Flying

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband and I are headed out on a vacation. Just in the US thank
God so we don’t have to deal with all the hassles of passports,
customs, etc. But neither of us likes to fly (as in my husband threw up
in the bag before takeoff last time) and we are very concerned
because we were unable to get seat assignments together. Are there
magic words I can use to remedy this? I know it sounds trivial, but it
undercutting our anticipation about having fun. And don’t tell me not
to go: the trip is all based around my favorite niece’s B’nai Mitzvah.
We are going, puke or no puke.

Fear of Flying

Dear Fear of Flying:

One option would be to drive or take the train, but I’ll assume distance
and/or time preclude that. The simplest solution would be to call the
airlines, and if that fails, tell the stewardesses directly when you board
the same story you told me. She will almost certainly go to his
prospective seatmates, and offer them a chance to change seats with
you. The people assigned to sit next to your husband will likely both be
eager to avoid sitting next to the man who can puke before takeoff. I
certainly would.


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help. My best friend has just been told that she has breast cancer. She hasn’t
told anyone else yet, including her family. She comes over to cry and tell me how
scared and confused she is. She seems paralyzed by the news, which makes
sense to me, but I know she needs to make some decisions, and soon. I want to
help her, but I don’t know where to begin. In addition to her husband, she has two
daughters (7 and 10) and his mother living with her. Everyone depends on her
emotionally to calm their troubled waters and they have no idea how much she
holds the family together. Her husband is an okay guy but he is throroughly
unequipped to do what she needs now. I’m scared too. Where do I start?


Dear Sad:

There’s nothing flippant to say about dying. It’s on everybody’s agenda, even if
we try to ignore it most of the time. You could be hit by a truck before you see
your friend again, or you could both live to be 100. Fortunately or not, we’re not in
charge of that aspect of being human.

Be glad she thinks you’re a safety zone. Don’t show her how scared you are right
now because she needs you to be the strong one for both of you. (You’ll have
time to scream later.) Give her space to talk, and to cry. Be her buddy, her
secretary, her right hand, and her ally. Encourage her to talk to her family asap.
Offer to be there when she does.

Then meet privately with her husband and talk about how you can help support
him. Encourage him to get some of his own friends involved inbeing his support
network, and to work with him on developing a network to help with family and
household issues and chores.

Help her sort through the incredible array of conflicting information about choices
that she will confront. Find her a cancer support group. Consider joining with her.
Breast cancer is not a death sentence, though fear can make it seem that way.
Help your friend organize her household so that everyone pitches in. Say “I love
you” often with hugs. The rest is details.

Ready to Write

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband has been disabled for nine months. His first hip surgery
went great but the second was a disaster. Only now, four plus months
after, has he been finally released to do physical therapy. I surprised
him with a weekend away at a B&B in the country, but it depressed
him more than anything. He was acutely aware of everything he could
not do, which are all the things he used to love to do: hiking,
mushroom hunting, canoeing, etc. He’s not a reader or game player,
and living with him as been like being tethered outside the cage of a
pacing tiger. I feel the waves of frustration emanating from him with
enough force to power a small nuclear power plant. I’m a teacher and
need my summer to decompress. What’s fair in terms of together time
versus alone time for me to do those kinds of things with more able-
bodied friends or to get away and write? He is ambulatory and if he
doesn’t try anything stupid like getting on ladders or going into his
workshop he would be perfectly fine home alone for a weekend. I have
an idea for a series of young adult novels and summer is my only
chance to get a leg up on trying this. I don’t want to feel like I am
abandoning him, but the past few years have seemed all about him.
When’s my turn?

Ready to Write

Dear Ready:

You shouldn’t just walk off with your laptop and wave goodbye. All
marriages are negotiations, and tougher times bring about harder
conversations. But yes you have the right to claim some of your time,
both at home and away. Both of you need to know he’ll be safe while
your attention is elsewhere. And he can diversify the people he spends
time with so you don’t feel chained to the cage.

Start at home after coming to some agreements about time. Say you
get three mornings a week and two afternoons. Or whatever works in
the schedule of PT appointments, gardening, and house chores. Agree
on the time that’s dedicated to undisturbed writing. He commits to not
interrupting you with the normal vagaries of life, and also to occupying
himself in ways that do not promote trips to the emergency room. You
commit to quality time together afterwards. Try it for two weeks and
refine the plan as needed. Work up to a weekend away, perhaps with
him having buddy time with friends for big pieces of it, so he doesn’t
get lonely and decide to do something risky. Before you leave get the
agreements on paper. Yes it sounds silly but might be enough to keep
him from climbing a ladder. Try it once. If it works, do it again. I’d
caution about asking him to read your early writing because he may
treat your laptop like a rival. Eventually it would be good to share, but
glide into it. He’ll be more fun again eventually.

Wits End

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m at my wits end. My husband is, or more accurately was, a
contractor. In addition to working endless hours he did all sorts of
projects around our house. Like the cobbler’s unshod family, many of
those projects were only partially completed, and we always had last
place in line behind paying clients. Now, through an accident of fate,
we have a who-knows-when-but-big medical malpractice payment that
will pay for all manner of household assistance while he is
incapacitated (for up to a year because his joint replacement surgeon
royally ^&$^^%#ed up!!). Because some of these repairs must be
completed for us to be able to shower, I hired a contractor buddy.
Needless to say, Mr. Fix-It is not happy with the pace or quality of the
work, because this guy does what my hubby always did: juggling
many clients at once. But he cannot do the work himself. His body
won’t cooperate. He is angry, depressed, moody, and restless. It is
causing huge stress and undoing a lot of the work we did together in
counseling a year ago. I want to go back to the counselor to get help
to get us back on track. He doesn’t want to go because it would open
our records to the doctor’s insurance company. Is there a way to parse
Wits End

Dear Wits End:

Call the counselor and explain the problem. I don’t think your previous
marital counseling should be any part of the medical malpractice
conversation. As the counselor if s/he can start a new file for you two,
one that relates only to issues connected to the surgery,
complications, and after-effects both on your husband’s health and
moods and your marital relationship, then that’s the way to go. If s/he
cannot, go to a new counselor, telling that person the techniques that
worked for you in the past. Warn them the records may be requested
for litigation.


One of the problems with a theoretical malpractice payout in the future
is that you are still paying all the costs upfront now, both emotional
and financial. Be sure to keep very accurate records of everything, not
merely of actual dollars spent to supplement the household duties your
husband is not able to perform. A log tracking everything from
household help to emotional issues would probably help your future
attorney. I’m assuming you’re not going to try resolving this without
one, but please consult one before you negotiate any kind of
settlement. There’s an entire area of law devoted to calculating the
damages such events impose. Pain and suffering is more than rhetoric,
as you are learning.