Category Archives: Illness

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
attention?

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
thinks.

Helpful

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?

Helpful

 
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
later.

 
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.

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
self-interest.

 
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.

Earplugs???

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?

Earplugs???

 
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.

Sad

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?

Sad

 
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
this?
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.

Overwhelmed With Worry

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What can I do to help a friend who has just been diagnosed with ALS?
Her health has been declining for the past two years. She has gone
from a vibrant public figure to a woman who needs a walker to get
from her recliner into her wheelchair. Her husband is overloaded
already caring for his 98-year- old mother. She has no biological
children, but does have adopted grandchildren (long story). I am her
friend and neighbor and usually run quick errands for her like library
books (my office is a block away) and specialty items from a favorite
store. But now she needs more and more help every day, and I’m
concerned the people who have been bringing her meals etc during the
most recent spate of testing and treatment may fad away with this
news. She is very appreciative for help but also very frightened, and
there is so very much to do around the house and in the bigger
picture.

Overwhelmed With Worry

 
Dear Overwhelmed:

There are two levels of support people who have received a terminal
diagnosis need. And be clear, even if it is a slowly progressing form of
ALS, there is no cure at this time. That doesn’t mean that any one of
her friend or family might not go first, but the prognosis is of
progressive decline until death. So the emotional level of support,
among family and the inner circle of closest friends needs to be
addressed first. Because the disease is not linear or predictable, it is
useful to first establish big criteria of needs: assists with meal
preparation or companionship in the house in the earlier stages,
compared to assists with bathing, eating, etc in later stages.

 
Fortunately there are many websites set up to support exactly this
kind of situation. One I know best is caringbridge.org, though I am
sure others are also good. It allows people to identify specific tasks
(e.g. a gluten free vegetarian dinner for two on a specific date, of two
hours of housecleaning) and friends to sign up to provide them. These
sits also allow the patient to give medical updates to people who care
about her welfare. Ask your friend if she wants help setting that up,
and perhaps offer to be her site manager (or recruit one). You are
right that a long haul will wear folks down. But it takes a village to
support us all in hard times.

The Good Daughter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My brother is addicted to pills, though will just get drunk if that’s all he
has. He has now lost her room in the house she was staying and her
fourth job as a nursing aide in a year. He relocated to my city to live
with our other, who is in the last stages of a terminal blood disorder,
though Mom has already outlasted the doctor’s predictions by almost
two years. Two points: (1) Mom is not supposed to drink, but often
they do that together; (2) David is “exhausted” from the move, and
wants to “take a month off to recuperate” before he looks for work. I
think he should not get a vacation but start putting out resumes today,
but both of them loudly told me off and said I was being “controlling
and judgmental.” I’m the responsible daughter who has to pick up the
pieces when they break things. Is there any way to avoid this train
wreck?

The Good Daughter

 
Dear Good Daughter:

In a word: No. You can try to ban alcohol from the house but addicts
always find a way to get their fix until they get clean and sober. You
can try to scare your mother with mortality, but if she’s already past
the doctor’s predictions she probably figures she can do as she
pleases, and who knows, maybe she is right. But it sounds like the
codependence will not help your mother as much as your brother.
Regarding the proposed vacation, your suggestion makes sense to me,
unless he needs the month to prepare for a pee test that would likely
be required to get a job. But even so, getting his resume together and
sending out letters and applications seems like a basic reality check to
reinforce the idea that he is there to help your mother, not live off her.
It might help to start with optimism when you speak to them, even if
you get heartburn and grit your teeth. But short of a miracle I think
you will be in this soap opera for a while.

Off Duty Please

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Can you help me design a “staycation?” My husband has had a raft of
medical problems. Sadly they include orthopedic problems, which
means that our normal hobbies of hiking and mushroom picking are
completely off the table. I’m a teacher and have a few weekends left
and then a long summer. I’m not expecting a two-week period at
home where I have no responsibilities, but I would like to design a
plan where I can get several days in a row to indulge my desire to
write. I have an idea for a children’s book, actually a series of them,
and a good friend who is an artist who can collaborate. My husband is
retired, not to mention grumpy from months of medical aggravation.
So he is lonely and looking for company. I don’t want to be unfriendly,
but I’m stressed by his condition also, and need my summer to
recharge.

Off Duty Please

 
Dear Off Duty:

You need to balance out the mix of responsibility with creativity.
Anyone who works at home will confirm that simply walking into the
kitchen to get a cup of coffee can trigger many hours of
procrastination and distraction, especially if one’s creative work isn’t
flowing. So you will need to set clear boundaries about when you do
what, and get an agreement from your husband to help you reinforce
them, and to keep out of your way in your creative time zones.

 

You don’t want him to think that your time together is all about work.
Getting him engaged in household maintenance before you get your
creative staycations is a deal he will have to agree to. Put a carrot in
the stick and make plans for a big date at the end of each one. For
example, Monday and Tuesday are together days doing home care.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday until 3:00 is your creativity zone.
Then weekend is playtime together. Part of your prep is to have your
“creativity bag” ready to go: a tote with a dedicated set of materials
including laptop, clipboard, drawing paper, dictation device, whatever
you need all packed and ready to grab. Then on Wednesday morning,
head out to a coffee shop and set up for creativity. In the house, have
a special flag or sign that says, “The Writer is Out” which hubby should
agree to respect, house fires or broken legs notwithstanding.

Buddy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

When is the right time to stage an intervention for a friend? It’s food,
not alcohol or drugs but her bad habit is going to kill her just the
same? She’s in her 60s and weighs well over 300 pounds. She has for
a long time, except for the year she lost almost 100 lbs by living on a
very strict anti-inflammatory regimen. She glowed from good health
and compliments, but then various issues in her family life resulted in
her taking in a very embittered relative who made her life a living hell
for more than a year, until she finally told her husband he had to
choose which of them was going to move out. The regained all the
weight and hasn’t looked back.

 

Now she is rapidly losing many forms of self-mobility and care as her aging
body copes with what’s simply too much for it to handle. The docs cannot figure
out a diagnosis or cure for her various ailments, and all of her friends are
concerned that she’s going to keel over, which would be a loss to us all. We
think bariatric surgery could be a great help, if her body could sustain it.
How can we say this to her without making her angry? She is fierce
when she feels cornered.

Buddy

 
Dear Buddy:

Once things involve doctors it is very difficult for what friends might
consider rational advice to hold sway. The person in question can
always say, My doctor says… as a defense. And while I cannot imagine
a doctor who would say 300+ pounds is a healthy weight, it sounds
like there are enough complications since the original weight loss that
the time for bariatric surgery may in fact have passed.

 
Rather than a formal intervention of several or many people, I’d
counsel one or two of you sitting down to have a heart-to- heart.
Explain how terribly concerned you are, and ask how you can be
supportive of her becoming healthier. You can offer to connect her
with nutritionists, health coaches, or even go on the same diet plan
that was once successful. Then listen very well, because she is the
woman who raises a fork to her lips, not you. And no intervention
short of incarceration will work if she is not as committed as you are.

Stressed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a husband with a long-term disability that is healing but not yet healed.
There are two issues. The first, which is medical, is that he has to NOT DO
certain things that might push his healing backwards. We have had several fights
about this during his convalescence. He thinks he is more fit than the doctors do,
and has many times too often done what I consider risky behaviors. That usually
involves trying to fix things around the house and yard, things he would have
been able to do in his sleep before his injury, but that are on the list of forbidden
activities (for example climbing on ladders).

 

The second issue is that he feels emasculated by my attempts to set up boundaries,
even though they are fully in line with the doctor’s instructions. He doesn’t get that
if he goes down again, everything falls to me. I am a working professional and already stretched thin, especially after six months of caretaking. This has impacted not just our intimacy but emotional trust. Can you help?

Stressed

 
Dear Stressed:

The practical side is far easier than the emotional side. Write up a checklist of
activities and submit it to the doctor (or more likely to his nurse). It can be really
simple: two columns headed by “allowed to do” and “not yet.” When you get the
list back, put it on the frig with a magnet and extract a promise that he will not do
anything more physical than daily life without consulting the list; if an activity is
something he is not yet ready for, the two of you will agree on a plan to get it
accomplished.

 
As for the emotional stress, you need a marriage/couples counselor. Most
marriages would benefit from this kind of tune up on a regular basis, but usually
folks wait until they’re in deep trouble to get help. If they wait too long, the bonds
are too fragile to sustain the pressure. In your case, if his illness is the primary
culprit, and is time-limited, you probably have a great chance to recover
communication and trust. But someone who is skilled at helping people on an
ongoing basis would be a real asset to the two of you. Ask discretely among your
friends and you will get names. People don’t tend to advertise when they have
seen a counselor, but your situation is one they will be able to relate to, and you
will find referrals.

Furious

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m married to a guy who’s ten years older, but he’s always been
extremely fit and active. He made a living as the head of facility
operations for a multi-site addiction recovery non-profit. Translation:
he was the internal handyman responsible for crawling into, under, or
on top of many buildings that were like apartment houses. He also
helped rehab our older home. He ended up with a bad back and bad
hips, both of which needed to be replaced, with back surgery pending
if the pain didn’t go away after the two hip surgeries. Surgery #1 went
fine and he recovered well, though was in increasing pain before
yesterday’s Surgery #2. An hour before the surgery, while they were
shaving and prepping him, the surgeon asked me in to consent to a
change in procedure: still a hip replacement, but a method that he’d
learned over the weekend at a conference, that is used by the other
top-flight ortho clinic in town. He admitted that my hubby would be his
first, but said that all the nurses were very skilled, as they assisted the
other docs regularly. Surgery #1 took one and a half hours. Three
hours into Surgery #2 I started asking questions. It wasn’t until hour
five! that I got any answers and they weren’t good. The surgeon had
broken my husband’s femur and had to send out for a different
replacement hip. Apparently this happens once in one hundred
surgeries. B U T…I think the odds are higher than that when it is the
surgeon’s first try. And I don’t think we were given nearly enough time
to make an informed decision. I feel angry and railroaded and now we
are facing much longer recuperation, lots more pain, and possibly a
much less robust recovery. What should I do or say, or not do and not
say?

Furious

 
Dear Furious:

I’m neither a doctor nor an attorney. And if you offered me 99 out of
100 odds I’d probably take them. But if you told me I was going to be
the first guinea pig for my surgeon to practice a new procedure I
would almost certainly refuse the honor. To me what’s key is the lack
of time for you to make an informed decision. When you buy a car or
refi a house you usually get three days to change your mind. A
decision that involves carving up body parts should certainly get more
than an hour’s notice.

 
What to do: Make it clear to the doc and the hospital that you are not
satisfied with the surgical outcome. Say that your immediate concern
is your husband’s health and comfort during recovery. But also stress
that you are nowhere close to done asking questions. First among
people to talk should be to the hospital administrator or director of
peer review. Ask what standard procedures are for informed consent
and also to review bad surgical outcomes. Insist the answers come in
writing. Take the answers to a malpractice attorney for a consult. Let
that conversation guide your next steps.

In Recovery

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m the single woman in her sixties who wrote you about preparing for
knee replacement surgery. I live alone, assuming you don’t count my
cat, who has been reluctant to do a lot of the heavy lifting during my
recuperation. My wide circle of loving friends has stepped up to help
me walk the slow road to recovery. I know every case is its own
unique world, but your advice was helpful to me, so I wanted to give
some tips to other readers, based on my experience.

 
Things that make recovery easier: Buy or borrow a good electrically
powered recliner. (Emphasis on electric to save stress on your back,
and twisting or leaning over hard to operate it.) In addition to a place
to sit, the recliner will become your haven especially in the wee hours
when you cannot sleep comfortably on your back in bed. Sleep
opportunistically every chance you get. Don’t be afraid to unplug the
phone and take naps, from catnaps to deep, long ones. If insurance
and/or Medicare will not cover it, invest in one of the continuous flow,
cold water pumps that when filled with ice and water will bathe your
aching knee in a velcroed wrap of soothing comfort. Ask your friends
to text or email rather than phone. Post or email group updates of
your condition. Be realistic and optimistic, but don’t candy coat the
tough stuff. Allow your friends to set up a food supply. Your appetite
will be diminished and your taste buds may be altered. A few servings
of homemade soup every other day, and simple foods like applesauce
and muffins will feel like gourmet fare. Stockpile chicken broth in your
freezer. Encourage visitors to bring a book and sit with you or in
another room, rather than draining your energy with chatter. Wear PJs
or a nightie when you are home to remind yourself you are a patient.
Know that everything will take twice as long as you expect it to, and
will tire you out more than you think it should. Set up all your physical
therapy appointments well before surgery and have a friend coordinate
transport for you. Don’t be shy about acknowledging your limitations.
Say Please and Thank you often, with true sincerity. This is a humbling
and humanizing experience. Be kind to everyone who helps you, and
do the same for others when you recover. We’re all going to need
more of this kind of community support.

In Recovery

 
Dear In Recovery:

Thank you for the helpful specifics! I hope you are out walking soon
and dancing not long after that.