Category Archives: Illness

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.

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.

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.

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.

Hobbled

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am about to have my third rotator cuff surgery. The surgeon botched
the first try, a matter of a vivid dispute between my insurance
company and his malpractice lawyers. But I’m the one who had to
endure a second operation. It helped, but not enough, so now I am
undergoing a second corrective procedure. My problem is that some of
my friends, though they try to sound well-meaning about it, are
undercutting my mood, my self-confidence, and my general sense of
independence by making all sorts of remarks, like: “I hope you try
harder with the physical therapy this time.” “Gee this is taking so
much longer than my friend so-and- so.” “Are you sure you are really
pushing your limits with pain?” It makes me feel ashamed, vulnerable,
like I cannot ask them for help, like I want to just stay home and hide,
and generally emotionally and physically fragile. Needless to say the
docs are cautious around me, because the word gets around that you
are “the kind of patient who will get you sued!” How can I let people
know that I too long for the days when I can drive myself to the
market, get back into the yoga studio, and walk my own dog. At age
55 it is a scary foreshadowing of what old age could be. And there is
nothing about it that I like!

Hobbled

 
Dear Hobbled:

As the old saying goes, No way out but through. So you need to push
on, yes through the pain, but also through the emotional difficulties of
not being understood by either doctors or friends. Statistics will tell
docs what’s likely to happen. They’re based on the aggregate of
human experience. But you have only your own rotator cuff to work
with, and if it&'s not cooperating with the surgeon’s expectations, he’ll
have to adjust and cooperate with yours. That does for your friends as
well.

 
Shaming is a lousy teaching technique, for age 5, or 55, or 95. We all
deserve to be recognized for our efforts. And especially in times of
great stress and pressure, we should be supported not chastised. I’d
consider sending a group email to your friends (or writing it once and
sending it individually to people). In it you can explain how grueling
and stressful this whole process has been for you, how terrifying it is
to imagine not having full use of an arm for the rest of your life, and
how extensive, expensive, and exhausting it is to be coping with a
medical issue you had been hoping would be long resolved. Without
naming names, you can say that people who have tried to “encourage”
you with negative feedback have had the opposite impact, and that
what you most need is support and encouragement. Let folks know
that you are appreciative both for their physical help and their moral
support. And tell them that on the other side they’ll all be invited to a
fabulous party to celebrate healing and recovery. But in the meantime,
if they can’t get onboard with what you need, they should feel free to
demur when you ask for help. You’ll soon learn who your true friends
are.

 
PS You should consider doing counseling to deal with medical trauma.
Just having a place to scream and weep without judgment may be
exactly the safety zone you need.

Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m trying to figure out how to help a friend who is in chronic pain. She
did a rehabilitative surgery and hasn’t bounced back like we all
thought she would. Previously she was outgoing, funny, always ready
to make plans, and generally seemed far younger than her age. Now
she shuffles along like a woman twenty years older, seems timid and
afraid of her own shadow, and has become, if not a shut-in, at least
very different from the lively and charming person I’ve known for
decades. I’ve watched her bounce between physical therapy,
acupuncture, hypnosis, new age therapies I can’t pronounce and don’t
believe in, and far too many pain meds. It’s not just missing my
friend. I’m worried about her life moving forward. How can I help her
realize that she’s spiraling down fast and hard?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

I doubt your description would tell her anything that she doesn’t
already know and is probably far more concerned about that you could
possibly imagine. The phrase “old before her time” is terrifying if one is
the “her” in question. Anyone who’s survived a major surgery knows
how fragile and vulnerable they feel afterward, and in reality are. The
true definition of health should include not merely recovery from the
original malady but should acknowledge that until one lives without
second-guessing every action, and without fearing any and all possible
negative consequences, one is not truly free of the dis-ease process.

 

Things you can do for her: Be patient and kind. Be positive not
negative or impatient. Ask her what she needs to be comfortable and
to feel safe. Listen to her answers and take them seriously; do not
discount them because you want her to be more well than she is. Help
her not isolate. Invite her for short excursions, whether it’s offering a
trip to Costco to stock up on paper goods, or to go out for a cuppa tea
or a movie. Ask her if she wants to talk about her healing and
vulnerability, either with you or a professional counselor. Encourage
getting off pain meds that can become a source of addiction. They can
be soul-numbing and personality-altering. Stay patient and kind and
keep reassuring her that time will improve almost everything, and that
she’s close to rounding the corner on the worst of it.

Quicksand

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve had a pretty tough year. I had health challenges that left me
debilitated, lost a beloved parent and a beloved dog, and had the
company where I’ve worked for twenty years skate perilously close to
the edge of bankruptcy. I’m feeling fragile and shaken and not very
secure in any sector of my life How can I use what’s left of the High
Holidays to set a firmer footing to go forward?

Quicksand

 
Dear Quicksand:

Much of the discussion about Yom Kippur is about interpersonal
relations: asking for and offering forgiveness for slights real and
imagined. It’s a chance to clear the air and enter the New Year with an
emotional sense of solidity. It won’t cure your work or health
problems, but it should make you feel as though your friendships are
intact. So do that and know you have friends.

 
Another way to think about atonement is internal. Think back a year
and see what gives you a pang, a sense of regret, even a caught
breath, a feeling that if you had a chance you would take what golfers
call a “mulligan” and kids call a “do-over.” Yom Kippur is a chance to
forgive yourself and move on. You might wish you’d done things
differently. Next year you should take every chance to do exactly that
in similar situations. But for now, clear your soul.

 
Go back and clean up whatever messes accrued in your wake. That
may mean conversations with bosses or co-workers, children or
partner. Then change how you talk to yourself about whatever
happened. And also how you talk to other people, from your doctor to
your next beloved pet. Nothing lasts forever, even grief and sadness.
A lot has to do with your attitude. Resolve to write a new, better, and
different story for the next year.

Gimpy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m having knee replacement surgery next month and I’m trying to get
all my ducks in a row. I am single, though in a new dating situation.
My new honey has offered to do a lot of helping, including bathing and
dressing in the first week, the time everyone assures me that I need
to prepare for help in the home 24/7. Some of my friends (and I note
these are the same ones who are least available to help schlepp me to
PT) are suggesting I go into a rehab place for the first week, BUT I
DON’T WANT TO!!! What should I do? Oh yeah, I’m also told I won’t be
able to drive for four-six weeks but I do have friends and neighbors.

Gimpy

 
Dear Gimpy:

First of all, talk to your doc. See what the general prognosis is for
people in your demographic regarding how long it takes to heal and
hoe long you should expect to need 24/7 care. Simply not wanting to
go to rehab is not quite enough of a reason. If it is medically
necessary, bite your tongue and go.

 
If it is an option, see what the alternative looks like. Set up a
spreadsheet for the maximum duration of your dependency. Set up
the grid day by day, and with sectors for morning, afternoon, and
evening, with specific slots for shlepping to and from physical therapy.
Talk to your new honey realistically. Not much kills romance faster
than changing dressings on wounds and hours of kvetching and pain.
Then start filling in the grid. Ask your self the tough questions, like
Who’s going to sleep here every night? With me or where? Who’s
going to do the cooking, cleaning, housework, and shopping? Who
among my friends is retired and available during day times to drive me
to appointments? How often can I bother them? Ask also at your local
Jewish Federation or the synagogue to see if there are care
committees or volunteers. You may have to pay someone to be with
you, or perhaps to have a neighbor on call after the first week or two.

 

 

So if money isn’t an issue and you can rent help, think about whose
life is amenable to interruption that you would trust.
This is one of those times when a non-working spouse would be grand.
But in the absence of one, see how close you can get before you make
any firm decisions. If everyone does pitch in, throw a thank you party
for them later, when you are up and about. And then help repay the
favor when you are asked to help others.

Reasonable or Not?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s the obligation of friends to help one another when there’s a
major medical event like cancer or surgery? I’m part of a social circle
that has helped its members as we have experienced health
vicissitudes. The person who needs help appoints a coach/coordinator
who either communicates through email or a website where friends
can sign up to bring meals, be a companion, help with household
chores, etc. Here’s the problem: the friend who needs help is refusing
to go into rehab for the two weeks when she will need almost 24/7
care (after a knee replacement). The irony is that Medicare would
probably pay but she refuses to leave her cat alone. She’s single and
has no relatives to come stay with her. Can we pressure into doing
what is appropriate and necessary by refusing to help until after the
first two weeks? Or are we being churlish?

Reasonable or Not?

 
Dear Reasonable/Not:

There are two separate issues going on. One is medical necessity, and
the doctors will probably make the “how helpful, when?” question
moot because the medical system will almost certainly insist that she
be in 24/7 care for some period of time, likely two weeks, after
surgery. She, of course, has the option to rent that care from in-home
providers, but most people who undergo serious surgery lose a little of
their stubbornness after they are operated on, are in pain, and require
help performing the simplest of tasks, for much longer than they can
anticipate or any of us would choose.

 
Become or communicate closely with the coach as well as the social
circle. Get an accurate sense of who’s willing to step us how often and
for how long. Then map that against the 24/7 needed care. Make it
clear that the friend circle cannot substitute for the rehab center where
she will need to go, at least for a little while. Tell her everyone wishes
her well and is happy to help out once she’s back in the house, but if
she wants 24/7 care up front, it is the Medicare/rehab route or paying
out of pocket, assuming she can convince the medical folks it is viable.
She won’t be happy. But she still needs you.

Lucky Lady

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband loves fixing things. Whether its putting a grab bar in the
shower or cleaning the gutters he is always puttering around fixing
things. He is also a little cheap, so hates it when I suggest hiring
anyone to do anything for the house, even mowing the lawn. The
garden is my domain and I get to decide if I need help. But if it
requires any tool beyond clippers and a hose, he gets to weigh in. H
just had a very minor heart attack. I know this is a great wake up call
for us both about what we eat and how we exercise. But it also made
me realize how completely dependant I have become upon him for
even the smallest thing. If the lights went out, I don’t think I’ve even
had to find the fuse box in this house. How can I get him to educate
me without making him feel any weaker and less of man than he is
feeling now?

Lucky Lady

 
Dear Lucky Lady:

Rather than making him feel useless, I hope my idea empowers him.
He’s going to have to spend some of his time recuperating by sitting
more and doing less. What could be more useful than having him
convert some of the knowledge in his head into a House Handbook for
you? You can frame it as a gift, as a knowledge transfer, or as a to do
list for him when he is more active. But have him go room by room
through the house, either mentally and writing it in a file on the
computer, or by walking around talking to you while you take notes
(that he can later review and edit). In each room, and outside, have
him identify regular chores: e.g., clean sink trap, change filter, replace
ant traps, order supplies, check levels, etc. Tell him that for anything
he identifies that needs to be done to also specify how often and any
tips and tricks that make the task more likely to be successful. Those
can be anything from time of day to time of year. Imagine you were
writing the same regarding, say, care of a rose bush. Get him to share
his knowledge with that level of specificity.

 
Take what he does and convert it into a three ring binder, with each
room on its own page. Then take the same info and cross reference it
with a calendar, so that next January 1 you would be able to fully
complete an annual care cycle for your domain. Set some times to
review this with your husband regularly. Do this in each room at least
once, not just sitting in the kitchen nodding as he speaks. At least
once a year, update the binder. Keep a list of folks to call (e.g.
plumber, electrician) and numbers you might need in a crisis (e.g city
public works, your insurance agent). Also add in copies of warrantees,
service contracts, and dates that you purchased everything from your
frig to your hot water heater. Think like a Boy Scout and Be Prepared.

Buddy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend who had major surgery three months ago.
Once she was allowed to get back on her feet her doctor told
her to exercise daily, starting with walking. Told means
instructed, encouraged, advised, and threatened that if she
did not, she might not realize the benefits of the procedure.
She has settled in to a habit of walking a half a mile every
day. I may be biased about how much is enough, because I
am trying to walk 10,000 steps each day (about five miles)
and happy if I do half. How can I be supportive of her and at
the same time get her moving for more than fifteen minutes
at a slow pace? She asks regularly for my praise.

Buddy

 
Dear Buddy:

Leave the threats to her doctor. Most people respond better
to encouragement than to chastisement. Tell her how proud
you are of her for starting a regular exercise program. Ask
her if her doctor set any specific goals for her, either in
terms of how long she should walk in both distance and
time. Id she claims ignorance, encourage her to contact him
via phone to ask for goals given how long she has been
post-surgical. The idea of goals is not just, What do I do
today? but also What should I be able to do in two months?
Tell her the semi-true story of a former co-worker (I had
one and I will happily lend her to you for this purpose), who,
upon learning that you were using walking for exercise,
handed you a pile of books and insisted that you read them.

 

The single most important lesson you remember is this:
Each day do a little more. Walk one minute further or past
two more houses. Every day stretch it a little. If you can get
her do that, and perhaps walk with her on a regular basis,
she’ll meet her doctor’s goals and her own.

Healthy and Want To Stay That Way

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s contagion etiquette during flu season? I’m talking about people
who show up at parties, bridge games, or sporting events dripping and
sniffling, and then get offended when others who are healthier ask
them to wear a mask, wash their hands, or go home. To be very clear,
I am not a wing nut fanatic about Ebola, though I think we (as in we
The West) should be doing much much more to combat its spread in
Africa. I am talking about simpler diseases like the common cold, or
the flu, which can be the cause of a lost sick week and much more
harmful to those with chronic conditions and the elderly. I know people
can be contagious without being asymptomatic, but am I being too
cautious when I hear people say “I’m not contagious” and don’t want
to believe them. Who should go home, them or me?

Healthy and Want To Stay That Way

 
Dear Healthy:

Short of walking around in a HAZMAT suit, you have no guarantee that
you won’t be infected in the grocery line, at the hairdresser, at work,
or in synagogue. Years I have been a High Holiday greeter I have
almost invariably gotten sick. But those are contact realities that we’re
all exposed to with the frequency that a life of engagement with others
imposes. You could choose to live in at home in a bubble but you’d be
a pretty miserable recluse and likely tire of it quickly.

 
Get used to speaking up when you invite people to your house and
when you accept invitations to other people’s realities. Talk to the
organizers of every place from your health club to your Human
Resources Department. Ask what their sick policy is in terms of
informing people before they show up or asking them to leave if they
are clearly symptomatic. Ebola or not, everyone is more aware of
contagion in fall/winter than in summer. People with children,
traditional germ carriers, may accept a level of contact illness that
comes from undeveloped immune systems sharing every “it” that goes
around. But adults who know better have an obligation to set the bar
higher. If you are willing accept the ire of those who will insist they
know their own bodies better than your caution suggests they do, go
ahead and sing your “Put on a mask!” song loudly. Otherwise stay
home and stay well. PS get your flu shot!