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?


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.