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!


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

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

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.