Chick Wit: Humility and help in the hospital

Posted: January 22, 2012

Getting sick teaches many lessons.

And before I begin, let me say I know that having foot surgery isn't even being that sick, and certainly not as sick as many people. But it's what I'm working with now, and it taught me several lessons, which I'm about to inflict on you.

By the way, I also know that many of these lessons are not exactly news. But I did learn them for myself, and frankly, I think they bear repeating, especially if you've gotten used to living on your own, like me, or if you're just accustomed to being a responsible adult, wherein you take care of yourself, your family, and the tristate area in general.

I know that I hate to ask anybody for anything, much less help doing the basic things, like walking, dressing myself, or throwing up.

You haven't lived until you have a girlfriend grab you a timely wastebasket.

We begin when I enter the hospital and relinquish all the things I carry around, that I've come to think of as part of me: my clothes, purse, wallet, watch, and cellphone.

On the plus side, I am given socks that are nicer than the ones I walked in with, because they match.

I wait to be processed in my hospital gown, stripped down to a human being with one extremely funky foot.

It's an odd sensation, being naked down to your genus.

Remember, I'm a bumper sticker of a woman. I wear my Phillies T-shirt to watch the game. At home.

Of course, our identity isn't any of our trappings, no matter how fancy your watch, or how trendy your smartphone.

But you have to be smart to know that.

That was my first lesson.

And then I meet a flock of nurses, each one asking me a set of questions pleasantly and carefully, as if they haven't asked them 10,000 times before, and answering all my dumb questions with equal patience.

Let's hear it for nurses. I met a slew - Karen, Brigitte, Carol, and Mary Eileen, each nicer than the last.

I have never met a mean nurse. I have never even met an impatient nurse. Every nurse I meet, I want them to cuddle me, and one even did. Nurses are funny, smart, impossibly hard-working - and unsung.

Let's sing for nurses.

That was my second lesson.

And also each nurse checked my ID bracelet for my birthdate and remarked that I looked younger than I am.

So nurses are really great.

What did I learn?

That I look younger than I am.

Just kidding.

I learned that nurses aren't paid enough, because nobody could pay them enough to cuddle a middle-aged woman whose foot has its own on/off knob.

But the main thing I learned is how lucky I am in my girlfriends and family. My girlfriend Laura moved in for the weekend, bringing Raisinets. My girlfriend Franca sent chocolate cake. My girlfriend Paula dropped off chocolate and pears.

You see the common thread.

Don't make me spell it out.

My girlfriend Nan stopped by to make me dinner, and I got all kinds of nice e-mail and Facebook notes. And of course, Mother Mary and Francesca called constantly to check on me, both begging to come to Philly and stay with me.

To them, I said no. I don't need my daughter to take care of me just yet. She'll have plenty of time with me and my walker.

And Mother Mary's time for taking care of me is over. She had the job for fifty-some years, even though I hardly look a day over forty-nine.

The biggest lesson I learned was how lucky I am in all of these people, and it wasn't something I realized until I had surgery. I couldn't know it until then. If you never ask for help, you never know that you'll get it.

And I didn't even have to ask.

I never needed my family and friends as much as I have lately, and all of them were there for me.

I suspect I'm not alone in this revelation. Ask yourself who was there the last time you were sick. Was it a nurse, a doc, a mom, a dad, a friend?

Or maybe you're the one who stepped up.

Either way, thank you, to all of you.

You are what we carry around with us, at all times. You are what we keep with us always, even when all we possess is a hospital gown with matching socks. You are what is a part of me.

You are love.

It was not until I had nothing that I realized I have everything.

And I am thankful.


Lisa Scottoline's new novel, "Come Home," is on preorder and will be published April 10. Lisa and Francesca Serritella's book, "Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: The Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter," is in bookstores now. Visit Lisa at scottoline.com.

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