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Asking For Help

            This past summer was very difficult, with Mom’s two surgeries and one of my own, and it became clear to me that my reluctance to ask for help when I needed it – or even to accept it when it was offered – made things much harder than they had to be. I know that there are people in my life who would be happy to help me, and who have offered to help many times, but I always say something like, no, I’m fine, thanks anyway.

“Sure you are.”

I knew some of the reasons why it was hard for me to ask for help: it’s embarrassing to try to explain what I need versus what other people expect me to need; I’m afraid of being judged for the things I can’t do; I don’t believe I deserve help; I’m afraid of what I will owe in return; I often have no idea of what kind of help would help me; and, often, what I really need is so much bigger than what people can give me: I want to feel safe and loved; I want to pay off all of my debts; I want to be healthy and have the energy to go to work more often; I want to be published by a major publisher; I want a house with a yard, and ten dogs, and a horse; I want children. And if I can’t have what I really want, whatever I get instead ends up feeling disappointing, no matter how kindly and generously it is given.

            So, I said no to the offers of help this summer, whether they were offers to make meals, or give rides, or just be a supportive listener; even though I was terrified while Mom was in the hospital, and for the first few weeks after she came home. I worried that she would die, and then I worried that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t know how to help her, and then I worried that something would break in the apartment and I wouldn’t know how to fix it. Through all of it, I just kept saying, No, I’m fine, thanks anyway.

I’ve been practicing my asking-for-help skills with Mom for years, because she always wants to help me and never judges me for being needy. And I’ve learned that when what I ask for is impossible (aka, take out your magic wand and fix everything, Mommy), she will search for ways that she can help that I couldn’t have thought of myself. And more often than not, that help is what gets me to the solid ground I need in order to take the next small step by myself. But that practice hasn’t translated very well into asking for help from other people, maybe because I don’t trust them to help without judging me.

“I will always judge you.”

When I told my therapist about this essay, she told me that I was conflating two kinds of help: practical help and emotional support. But for me, those two things have to come together or else neither one really works. Emotional support feels empty without some kind of practical help that gets me over the void in my own abilities, and practical help feels unsafe and alienating if it’s not accompanied by emotional understanding and sympathy for why I need help in the first place.

To be fair, to me, I’ve gotten better at asking for help than I used to be, and to be fair to other people, there have been plenty of times when I have received meaningful help, without being talked down to or treated like a lesser being. But I never expect it to go that way.

I was reading a scene in a Rhys Bowen novel recently, where the protagonist had injured her collarbone and needed help carrying her bag up the stairs (needless to say, this was not the dramatic peak of the novel), and she wasn’t embarrassed, or feeling guilty, or trying to muscle through it. She just asked for the help she knew she needed and moved on. And I was gobsmacked! This otherwise unimportant scene stayed with me, because I kept asking myself how it was possible that she didn’t feel embarrassed, and didn’t imagine that she was exaggerating her injury, and didn’t see herself as a failure for needing support. I take all of those feelings for granted, as the cost of living, but wouldn’t it be amazing not to feel that way?

“I always trust you to help me, Mommy.”

I was almost done with this essay, I thought, when another facet of this fear of asking for help came up; one that I hadn’t recognized before: I had to reach out to my dentist, between appointments, because one of my bottom teeth was loose and causing a lot of pain. I’d been putting off calling her, telling myself that I’d just seen her recently, and she knew my situation, and there was no point in being dramatic about it, and the pain wasn’t so bad. But Mom, who knew how hard I’d been working on this essay, told me that I needed to ask for help, and I felt sufficiently scolded to push myself to reach out to the dentist. The dentist called me right back and said she wanted to fit me in for an appointment as soon as possible, because she’d been worried about that tooth since my last visit, and she already had a plan for removing and replacing it. I made the appointment and then grumbled to myself about the unfairness of life, and how annoying it was that she’d called back so quickly and already had a plan in mind. And I realized, that’s why I didn’t want to reach out to her in the first place: I didn’t want to know that my lower teeth were in such bad shape, so soon after the trauma of replacing the upper teeth.

            I keep wanting to believe that asking for and receiving help will be some kind of magical elixir, where the pain disappears and life feels easy; that is often the kind of help I’m craving. But if getting help actually means having to face the harsh realities of life, the ones that I can’t handle on my own, then no wonder I’m reluctant to ask for help. Maybe putting off asking for the help I know I need allows me stay in La La land for a little while longer.

“I like La La Land!”

            I have no idea how to overcome this desire to stay in La La land. Intellectually, I know that I have to, but I also know, deep in my body, that I’m not ready. I think part of my belief that I can’t get the kind of help I want from other people comes from knowing how hard it has been to give myself the compassion and support I need when I’m struggling. I figure, if I can’t give that to help myself, why should I believe that anyone else would be willing or able to give it to me?


            If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Oral Surgery, finally

            After Mom’s emergency second hip surgery, to revise the hip replacement that was put in two months earlier, my oral surgery was rescheduled to late August. I already had my medical clearances in place, and all of the medications I’d need for before and after the surgery, and the oral surgeon had already given me a rundown of what to expect after surgery: like, bleeding from the nose, swelling of the sinuses, bruising on my face, and a possible lisp because the temporary (3D printed) implant would leave a small space between the device and my gums. Oh, and I wouldn’t be allowed to blow my nose, or accidentally sneeze, for three weeks, because that would make the swelling worse.

“I know how to avoid sneezing.”

            My biggest fear leading up to the surgery itself, though, was the anesthesia. The surgeon had told me that they wouldn’t decide until the day of the surgery whether I’d be getting sedation or general anesthesia. He was voting for general anesthesia, because it would make his life easier, but I thought sedation might mean I could avoid having a foreign object shoved down my throat, so I was hoping for sedation. When I finally spoke to the anesthesiologist, a few days before the surgery, she told me that I’d have a tube down my throat either way, to protect my airway, and that general anesthesia would be better for the surgeon and easier on my throat. And I’d be unconscious when she put the tube in and took it out, so that might mitigate my fear of choking. I hoped she was right.

Then she asked me, with no warning, if I had access to an adult undergarment, i.e. depends, because if not they could supply one for me when I got there. What?! She said that I might pee under anesthesia and everyone would prefer it, including me and the staff, if I didn’t leave a puddle.


First of all, no, I don’t have adult undergarments hanging around on a shelf – except for Cricket’s adorable pink reusable diaper from her incontinence episode, which would just about fit over my hand. Second, how did no one think to mention this to me ahead of time? Or maybe they kept it quiet because they thought this would be the deal breaker. As it is, the adult undergarment became my number one preoccupation for the whole weekend leading up to the surgery – who cares about pain! What if I pee on myself?!

When I met the anesthesiologist in person, she was lovely and friendly and way too energetic for someone who was about to put me to sleep. She gave me the adult undergarment to change into in the bathroom, under my loose clothing (aka pajamas), and then I was whisked into the surgical suite, where my legs were wrapped in anti-blood clot sleeves, and monitors were attached to my fingers, and my hair was covered with a surgical bonnet so it wouldn’t get sticky (?!), and then a needle was put into the back of my hand, and then I have no idea.

I woke up in the same room, with the same people removing the things they’d attached just seconds before (though I found out later that five hours had passed). Most of my thoughts when I first woke up, strangely enough, were in Hebrew. Where’s Mom? What happened? When can I go home? I couldn’t actually speak yet, because my mouth was filled with gauze, and my throat was rough, and I had ice packs wrapped around my face, but I found myself translating everything into English anyway, as if they could hear me and answer me. The closest I came to being able to communicate was a grunt or two and a thumbs up or down, though as I was leaving in my wheelchair the surgeon decided to give me a fist bump.

I don’t really remember the trip home, except that Mom brought out her rarely-used walker and our neighbor, the nurse, to help me walk from the car up to the apartment. I spent the rest of the evening in front of the TV, changing out the bloody gauze until my mouth stopped bleeding (mostly), and going to the bathroom every twenty minutes (I couldn’t find an explanation for the excess peeing online, especially since I could barely sip enough water to take my pain meds, but it receded along with the excess bleeding).

I didn’t sleep much that first night, because my nose kept running – the surgeon said it was fluid from my sinuses, and blood, rather than traditional snot, but either way it made it hard to breathe – and I had to refreeze the ice packs for my face constantly, and my mouth hurt, and every time I moved my head it all hurt even more. I was able to take the dogs out the next morning, though, wearing a loose face mask to try and cover my swollen cheeks, but I managed to forget my house keys and had to ring the doorbell for Mom to let us back in anyway.

The pain was so much worse than I’d been expecting, so I had to give in and take some of the oxycodone I’d been prescribed, but mostly I survived on ibuprofen and ice and the coziness of my puppy pile.

To make things worse, it turned out that my Mom, who had been having trouble breathing over the weekend and assumed at first that it was just an allergy thing, went to the doctor on my first day post-surgery and started treatment for a possible case of Pneumonia. The next day she went for a chest x-ray, which ruled out pneumonia, which meant that on my second full day post-surgery I was driving Mom to the emergency room so they could rule out a blood clot. She stayed in the hospital overnight, getting all kinds of tests, and was told that she had fluid in the right lobe of her lungs and some kind of hardening of the lung tissue, which would be investigated further with a Bronchoscopy (under general anesthesia, a week later, just to keep things fun).

The next day, while Mom was still finishing up her tests at the hospital, I drove myself back to the surgeon’s office to have my temporary implant put in. By then my cheeks were starting to deflate and had turned all sorts of interesting colors, but my face mask allowed me to feel largely invisible, until I had to take it off to be examined by various assistants. There was a lot of sitting and waiting, between examinations, and then the surgeon screwed in the temporary implant, using what seemed to me like a tiny Allen wrench. He made sure to tell me not to swallow anything during the procedure, which was helpful, because when he was finished screwing everything in place there was still one tiny screw sitting on my tongue.

When I got home, I wrapped my face in ice again (they gave me a cool little headband that wraps around my head, with pockets for the ice packs, which was much more comfortable than holding ice packs on my face with both hands), and I watched the recording of my online Hebrew class a day late, so jealous of everyone on the screen. Mom came home with updates on her hospital stay and then it was nap time, for everyone, puppies especially.

“Sorry, Mommy. No room for you.”

Each day the pain and swelling has receded a bit more, and I’ve started to figure out how to chew with my new teeth, and how to deal with the temporary lisp (ignore it). The freezer is filled with bought and homemade soft foods, like soups and casseroles, and, of course ice cream, so there’s a lot to look forward to. And when the permanent implant comes, in a few months, it’s supposed to fit better than the temporary one (eliminating the lisping issue), and be made of stronger material (to allow me to eat more than just soft food), so if I can make it through the next few months with some self-esteem left, I should be okay long term.

And pretty soon, I’ll be back in front of the classroom, with no time to worry about how weird I look or sound, because the kids will have so many more important things to focus on, like: He pulled my hair! She stole my favorite pencil! Can I go to the bathroom, even though I just went five minutes ago and I’m definitely not looking for an excuse to wander around the building, please?!

Wish me luck!

“Are you going away again?!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Jury Duty

            When I first received a jury questionnaire in the mail, back in the spring, I wrote in the space provided about my various health issues and why it would be difficult for me to manage a full day of jury duty, let alone several days of a trial, and asked to be excused. When I didn’t hear back from them with a request for more information, I thought I’d done enough to be let off the hook. But the jury summons came anyway, on the same day that I’d gotten clearance from the Pulmonologist for my oral surgery, and the summons was dated for the week of the surgery itself.

“Oh, come on, people!”

I was able to postpone the summons for a few weeks, but I didn’t even try to get out of it completely; partly because I felt guilty trying to get out of jury duty, and partly because I didn’t want to go through the humiliation of trying to prove to my doctor that my disabilities are significant. I’d gotten out of jury duty a while back with a doctor’s note, when they were going to send me to Brooklyn (an hour and a half trip each way, by train, in the summer), but I had a doctor I trusted back then, and I knew for sure that I wouldn’t have been able to handle that trip, no matter how hard I’d tried. But this time, it was different, or I kept thinking it was.

            I told myself that I’d only have to drive twenty minutes each way, because the court complex is nearby, and I knew the route, and even if the weather was disgusting, I’d be inside most of the time, and sitting. And then my surgery was postponed too, with jury duty coming first instead of second, so I really didn’t see any way out of it.

            One of the more stressful things about jury duty, in my area at least, is that instead of being told to come in on a specific day, you are put on call for a week, meaning that every day at five o’clock you have to check the website to see if your number has been called for the following day. But I was lucky, this time, because when I checked the website the Friday before my summons week, I found out that I was being called for Monday, which meant I had the whole weekend to prepare: do the food shopping and the laundry, take extra naps, fill up my book bag with all of the things I’d need, and thank god I didn’t have to wait until five o’clock each day, for the rest of the week, to find out if I’d have to go in the next morning.

“But who’s gonna take me out to pee?!”

            I feel like I should be one of the people who is actively interested in every part of the justice system, and in doing my civic duty, and I keep thinking that I should use jury duty as a way to research future novels and learn about police procedure and all that. And, beyond that, I feel like jury duty is an obligation, like voting, and I don’t want to be one of the people who lies to get out of jury duty and then laughs about how juries are all made up of the stupid people who can’t get out of it. But I don’t have much energy, and I have a lot of social anxiety issues that make things like this ten times harder than they should be, and, whenever I’m near a police officer or inside of a court building, I think I’m going to be arrested.

            My mom has only been called for jury duty once in her life, and, so far, I’ve been called five or six times. I don’t know how I got so lucky. The first time I’d just graduated from college, and I was really nervous, but also kind of excited. I went through the voir dire, where the lawyers ask potential jurors all kinds of questions to see if they’ll be a good juror for the case, and when they asked if I’d ever been the victim of a crime, I had to say, uh, yeah, and the guilty party got away with it. I thought about saying no, just to see what it would be like to be chosen for a jury, but I’m not a good liar. Another time, I vaguely remember that we were given damp sandwiches and bused to another location that looked like a repurposed elementary school, but I was scratched, again, when they got to the victim-of-a-crime question. There was another time when I had to call in each day, for a week, to find out if they needed me, and they never did. That was probably the worst.

“Waiting sucks.”

            Even during my short stints at jury duty, though, it’s become clear that the lawyers just aren’t as interesting as the ones on TV, and the cases aren’t as dramatic or convoluted, and there’s almost never a twist ending, which is just disappointing. Instead it’s a lot of sitting around and waiting. If only I could bring one of the dogs with me for company – though there’s a very good chance that Cricket would get me arrested.

            I should have asked for a doctor’s note, because I’m just so tired all the time, and because Mom was still recovering from her second hip surgery, and because the dogs needed me, and because I needed to keep the apartment relatively livable, but I was too chicken. So I went.

            I packed diligently: phone, phone charger, jury summons, extra mask, book to read for fun, book to read for serious, notebooks and pens, oatmeal in a thermos (with a spoon), gingerale (in case of nausea caused by anxiety), and wet wipes.

            I got to the courthouse a few minutes early and found a seat in a corner of the central jury room, which was, thankfully, well air-conditioned and big enough to leave room for social distancing. Most people wore face masks, even though we were allowed to show our vaccination cards to get out of it, and after a little while of sitting there and staring around the room at each other, we watched a few videos: about jury service in New York and about implicit bias (how we fill in a picture when it is incomplete, based on assumptions that may not be true). And then we waited. A bunch of names were called while I played with my phone: sent an email and a text, did some water sorting and some Duolingo. And then we waited some more. I finished reading my book-for-fun (Rhys Bowen’s God Rest Ye Royal Gentlemen) and another group of names were called, and then we waited again. My phone was running out of power, but I was too scared to go wandering around looking for a place to charge it, so I got some writing done, and read some of the serious book (Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God), and then some more names were called and then we waited again. It was getting close to lunch time by then, and my neck and back hurt, and I was wondering if we would be sent to a cafeteria or let out for the hour and a half for lunch, and wishing I could go home and take a nap. And then my name was called. A whole group of us were led into a smaller, less well air-conditioned room, and I was really worried that we would be sent to do a voir dire right away and miss our lunch break altogether, and my headache would keep getting worse and I’d end up crying, or yelling at someone, or getting myself arrested, somehow. And then a non-descript man came into the room with a big pile of papers and told us that the rest of the cases for the day had been settled, and we would be going home early. There were quite a few hoots and hollers and Praise Gods and then we were called up one by one to get our printed sheet confirming that we had completed our jury service. And that was it.

            It had rained at some point while we were deep inside the court building, far from any windows, but the air outside still felt wet and thick as I walked across the street to my hot car, but…I was free!

            But even as I was driving home, hours earlier than expected, I wasn’t quite able to process what had happened. Time had slowed down so thoroughly in that big, isolated, jury room, with all of the empty spaces filled with anxiety about what might happen next, and not trusting myself to know how to answer the lawyers’ questions if I was called in to try out for jury and worried I would end up on a five week trial because I was too scared to say no. And then, suddenly, I was free, and I was still awake and aware enough to drive home without needing to pull over to rest, and even though I was a little bit shaky with fatigue, I was actually okay.

            And then I was home. Mom and the dogs met me at the door and I was able to take a nap in my own room, with puppies for company, and eat whatever I wanted to eat instead of whatever I could fit into a thermos. It wasn’t the easiest day of the summer, but it wasn’t the hardest one either, after all. All summer long there’s been one challenge after another, and even if it hasn’t been easy, each challenge has been met, somehow. And even though I’d much rather not be in survival mode endlessly, it’s good to know that if I need to survive, I can do it. I just hope I won’t get another jury summons too soon, and Mom won’t need another new hip for a while, and things will start to calm down a little bit.

But…I’m not holding my breath.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Cricket’s Struggle

            Cricket had great plans to help her grandma with her exercises after hip replacement surgery back in May. She also planned to be the heating pad after each workout, and she was going to bark Grandma awake every hour or so to walk up and down the hall, and then bark her Grandma down the stairs and outside, once she could go without the walker, and she was going to remind her to bend her knees instead of bending at the waist to put on the leashes, and she was going to sit on Grandma’s lap to keep her from lifting her knee too high, or crossing one leg over the other.

Cricket, the guard dog

            Alas, right from the beginning, Cricket was told no. She was told no when she tried to sleep on Grandma’s hip, to keep it warm; and she was told no when she tried to guide Grandma’s walker down the hall; and she was told no when she woke Grandma up at six o’clock in the morning to go for a walk.

            It was devastating. And to make matters worse, a stranger came into the apartment, called a physical therapist, and Cricket was told that she was not allowed to stand next to him and bark her critiques of all of his work. Instead, she was sent to bark in Mommy’s room with that other dog. Nothing could distract Cricket from her work of barking, though, since it was the only thing she could do to make sure that Grandma survived her physical therapy session with that STRANGER!

Cricket and that other dog (aka Ellie)

            After two weeks, a new physical therapist came, a woman, and she took Grandma for walks outside, without Cricket. She took Grandma to the garden and watered and weeded, without Cricket. She even took Grandma to the car, to practice sitting down and getting up again, without Cricket. And there were new exercises for Grandma to do, in the living room, that required Cricket to be SOMEWHERE ELSE. 

“This is unacceptable.”

            But finally, after what felt like years, Grandma could go for walks again, and hold the leash again, and the stranger didn’t come to the apartment as often, and Cricket could finally relax. But then, disaster struck, and Grandma left again, to the hospital, Mommy said, for what felt like forever!

            Mommy said that Grandma was on the phone, but the phone didn’t have a lap; and it didn’t smell like Grandma, and it couldn’t hold a leash, and it never gave scratchies.

            And then Grandma came home, and Cricket was thrilled, but Grandma started to say no all over again. No to sleeping on Grandma, no to walking in front of Grandma, no to holding leashes and sharing snacks and having cuddles. No to everything!

            And then the physical therapist came back AGAIN! And Cricket was trapped in the bedroom with that other dog AGAIN, with only Mommy there, giving not enough treats, while Cricket knew that Grandma was in the other room with a STRANGER.

            Clearly, more barking had to be directed at Mommy, to make her do the right thing, aka get the stranger to leave so that Cricket could be in charge of physical therapy. She could get Grandma in shape in no time! But no, no, no, no. All the time, no. When Cricket woke Mommy up at six o’clock in the morning, no. When Cricket barked at Grandma to share her snacks, no. When Cricket barked at Ellie (aka that other dog) to tell her to start barking too, no. Everything was no!

“Why is it always no?”

            But Cricket is confident that, one day soon, she will get a yes, and then another yes. She will get her lap back, and she will get her Grandma-walks back, and she will get her life back. In the meantime, it’s no, and can’t, and don’t, which is an awful, terrible, horrible disaster. But one day soon, things will get better. Cricket is sure of it. All it will take is persistence.

Ellie’s not so sure.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Oral Surgery, Interrupted

            At my most recent visit with the dentist, about a month ago, I finally asked her about the oral surgeon’s recommendation that I get a full implant to replace my upper teeth – with screws in my cheek bones to stabilize it – and the dentist said it was the best option for me, despite the cost. She said that I will lose more teeth, more rapidly, in the near future, because of the progression of gum recession and bone loss. She was definite, and the hygienist, who I’ve been going to for about twenty years (she worked with my previous dentist too), agreed with the dentist’s assessment, and said that I’d be in good hands with this particular oral surgeon. My mother had also done her research, with friends in the dental field and of course on Google, and she felt that this was the right plan too. And, Mom said, as a result of my father’s death last fall she would be getting a larger social security check from now on, so, in a way, my father would be helping to pay for it.

            I was still scared, though, of the cost of the procedure and the radical nature of it; but I was more scared of not doing it, or of not doing it in time, and losing more teeth without having something to replace them.

As soon as we called the oral surgeon to say yes, the process started to move forward at high speed. The office manager at the oral surgeon’s office had to do a credit check to see if I qualified for a loan, and then I needed to go into the office to sign the loan papers, and get x-rays and a lot of pictures of my smile, and intra-oral pictures to cover every centimeter of my mouth, so that the surgery could be planned out and the temporary and permanent implants designed. The doctor’s assistant, who did all of the pictures, some even with her cell phone while I used the retractors to hold my mouth open, also gave me a rundown of what to expect after the surgery: a lot of pain (with a prescription for Percocet, just in case), and bruising on my face for ten days to two weeks, and oh yeah, it might be difficult to get used to eating and talking with the temporary implant (the permanent one would come in three months and be made of less bulky and more long-lasting materials), and I’d have to be on a soft food diet for the whole three months to protect the temporary implant, and probably not eat much at all for the first few days while my gums healed, before they could even put the temporary implant in place.

I went home with a gift bag (a Water Pik, signed loan papers, cough drops, and colorful plumes of paper), and a lot of fear. I knew I had to follow through with this, not just because of the loan papers, but because this would be my best option to feel like a viable person in the future, but I had a lot of nightmares: teeth being pulled out of my mouth with rusty plyers, monsters shoving things down my throat while I’m under anesthesia, etc.


A day or two later, I got an email from the Anesthesiologist’s office telling me what I’d need to do for medical clearance before the surgery: I’d need an EKG and blood tests and an overall exam from my primary care doctor, and an okay from a pulmonologist. But my primary care doctor didn’t have any appointments available until the week after the surgery, and it took a while before one of the schedulers at her office offered to let me see the nurse practitioner there who had an opening. And then I called the office of a pulmonologist I’d seen five or six years ago, for shortness of breath, and his scheduler said he didn’t have appointments available until October.

So, back to the primary care doctor’s office for a referral to another pulmonologist, and, wonder of wonders they had a name ready and he had an appointment available within an hour. And he was lovely. He read through my test results from five years ago, and checked my breathing, and took a short history, and gave me his okay for surgery. He told me that he’d had a similar situation where he’d needed pulmonary clearance for surgery, and they wouldn’t take his own medical word for it, so he’d gone to the pulmonologist I’d seen before (the one with no appointments until October) to get his clearance done.

            After that, I was finally able to take a deep breath. It seemed like things were going to be okay, and there were even nice people in the world who understood what I was going through, and then I got home and found a jury summons in the mail, for the week of the surgery.

            Really God? Really?!

            I had to email the jury commissioner’s office directly because the only postponement options offered online were for during the school year, and luckily they were able to give me a new date in August (by which time my bruises would, hopefully, be less visible).

            At the same time, I was preparing for the trip to the hospital in Philadelphia (which turned out to be a virtual visit at the last minute, thank God), and worrying about whether or not to take the next semester of my online Hebrew class over the summer, knowing I’d have to miss a couple of class sessions, and possibly stay off camera for a few others, what with bruises on my face and lispy, awkward speech. But the idea of not having those classes, and only having the pain to look forward to, seemed too awful, so I stuck with it. And then I needed to go for a Covid test and pick up the meds from CVS that I was supposed to start three days before the surgery, and…

And then Mom’s hip replacement popped out. Her hip had been sore for a few days, but the doctor wasn’t worried and just recommended more rest. But when I came in from walking the dog’s Saturday morning Mom said, “I have some bad news,” or something equally as understated, and she told me she could feel something protruding under the skin and she was ready to throw up from the pain. I raced around looking for the doctor’s phone number, which was probably in plain sight somewhere, and eventually found it online, and the doctor said to call for an ambulance and go to the emergency room. The dogs barked up a storm from behind my bedroom door when the paramedics arrived, but Mom was really calm and just needed some help getting her shoes on before they guided her down the stairs in a wheelchair and out to the ambulance.

“Why can’t we go with Grandma?”

The ER was crowded with Covid patients, so I wasn’t allowed to go in and had to wait for news at home. And I still wasn’t allowed to go in later in the day, after they’d decided to transfer her to the hospital in the city where she’d had the original surgery, so I had to drop off her clothes and phone charger with a very nice security guard, without seeing her at all. And then I went home and called the oral surgeon’s office and left a message (it was the weekend) telling him that I would have to postpone the surgery, which was supposed to have taken place that Thursday. And then I had to sit and wait.

Up until that moment I’d felt like I was on a speeding train with all of the doctors’ appointments and the upcoming oral surgery and jury duty and then getting Mom to the emergency room and bringing her clothes. And then the world just stopped, and all I could do was sit by the phone.

“I’ll sit with you, Mommy.”

But Mom’s second surgery finally took place mid-week, and it went well, though the surgeon sounded more humble on the phone this time around, explaining exactly what he’d done to make the hip replacement more stable. And then I heard from the oral surgeon’s office manager that my new surgery date wouldn’t be until late in August, dangerously close to the beginning of the synagogue school year (though I’m hopeful that with the latest Covid sub-variant going around, I will be able to wear a mask in the classroom and not feel too self-conscious).

Now that Mom’s home, and safe, I should be feeling better, but I’m afraid of what will happen when the world starts moving again and I have to rush to the drug store, or see doctors, or go to jury duty, or prepare for my own surgery, or go back to teaching in the fall. I feel like a stopped clock that has to be reset, and my arms will flail out of control as I start to speed forward through the hours again. But for now, there’s a calm in our house, as Cricket climbs back up onto her grandma’s bed, and even lets Ellie sit nearby (though not for long); we can all breathe a sigh of relief, knowing we are home, together, where we belong.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Looking for Butterflies

            Sometime in the midst of prepping for Mom’s hip surgery, Duolingo announced that I was in the running for the semifinals, of something. I spend some time every day on Duolingo, practicing my Hebrew and French, learning Spanish or German or Yiddish. I’m sure that part of my language learning adventure has been about wanting to feel smart and impressive, but first and foremost I’m fascinated by what languages can teach us about who we are and how we understand ourselves. I don’t practice each language every day, some days I do a little of a few different languages, some days I do a deep dive into one of the languages, sometimes I just do enough to keep my streak alive for another day.

            But then there was this tournament. It wasn’t hard to get into the semifinals: I just had to do the same number of lessons I usually do every day. And even getting into the finals didn’t take much extra effort. But once I was in the finals I started to feel pressure to spend hours each day earning points, by studying old lessons and learning new ones. By then, Mom was home from the hospital, and struggling. I was basically on call 24/7 to make sure she took the right medications, at the right times, and had enough to drink and food, if she could stand to eat, and I was also taking care of the dogs and the apartment and the laundry and the shopping.

“But we’re so easy!”

            And, at first, the extra time spent on Duolingo was a relief, a chance to think about something other than life and death and pain and all of the ways I was failing my mom, and all of the ways I was failing in life overall. I won eighty points with one lesson – I must be a genius!!! But as the week of the finals went on, and the pressure grew, I was on my cellphone so much that it kept running out of power. I usually don’t notice how much battery is left on my phone, I just put it on its charger when I go to sleep and it takes care of itself, but now it needed to be charged multiple times a day. I was doing Yiddish lessons in between trips to the laundry room, and Spanish lessons while the tea was steeping, and French and German when I had free time and would normally be trying to write, or read. Every time I saw my name fall down to, say, twentieth place, when only the top fifteen would win, I felt like a failure. I had to push harder, do more, and win! I didn’t even know what I might win if I made it into the top fifteen, but it said that the top fifteen would be winners and I wanted to be a winner!

“I’m already a winner.”

            The dogs handled the early days of Mom’s recovery really well, thank God. Ellie was her usual sweet self, sleeping on the floor of Mom’s room, sending good vibes throughout the day and night, and knowing to come to me for food or trips and let Mom rest. Even Cricket did better than I had expected. She (mostly) listened when she was told to stay off Mom’s lap, or away from her feet when she was walking slowly down the hall. There was one bad night, though, when she didn’t listen. I found out in the morning that, using her good leg, Mom had kicked Cricket off the bed, and Cricket flew across the room, losing her tags halfway across the floor (I reattached the tags the next morning, pressing extra hard with the plyers so that at least if she went flying again she’d still have her identification on her).


By the weekend of the Duolingo finals, Mom was starting to feel better, not needing me to be on call as much, and my obsession with my placement in the Duolingo rankings became constant. By midday, Sunday, I was in 16th place, one spot away from the winner’s circle, but the whole thing was becoming tedious and I was starting to hate learning languages, which is not like me at all. The only time I could get any perspective was when my phone ran out of power and I was forced to take a break while it was on its charger. I was still able to walk the dogs, and clean, and cook, and make tea when necessary, so there were a few minutes here and there when I wasn’t on my phone, trying desperately to keep up, but not many.

            By early evening I had made it into thirteenth place and I thought it was safe to take a break to make dinner, and eat dinner, since the competition would be ending at 11 PM. But when I looked at the rankings again, an hour later, I was back down in sixteenth place. I sat with Mom in the living room, supposedly watching TV, but really trying to earn enough points to get back into the winner’s circle. It was about 10:40 PM and I was still about one hundred points from fifteenth place – winner! – when the battery ran out and my phone shut off. I had seen the warnings that I was low on power, twenty percent left, ten percent left, but I was too busy to stop and charge it, and I was sure I had enough to make it through the end of the tournament, and I was wrong.

At 10:40 PM, I knew that even if my phone charged quickly, I’d still be too far behind to make up the points by 11. Each point I earned would be matched, at least, by the guy in fifteenth place, and he would always be at least a hundred points ahead of me. I wasn’t sure if the people ahead of me in the rankings had more free time, more competitive spirit, better strategy, or if they just had Duolingo Plus, the paid version, which makes it much easier to earn a lot of points at once, but I knew I was out.

            So, I finally let go. I put my phone on its charger, and took the dogs out for their last walk of the day, and brushed my teeth, and tried to accept defeat. Some small part of me felt guilty for giving up, telling me I could have switched over to the Duolingo site on my computer and at least tried to earn the last one hundred, two hundred, three hundred points, however unlikely success might be. But I didn’t do that. I just made my overnight oats for breakfast, took my evening meds, and watched the clock as the last few minutes ran out on the Duolingo tournament.

            I was already planning this essay by then – because the extremeness of my behavior around this meaningless tournament worried and intrigued me. I could stand back, finally, and wonder if I was specifically vulnerable to this obsession because of the helplessness of watching Mom struggle to recover from her surgery. Or if maybe there’s something in my brain in general that can’t tell the difference between what’s important and what isn’t important, and I truly believed that winning this tournament could change my life in some significant way.

            Mom had a much better way of distracting herself. For Mother’s Day, before the surgery, when I was searching through Amazon for something Mom might like, I found a butterfly kit. I’d never heard of such a thing, but Mom loved the idea, and then spent half a day looking for the right one (not the one I’d found), and it arrived a few days before the surgery. She set it up in her room, and read diligently through the instructions for how to take care of the caterpillars, and their habitat. Luckily, there wasn’t anything I needed to do for them while Mom was in the hospital, because I was too busy cooking and cleaning and freaking out, to have made sense of more instructions.

            And when Mom came home and was dealing with all of the pain and discomfort of recovery, she watched the caterpillars creating their chrysalises, and she fed them and cared for them, and when the butterflies started to emerge, Mom was starting to feel better, and by the time Mom was ready to start walking outside with the physical therapist, it was time to hang the butterfly habitat outside on a tree, and open the zipper, and let the new butterflies find their way out into the world.

            The metaphor of the whole thing really resonated, for both of us (though Mom was disappointed that the butterflies flew away so quickly after their transformation). The presence of these creatures, transforming in her room, gave her something hopeful to look at every day. Even if she never intended the butterflies to be such a clear metaphor, some unconscious part of her brain knew what she would need and sought it out.

            And, for whatever reason, my mind sought out the Sisyphean task of trying to win a Duolingo tournament I could never win.

            There was such relief when the tournament was finally over, even though I’d ended up right outside of the winner’s circle in sixteenth place. I was able to look away from my phone again and realize that Mom really was feeling better, and moving better, and ready to make her own tea again, the way she actually liked it. And I was finally able to go back to my other obsession: watching endless episodes of Murder, She Wrote, and basking in Jessica Fletcher’s ability to decipher clues and solve murders and believe in herself despite constant criticism. In a way, Jessica Fletcher is the butterfly version of my caterpillar self, and watching her gives me hope that someday I might come out of my chrysalis and really be able to fly.

            At the same time, Cricket started to realize that her Grandma wasn’t in as much danger anymore, and decided to resume her regular habits: including her insistence on sitting on her Grandma’s lap and barking her demands as persistently and loudly as possible. She made it clear, in her own way, that there was more to life than winning a Duolingo tournament, or even watching episodes of Murder, She Wrote, and it would require me to get up and take her and her sister outside to look for the butterflies.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Mom’s Hip Surgery

            A few weeks ago, Mom went to a new orthopedist and came home with an appointment for hip replacement surgery in May. She’d been experiencing spasms in her left leg and numbness in that foot for a long time, and while she was in physical therapy for that she noticed pain in her right leg as well. But before she could look into the new pain, she had to get carpal tunnel surgery on her left wrist (to match the surgery on her right wrist from last year), and then she needed a few weeks to recover, and then she got distracted. But in the past month or so she’d started to have trouble walking and was experiencing even more pain than usual, so she made an appointment with an orthopedist.

I barely noticed the appointment on the calendar in the living room, because the calendar was filled with so many other doctor visits, board meetings, quilting groups, and outings with friends, but then Mom became nauseous and so exhausted that she couldn’t get to all of her various appointments for a few days. We assumed it was a reaction to her second Covid booster shot (Pfizer this time), but it went on and on, so she called her Cardiologist’s office to see if it might be something more serious than a reaction to the booster. They gave her an appointment on the same day as her orthopedic appointment, so she decided to go to the orthopedist after all, since she had a few hours to kill before going to the Cardiologist.

            I woke up after she’d left for the Orthopedist, though not long after, because as soon as she closed the front door the dogs climbed up on my bed and Cricket decided to stand on my chest and stare at me until I got up. After breakfast, and a long argument with the dogs about whether or not they needed a second breakfast, Mom sent me a text to say that she was sitting in the waiting room at the new doctor’s office and she was bored. I tried to entertain her, unsuccessfully, and then took the dogs out for their second morning walk (I wasn’t up to another argument with them), and then I stared at the computer for way too long.

“Please play with me.”

I got another text from Mom a while later, saying that the nurse at the doctor’s office had had a similar reaction to the Pfizer booster, and it eventually passed (after three weeks!), but at least it was reassuring to know that this really was a reaction to the shot and not something more serious, so she could cancel the appointment with the Cardiologist, at least for now, which she really didn’t have the energy for after all of the sitting and waiting.

            I wrote back asking if the nurse had had any suggestions for how to manage the symptoms and Mom said she’d forgotten to ask, and then I didn’t hear from her and I assumed she was finally getting to see the doctor. I tried to get some work done (probably Duolingo), and read a few chapters about Disability Inclusion in the classroom, and The History of the State of Israel, and Intuitive Eating (three different books), and then I got another text.

On my way home. Will need a new hip.

Wait, what?!!!!

            There was no answer to my text because she was already driving home, but twenty minutes later I met her at the front door to our building and said, again, What?!!!


            Mom was in her own state of shock, so I had to wait until we were sitting on the couch in the living room and Cricket was ensconced on her Grandma’s lap – as God intended – before Mom could tell me more. The doctor had done x-rays, which, for some reason, hadn’t been done in a long time, and it turned out that Mom’s right hip had no cartilage left and was just bone on bone, and the left hip wasn’t much better. If the right hip went well, they would schedule surgery on the left one a few months later. When Mom asked them how this much damage could have come on so suddenly, the Physician’s Assistant said that people experience pain differently, and it’s possible that her body just didn’t register the pain until it was severe. Mom has always had (very) high pain tolerance, but even for her this seemed extreme. She ate some crackers (still nauseous) and drank some water (mixed with grape juice because that’s how she rolls) and then she convinced the dogs that it was time for a room change and an afternoon nap, but I just sat there on the couch, overwhelmed and struggling to take it all in.

“I’m guarding my Grandma. Keep your distance.

            I was angry at the doctors for not seeing this sooner, and for being so invalidating in their doctorliness over the years; and I was jealous that Mom had an actual solution to one of her health issues; and I was worried about the surgery and the anesthesia and any possible unintended consequences; and I was hopeful that this surgery could make a difference in Mom’s health overall, because maybe the more generalized pain she’s been experiencing is actually related to this hip situation and once that’s better she might feel better; and I was annoyed that she would be out of commission just when I needed her help (which I always do); and I was scared overall about her aging and her not being Supermommy forever, and, and, and.

            There was a lot going on in my mind, but within days it became clear that that her doctor – or his office, and the hospital in the city where the surgery would be performed – had it all planned out, with pre-op testing and webinars to explain everything and lists of aftercare devises and plans for a visiting nurse and a visiting physical therapist. All of those preset frameworks were reassuring, to both of us, and made it possible to believe that Mom might just be okay.

            But, all of this reminded me of when I was twenty-two and she (finally) had back surgery for her scoliosis. She was supposed to have it when my brother and I were away at camp one summer years earlier, but she’d had to cancel the whole thing because my father refused to be her support system, and the doctors didn’t have the same kinds of plans in place for outside supports back then. Instead, she waited to have the surgery until I was old enough to take care of her. I’d finished college a few months earlier and looked, from the outside, like a reasonable adult, but we were still living in my childhood home, with my abusive father, and I was still in a deep depression, and I was terrified that Mom would go to the hospital in the city and never come back.

            There were two surgeries, a week apart. After the first surgery, I sat up with her overnight, ready to drive her to the emergency room if necessary, trying to distract her, going out to get her medication, making toast and eggs, and then going to the library for recipe books so I could make her more food-like food when she was ready to eat it. She needed help washing her hair, and getting from one room to another, and I had to set my alarm for every three hours so I could remind her to take her medication overnight before the worst of the pain could kick in.

            My father drove me in to the city to see her after the second surgery, and being alone in a car with him felt like a hostage situation, wherein he pretended he was the best father in the world, but it was the only way for me to see Mom.

            My brother (who was finishing medical school) drove her home from the second surgery, and then we went through all of the same stages of recovery, with the alarm clocks and the toast and the hair-washing, until she could think straight and start to believe that the pain might eventually recede. The rest of the time, I sat alone in my room, shaking.

            But even before she’d fully recovered, Mom was so much stronger and she was ready to ask for the divorce she’d wanted for years. And, despite all of the fear and pain, those surgeries were a turning point, in both of our lives.

            I have been promised that this hip surgery, and the next one, will be nothing like those back surgeries: nowhere near the degree of danger, or pain, because they are so much better at this now, and so much better at the pre and post-operative care. And we have family and friends offering more help than we can even use, and I am so much stronger than I was back then.

            But, it’s hard not to be thrown back in time. And yet, I want to believe that Mom will feel stronger and more energetic and more secure on her feet once both hips are replaced. I want to picture her sitting on her birthday bench while she recovers, with Ellie by her side and Cricket sniffing every blade of grass in the yard, and the birds singing over their heads ignoring them completely. And I want to believe that this will be another good turning point, for both of us, despite the fear we’re feeling in the moment.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Mom’s Wrist Surgery

            The first thing I thought of when Mom told me she would be having surgery on her wrist (outpatient for Carpal Tunnel) was – who’s going to cook? I cook once in a while, but I generally don’t have the energy to do much of it, and with all of the extra chores I’d be responsible for with Mom’s right (dominant) hand out of commission, I was worried we’d starve. Or have to live on peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches, or something.

“Peanut butter sounds good to me.”

            I’m sure I was also in a panic about the risks of anesthesia, and problems with the surgery itself, and Covid, and Mommy is going to die and leave me all alone! But on the surface, mostly, I was worried about the food. And having to take the dogs out for all four walks each day, especially first thing in the morning. Ugh, and I’d have to wash dishes and fill and empty the dishwasher, and vacuum and clean, on top of doing the laundry and the food shopping as usual. Just thinking about it all was exhausting, and Mom was (selfishly) just worried about her potential pain, and how would she survive without sewing until her wrist healed. Harrumph.

            (Don’t worry, we went to the freezer section of the supermarket two days before the surgery was scheduled and loaded up on cauliflower crust pizza, and veggie stir-fry’s, and ice cream. I’m sure that’s what you were most worried about.)

            I don’t think of myself as lazy, per se, but I do get very grumpy about doing chores. Mostly I curse quietly to myself. But not always.

            Of course, as we got closer to the day of the surgery, and all of the prep work was done, we were both getting anxious about the day of: Mom about the surgery itself and the potential pain in the aftermath, and me about the driving. I always get nervous about driving to new places, or to places I haven’t been to in a while. And I would have to drive early in the morning (originally we were told she’d have to be there by 7:30, but in the end it was a more reasonable 9 AM).

            Mom has a map of Long Island (and all of New York and probably the Tristate area) tattooed on her brain; me, not so much. I drive because I have to, and I resent it. It just seems like a game of Frogger brought to life, except that I don’t identify with the frog who keeps stupidly trying to cross a busy street in the middle of traffic; instead I identify with the poor drivers who can’t dodge the enormous frog in the road, and have to feel guilty when the frog goes splat.

            But, once we got going on the morning of the surgery, I realized that I mostly knew the route. I couldn’t picture it on paper, or by the street names, but in person it looked familiar. I was sort of relieved that the Covid protocols prevented me from going into the hospital with Mom, because if I had to sit there doing nothing but worry for hours I would have been swamped with anxiety. But I also felt guilty for dropping Mom off like a package at the front door, and I worried about her the same way I worry when I have to drop one of the dogs off at the vet instead of going in with them. What’s happening in there? Will Mommy/Ellie/Cricket/Butterfly/Dina ever come out again? Why didn’t I go to medical/veterinary school so I could take care of these things myself?

“Could I go to medical school?”

            As soon as I arrived home, the dogs insisted on going out to pee again, and to sniff Grandma’s footsteps along the walkway. Cricket gave me dirty looks for the next few hours, because, clearly, it was my fault Grandma was not home, and I could never be trusted to leave the house again.

            I was too anxious to take a nap, so I worked at the computer while I waited to hear that Mom was ready to come home. Mom had said the surgery would be over by around one o’clock and that she would call to let me know when to pick her up, but I didn’t hear from anyone until after two o’clock, and the wait felt more like a week than just an extra hour. I imagined every possible disaster, including: problems with the anesthesia, accidental amputation and catastrophic blood loss, a sudden outbreak of Covid taking over the whole hospital, a bomb, a meteor, aliens…My brain can do a lot in an hour.

            But a nurse finally called and said that everything went fine and I could come in an hour or so to pick Mom up. Of course I left early, because I was afraid I’d get lost, or stuck in traffic, or something, and I called Mom’s cell phone as soon as I arrived at the front of the hospital. She was rolled out in a wheelchair ten minutes later, and I worried when the man guiding the wheelchair said that I should help her into the car and make sure she didn’t fall, as if she was much more fragile than usual, but it turned out that he was just being extra careful. Mom’s hand was wrapped to the size of an oven mitt, and she was a little tired and dizzy, but otherwise not too bad.

            When we got home I found out about more of my duties, including medicine-bottle-opener, and ice-cube-bag-filler. I got used to filling both of our ice cube trays every few hours, and then pounding them on the counter to try to make the ice cubes come out. Ice cubes are stubborn creatures, until they break free, and then they can really fly.

            After seventy-two hours I was able to drop the ice-cube-breaking and replace it with Mommy-Watching, because Mom seemed to think she could do all kinds of things with her wrapped hand that she clearly was not supposed to do, like creating power point presentations. Each day, I had to watch her more closely to make sure she wasn’t secretly carrying heavy packages or chopping vegetables. She found the whole thing very frustrating. And boring. And clearly I was the meanie keeping her from doing anything fun.

“Don’t be a meanie.”

            After ten days I drove her to her follow up visit with the doctor and, since Mom did not want me to go in to the appointment with her, I asked her to get a clear plan from the doctor for how she could gradually return to normal activities. I sat in the waiting room watching a live action Chipmunk movie that I will never be able to unsee, and eventually she came out with a much smaller bandage on her hand and a smile on her face. It seemed that the doctor had said the most wonderful thing that a doctor could say: sewing is good therapy. As soon as we got home she was on the computer telling all of her quilting friends that the doctor recommended that she spend MORE time sewing, and they all cheered.

            We still had a few frozen meals left, but Mom was eager to get back to cooking. By the next afternoon she had prepped a soup for the slow cooker, walked the dogs on her own twice, and was planning to go out and do some errands; because, where my instinct is always to rest, hers is to DO SOMETHING. I had to intervene and drive her for the errands so she wouldn’t overdo it on her first day back in action, and then I really needed a nap. Watching her do so much stuff is exhausting.

“For us too.”

            It will be a few months before her hand is back to full use, and I’m expecting many tantrums as Mom struggles to survive on only five or six hours of sewing a day. (Don’t worry, the dogs and I will do our best to avoid the living room when Mom gets grumpy. I’m sure that’s what you were most worried about.)

“Is it safe to go back to the living room yet?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

A Stubborn Butterfly


Two weeks ago, on Thursday, I came home after five PM and noticed Butterfly standing by the door and panting. When she tried to sit down, she yelped. I checked for the bump on her lower belly that usually causes these symptoms, and it was not only there, it was bigger and harder than usual. These attacks make me nervous because Butterfly’s health is already fragile, with diabetes, and heart trouble, and a persistent cough keeping us perpetually on alert. But most of the time the panting and discomfort, and even the hernia/bump on her lower belly, passes in a few hours. We watched her carefully and gave her extra cuddles, but when we took the dogs out for their late evening walk, Butterfly threw up three times, in purple. I brought her back inside and put her on my bed so I could keep an eye on her, but she couldn’t find a comfortable position. I sat with her and scratched her back as she drooled a river on my bed, and after a while she calmed down enough to decide she wanted to walk down her doggy steps and search for a sip of water and a more interesting place to sleep. I thought that was a good sign.


“I’m fine, Mommy, this is just how I breathe.”

When I woke up in the morning, I expected her to be back to her healthy-ish self, but instead she was listlessly resting her head on her paws, facing the front door of the apartment, next to a drying puddle of pee. Both dogs were scheduled to go to the groomer that morning, and Cricket was blinded by hair and smelled awful, so we dropped Cricket off for her haircut, and took Butterfly directly to the vet for an emergency visit. The people at the front desk were a little snotty with us for not calling ahead, until an hour later when the doctor did an ultrasound on Butterfly’s bump and it became clear that her intestines were compromised and she needed immediate surgery.

We were very lucky that Butterfly’s vet was still there. We had assumed that she would already be gone, and we had said our final goodbyes at Butterfly’s last regular appointment, but it turned out that Butterfly had her emergency just in time, on her doctor’s second to last day at the clinic. In the past, the doctor had discouraged even dental cleanings because Butterfly’s oversized heart would be too vulnerable under anesthesia, but this time she said it was worth the risk. Without surgery, part of Butterfly’s intestines could die and that would kill her just as surely as the anesthesia could.

I held Butterfly in my arms and sang her the Misheberach song, a Jewish prayer for healing, and then I handed her to her doctor. I used up a box full of tissues at the front desk and in the car on the way home, trying not to think that I might never see my baby again.

The doctor called within the hour to tell us that Butterfly was doing well on the anesthesia, but they would need to do a second incision so she would be under longer.

Mom went out to pick up Cricket from the groomer while I did busy work to keep my mind as blank as possible. Cricket returned looking skinny and clean and confused. She was still recovering from her anti-anxiety medication, and the trauma of grooming, but I think the worst part was that her sister wasn’t home to sniff her butt and listen to her plight.


“What is going on?!”

The second call from the doctor came an hour and a half later. Butterfly had survived her surgery and was waking up from the anesthesia, and they wanted advice on what to try and feed her, because her blood sugar was low and she was refusing all of their treats. Even chicken. The relief was extraordinary. The numbness that had taken over my whole body started to recede and instead of crying or something else more reasonable, I started laughing. My baby had survived!

I felt like there was a GPS muttering in my head all that day, “Recalculating, recalculating.” The relief that Butterfly had actually survived the anesthesia was replaced with anxiety when the doctor called again later to say that she wanted Butterfly to spend the night at an emergency veterinary hospital, where a doctor could keep an eye on her, and her breathing. The clinic would only have a technician on duty overnight and the doctor was concerned that if something went wrong, no one would be there to help. She didn’t specify what might go wrong, and she made it clear that the night at the hospital would be very expensive, but she didn’t leave much doubt about the right course of action.

The doctor brought Butterfly out to us, drugged and blurry, and gave us directions to the emergency veterinary hospital twenty minutes away. I held Butterfly in my arms in the front passenger seat of the car while Mom drove, and I listened to Butterfly’s raspy breathing, trying to buffer each bump of the road (she lifted her sleepy head once or twice to let me know that I wasn’t doing a good enough job with that). I could still hear the GPS voice in my head, “recalculating, recalculating.”

As soon as we reached the emergency veterinary hospital, a technician took Butterfly from us, and we had to sit in the waiting room and wait to hear from the doctor on duty. We’d assumed we would just be dropping her off, so the long wait was one more surprise. We finally saw a doctor after eleven PM, and she said that she could hear a crackling sound in Butterfly’s lungs, and wanted to do an x-ray. More waiting. I tried to read the books they had around the room (dog books, of course), but I was worried about Cricket sitting at home alone, needing to pee, barely recovered from her day of anti-anxiety medication and grooming and loneliness.

The x-rays turned out okay, thank God, and then we had to pay the exorbitant estimated bill in order to have the right to visit Butterfly one more time and say goodnight. They led us to a roomful of kennels, set up like high rise apartments, filled with sleepy dogs attached to IVs. As soon as the technician opened the door of her first floor kennel, Butterfly walked out, still attached to her IVs but ready to go home. I tried to explain to her that she needed to stay overnight, but she did not believe me. The technician had to put her back in the kennel for us, because Mom and I were both afraid to risk pulling out one of the tubes she was attached to. And then we finally left, after midnight.

Once again, I had to take deep breaths and tell myself not to think too far ahead. It was a long ride home. Cricket, as predicted, was losing her mind and full of pee. We took her out for a late walk and then we all tried to settle down and get some semblance of a night’s sleep, but even Cricket found the No-Butterfly feeling of the apartment disconcerting.


“I have nothing to say.”

The next day, we paid the rest of the exorbitant emergency vet hospital bill and took a seriously drugged Butterfly (they put her on Methadone!) back to her doctor at the clinic.

Not only did we have to say good bye to Butterfly, again, we had to say goodbye to her doctor, who really was leaving this time.

We had a second night of no Butterfly at home, but at least we knew she was healthy enough to stay at the clinic overnight. The next morning, a new doctor called to tell us that we could pick Butterfly up that afternoon, because she had been taken out for a walk and managed a soft poop. The only trouble was that she still wasn’t eating, and they hoped coming home would reduce her anxiety enough so she would eat.

As soon as the technician brought her out and put her paws on the floor, Butterfly led the way to the exit, even with the Elizabethan collar making the walls hard to spot. We had a bagful of medications to give her and a list of things to do and not do: do not give her kibble; do not give her a bath; do not let her walk up and down the stairs; do give her chicken and rice; pick her up carefully so as not to press on the staples closing her incisions; keep her belly away from magnets (okay, maybe they left that one out, but I really think they should have mentioned it).


“I can walk myself.”


“Where have you been and did you get extra treats that I didn’t get?”


“I do not like this hat, Mommy.”


She still wasn’t ready to eat by the time her nighttime meds were needed, so we crushed the pills in peanut butter, and then spread the mixture, bit by bit, on to her lips. An hour later, her face and my clothes (and the couch and the rug) were covered in peanut butter, but it’s possible that some of the medicine actually got into her system.






She started eating chicken and rice the next morning, and took the pills that I broke up and hid clumsily in her food. Then I had to cut off the peanut butter hair left on her chin (whatever she hadn’t managed to rub on the floor herself), and some of the hair around her hygienic areas as well, because she was getting a bit stinky.

Butterfly still had two rows of staples on her belly, and this funny hairless ring on her right front ankle, where they’d put in the IV, and she was a bit slow moving and still on pain medication, but she made the most of my unwillingness to pull on the leash of an invalid. Out on her walks, she started a new habit of walking ten steps in one direction, stopping short, looking around, and then taking ten or fifteen steps in the other direction, just to see if she could get away with it. She could.


This anklet is the height of fashion. Really.




She’s Home.


Within a few days, she was off her pain meds and back to licking the hand that petted her, and spreading her food in ever widening circles from her bowl (which is much messier with soft rice than it is with hard kibble). She started to walk faster, and then to jog, but she still didn’t think I had any right to control her leash and she made that very clear.


On Wednesday of this past week, not quite two weeks after her surgery, Butterfly went to the doctor and had her staples removed, and celebrated by trying to run all the way home. She’s still not allowed to climb the stairs, and bath time has to be put off for another week, but she thinks she’s all better. She also thinks that now that her belly has been reinforced with extra stitches, she should be allowed to widen her diet to include French fries and pizza, but this is unlikely. I can be stubborn too. She’s a very good teacher.


“Mommy, you learned the wrong thing.”