“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” A Streetcar Named Desire.
It is difficult to accept the help of strangers, but I would maintain that it is even trickier to take help from friends and family. It has always been tough for me to ask for help of any kind, but that reticence was recently put to the ultimate test. You see, a few months ago I had my faulty left hip replaced. I think I had been, in retrospect, fairly cavalier about the experience prior to actually taking it on. Hip problems, along with failing knees, are nearly ubiquitous with we Baby Boomers; it simply couldn’t be all THAT hard, could it? Ahem…yes, it could! I began to realize as the date for the operation approached that this was, in fact, a pretty big deal. Beyond the basic mechanics of forever after having to be pulled aside as I set off alarms in airport security and permanently taking antibiotics before a dental visit, there were lots of things that would need to be attended to once I returned from my two day hospital stay.
The biggest roadblocks were the mandatory precautions hip replacement patients must take. While several were issued for the three months after surgery, the two most daunting and important were the admonitions to never bend at a 90 degree or more angle during that time, and to avoid twisting my body. This sounds fairly easy until you think about how often you do both. I am a consummate rule follower, albeit an occasionally forgetful one. So I jotted down both rules on post it notes and taped them to either side of my walker. Goofy, but effective…at least while I was on the walker, the first three weeks or so. More to the point, being unable to either bend or twist made me incredibly dependent on others to help with the simplest of tasks. Can you change the sheets, unload the dishwasher, pick up a piece of paper just dropped? The list goes on and on. So I had to simply give up the notion that I was an island and accept the help of a variety of people, from friends and family to those strangers mentioned earlier, who included CNAs for a short time and folks in the general public on a daily basis.
I embarrass fairly easily, and worried I would drop my keys and have to ask the stranger in line behind me at Martin’s to please pick them up. Would he think I was lazy or simply incompetent? While that particular scenario never played out, I did have a time or two where something similar happened. Incredibly, the world did not come crashing to a sudden halt. I think a huge part of the reluctance to ask for help is the loss of control, as well as something we women are very familiar with…never wanting to be a burden to others. We are so used to being caretakers ourselves that it pains us (sometimes literally) to ask for assistance. And the thing is, people really want to help. I’ve always had a fairly optimistic opinion of mankind in general,and my recovery period merely confirmed it. Those recuperative weeks were filled not only with nurse and physical therapist visits, but with a steady stream of friends and family. They brought homemade or purchased meals, flowers, books, and cards. More importantly, they also brought kind words, hugs, laughter,and a genuine caring and concern for my well being. Help was offered daily in a variety of ways, from my neighbor tromping through several inches of snow to feed my dog, to a stranger holding the restaurant door open as I entered, cane in hand. And I’m not sure why this should have been a surprise. My impulse when someone has a setback of some kind is exactly the same….how can I help? What can I do to make things better?!
So, should you ever find yourself in my position or anything close to it, don’t hesitate to reach out to others for help, as difficult as that seems. Instead, realize with gratitude that they love and care about you. They want to ease your burden and brighten your day in any way they can. And truth be told, one day you may well be able to return the favor.