My doctor looked over at me and said those three little words I’d been aching to hear from him. “You can drive.” After three and a half weeks of (almost) house arrest, I was free. I learned a few things during all that time on my couch. For example, did you know that with Netflix whole days can dissolve in a Percocet-and-House-of-Cards-induced fog? Did you know you shouldn’t go to a Parish Council meeting on pain medication, or else you are liable to volunteer for something no one else wants to do? (On a completely unrelated note, want to help me organize the church picnic?)
But I think the most important thing I learned is that I’m really bad at accepting help. Could I have an unhealthy level of independence? Which is closely related to my control freakery, I’m sure. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to have hubby wait on me, and he did a great job keeping my ice pack cold and tending to me when I was couch-bound, but I confess that not being able to do things myself made me irritable. Not driving, not having that independence, was especially frustrating. My friends were quick to volunteer to drive, but I missed the freedom of going when and where I wanted in my own personal space. Did I mention I’ve never been a big fan of carpools?
Some people, when they are recovering, want others around, whether for support, distraction or just company. I’ve happily spent mornings playing bridge at a friend’s house when she was too drained from chemo to play in our club games. But when she offered to to bring the group to my house, it was the last thing I wanted. Maybe because my condition wasn’t serious, so I didn’t need emotional support, but I’m also very happy alone and never once felt lonely while on “couch arrest”.
As an only child, I know I come by my need for solitude naturally. But at what point does healthy independence give way to the sin of pride, of wanting what I want? Even Jesus (another only child!) needed time away from the the crowds to recharge, to reconnect with His father. After all, Psalm 46 says “Be still and know that I am God”, emphasizing that we find Him in the quiet. But Jesus also preached community and interdependence to the disciples. That whole admonition to go off with nothing but the clothes on their backs and teach, staying in any home that would welcome them? I’d be the disciple hanging back saying, “Peter, James, you’re on your own with this one. I’m not asking strangers if we can stay with them. No way.”
I’ve always had a hard time with small talk, even in low-stress situations. The rest of you might love online shopping for the convenience, but I love it because I don’t have to interact with actual humans. (If you were taking phone orders at LL Bean in 1994, I apologize if I brushed off your efforts to offer helpful sizing advice. It wasn’t you, it was me.) And asking for help, especially from strangers? Perish the thought.
I think this whole experience of dependence and solitude post-surgery could be good for me. (Of course, if I pay attention. You know, that whole be still and listen thing.) I know I need a little more openness to others and a little less willful self reliance.
But there’s a chance the lesson might be getting through, just a little. The other day, on my first real foray into a store since the surgery, I bought too many groceries and realized I couldn’t carry them out with one hand (I’m still using one crutch and the cart wouldn’t make it through the snow). As I stood there pondering my options a young employee asked if I needed help. “Yes, I do need help. Thanks.”
As I hobbled out next to the young man—chatting with him, even—I realized I was taking baby steps. In more ways than one.