Bounty

I recently had another birthday and spent it doing laundry, riding a bicycle, updating my website and building a sukkah.  Each one of these tasks was an act of celebration.  Indeed, life demands celebration, because the mundane is the miracle.  Want corroboration?   Ask anyone languishing in a hospital or nursing facility, being treated for a chronic condition or illness.
As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, I recently (and happily) discovered that my mother does not carry the dreaded BRCA gene.  Still, there is a hefty family history of breast cancer, and my physicians have recommended twice-a-year mammograms in addition to MRIs and sonograms over the past few years.  In addition to a couple of excision procedures along the way, it hasn’t been fun.
So when, despite all of my caution and routine intervention, I discovered a pea-sized, unfamiliar lump in my breast on a lazy-hazy Shabbat afternoon, it was surprising.  Emotions were compounded by the fact that my husband’s late wife lived with cancer for twenty-two years before succumbing.  I had often joked, “You are allowed to bury one wife per lifetime; you’ve met your quota,” but now it didn’t seem so funny and, even more painful, I realized that it was insensitive to those who had lost more than one loved one in their lifetime.  I could see both the sadness and fear beneath the Tommy Lee Jones exterior.
I felt quite uneasy about my projected mortality, because everyone in both the breast clinic and my doctor’s office were uncharacteristically nice to me when I arrived the morning after I found that gosh-darn marble.  Since most of them learned their bedside manners at the Genghis Khan Charm School, the sudden outpouring of warmth and unmistakable concern threw me off-balance.  So when I was greeted with warm smiles, shoulder squeezes and unrequested cups of tea, I knew I was in deep, deep trouble.  Needle and tissue biopsies revealed no malignancies but, instead, a precondition that required surgery.
Not willing to forgo my well-earned and already-paid-for vacation in Eilat, I made arrangements for the pre-Rosh Hashanah hospitalization.  Everyone has issues, and no one – including me – wants to be bored with dreary health details, especially if that someone is a stranger.  What I can do, however, is sing, shout and laugh the praises of my care at Shaarey Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem.
I arrived at the appointed hour in a state of utter exhaustion, primarily because I had spent much of the entire night before sitting in a park, and, in my head and without a writing implement, I composed letters of love and atonement to my children, grandchildren, mother and siblings.  When I finished bawling in the park, I sashayed home in order to interrupt my husband’s television viewing.  How else was I to give him verbal instructions about what had to be done in case the worst happened?
Having fasted since 9:30 the previous evening, I wanted coffee badly.  I begged, but the Day Surgery staff members seem to take themselves quite seriously.  I signed a bunch of papers in Hebrew, freshened my lip gloss and practically skipped to my assigned bed.  On it sat a neatly folded ensemble, just for me.
So much has been written about the unflattering cut of hospital gowns, but, as we say in the Middle East, “Let’s talk tachlis.”  Because I didn’t want to look as pathetic as I felt, I had taken great efforts to put on extremely elegant makeup before leaving the house.  After all, if I am to be “objectified,” let someone know that I still have self-respect.  Thus said, after a brief lecture about the bacteria found in common cosmetics, a heavily made-up Candy-Striper told me to wash my face.
Bad gown with the opening in the back.  No makeup.  A New York City public school hair bonnet, circa 1962.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, out of the dress packet fell a beige netted something that looked like the wrapping of a kosher turkey roll.  “What is this?” I asked Nurse Ratchet.  “Underpants,” she intoned, referring to one-size-fits-all unisex lingerie that defies description.  Despite the ugly panties, I still felt very moved that I was in a Jewish hospital in the land of Israel.  Sporting this stunning ensemble, I waved goodbye to my husband and allowed an uber-serious aide called Muhammed to wheel me to the operating theater.
Apparently, patients are prone to weeping in the OR, because even though everyone was pretty nice, no one said “There, there,” or “Now, now” or “There’s nothing to cry about.”  Everyone went about the gentle business of tying me down and sticking needles and tubes in various appendages.  Determined to stay fully awake and alert, the next thing I knew, I was in the Recovery Room, looking into the soft, familiar eyes of my husband.
The same prep room that had, a few hours earlier, felt somber and rife with apprehension now appeared almost jovial.  Volunteers – young and old, Jewish and Arab – were wheeling about carts of sandwiches and cakes, tossing about candy bars and bottles of orangeade.  I was sipping a cup of coffee when the supervisor placed into my hand a plastic-wrapped sandwich of soft rye bread filled with a dry, halved, hard-boiled egg.  At any other time, I would have balked at such a non-delicacy, but suddenly it seemed as though I’d been offered manna from Heaven.
Standing at the cusp of this unfolding New Year, I feel unspeakably blessed.  Breathe in; breathe out.  Even on my worst day, all is right with the world because each moment is rife with possibility.  Fewer tomorrows on the horizon only means that I’m obligated to celebrate the inherent value of every precious, yet-unsullied day.
No less of a gift, I think, than a dry egg slapped between two slices of rye.

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