Ziona Greenwald

Side Effects: Five lessons (so far) from my medical journey

1. A body in motion is a miracle in action. Reading with my little girl, helping my older one with her homework, singing “Shema” with my son all seem exceedingly meaningful as I prepare to enter the hospital. But it’s not just the precious moments which have become more so. Carrying grocery bags, getting dressed with ease, working on the computer, cleaning my home, and the myriad things I do without thinking twice and with no pain — these are suddenly a gift.

2. Friends are only as true as the care they show when you’re down. In recent months, my circle of friends has grown smaller and tighter. Some have disappointed me, letting their busy lives get in the way of even small acts of caring. In today’s world it’s easier than ever to check in on someone or send a message of support — text, WhatsApp, e-mail, as well as social media for those who use it (I don’t). I try to judge favorably, but am not going to waste my time or energy on fake friendships. Those who have shined through as true confidantes, some unexpectedly, mean more to me than ever.

3. Let go and let give. I love to help others, but am loath to ask favors myself. Controlling types like me prefer to do things ourselves so we can be sure it’s done our way and to our exacting standards. Moreover, I hate to be in anyone’s debt. But making it through this tough interlude leaves me no choice but to accept help. I realize that doing so is an important exercise in flexibility, and like other forms of exercise, it’s more than a little discomfiting. But it’s not just about me. The pleasure of giving is its own reward, as well a mitzvah. Receiving the kindness of my loved ones is, in that sense, also an act of giving.

4. You are your own best friend. I have learned to trust my own instincts and common sense in making medical decisions. Doctors do not have all the answers; they pass along what they have learned in medical school and practice. A patient’s considered decision to follow a particular, perhaps different, path in some aspect of treatment should be respected, but unfortunately is often not. Even educated questions are sometimes met with condescension. It takes research, support from loved ones, and valuing your inner voice to make your own best choices.

5. Fear and faith are not mutually exclusive. As the date of my surgery approaches, I vacillate between feelings of terror and serenity that G-d will take care of things. But any student of Tanach knows that the most heartfelt prayers come out of the deepest despair. As long as we direct our eyes toward the heavens, so to speak, we can channel our emotional distress and fear into prayerful thoughts. I find it hard to imagine how anyone could get through this type of experience without G-d.

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., a contributing editor for The Jewish Press, is a writer and editor and the author of two children's books, Kalman's Big Questions and Tzippi Inside/Out. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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