Years ago, in the raw days after shoulder repair surgery, carefully dosing the opioid Dilaudid for pain, I slept, tried to sleep. I tossed this way, miserable in this position, pillows just so in the leather recliner suggested by the surgeon. I turned that way, wincing in that position, propped with cushions as the physical therapist had prescribed.

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books. Her latest is “Grandkids as Gurus: Lessons for Grownups.” Learn more at or email [email protected]

Day One, post-op: Husband at work, I squirmed alone, dull from the drugs, yet with sharp pain not touched by them. I had read not to make big decisions while on opioids and not to drive. That made sense. What did not make sense to my blurry eyes, depressed mood, belly churning with nausea (the flyer also highlighted that these drugs can upset the gut) was that no one called. “I have no friends,” I thought. “No one loves me. Don’t people know a patient post-surgery needs help, needs contact?”

I read a little, ate a few bites of toast and applesauce, slept a lot, cried most of the day. When my husband walked in, he asked, “How are you?”

Throat dry, body tight, I answered, “I am lonely and sad. No one called to see how I feel. No one cares.”

Day Two: My friend Diane called. My cousin Nancy arrived with Endangered Species dark chocolate and a bouquet of lovely flowers. My sister-in-law Donna showed up with lasagna. My sister Ann came with a sweet card and more chocolate. I cried again. “Don’t people know a post-operative person needs rest and sleep? What are they thinking, interrupting me like that?”

Day Three: More alert, with drugs and anesthesia mostly out of my system, I laughed at myself. Clearly those reactions were the drug talking. Never happy. Nothing right.

Day Four: Head clear, I scribbled a list of friends, family, neighbors who make me laugh, chortle, who know not to call on the first post-op day and who know to bring treats, meals and well wishes soon after. With my list as an antidote, I proved untrue that “no one loves me.”

Jane, Jane, Joan, Joni, Jodi, Johanna, Julie, Julia; Sarah, Bonnie, Sarah; Andy, Sandy, Nancy, Sandi; Peter, Paul, Mark, Mike, Dave, Jon; Donna, Vicki, Ann; Diane, Diane, Diana, Sophia.

There are more, many more. Now, a few years out, the list grows. I add Stephanie, Joy and Jamie. Oh, the heart still sinks from time to time: “I have no friends. There is no hope. Life is boring. I will be lonely forever.”

Then I find my list. The names, singing off the page, help me remember how last week, I called Elise, who heard my angst and insisted, “Let’s walk.” I remember how I called Mark to vent, “I cannot get this sink drain unplugged,” and how he offered, “I’ll fix it.” I remember Mike, when I asked, “Can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone?” How he put his arm on my shoulder and said with a chuckle, “Of course. You’re talking to me. You can tell me anything.”

The human mind forgets we are companioned through this life. Bodies can feel empty with stories of separation. But if we really pay attention to the full truth of human connection, we see that separation is a lie. Souls can ache with very old and very deep messages that echo from our pasts. But the bigger, brighter, friendlier fact is, in the present, there are people who know us, see us, love us, hear us, even when we feel weak, even if we sometimes need a list of our fellow human beings to remind us of our bond.


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