I have a good friend named Mary.* We met at 15 (she was 14), volunteering at a camp for severely handicapped children. The weekends were called Respite for the full time caregivers. The campers ran the gamut - Cerebral Palsy to Prader-Willi to Down's Syndrome. We both excelled at our task - this was before service hours were a college application box to checklist. We believed that what we were doing would make a difference.
We became fast friends. In spite of our lofty aspirations, we were also teenagers finding ourselves. She was and still is gorgeous, I was drawn to that. She was also lots of fun. I had a hardship driver's license, and we headed offsite one night to buy a Playgirl magazine at a local convenience store. We got back to camp, looked through the pages, and were profoundly disappointed in the staged pics of men in thongs. "Who gets turned on by this?" we wondered. The Playboy's I snuck from under my Dad's bed when I was a tween were much more interesting than this.
Once we double dated in her small town of Salem - she set me up. Let's call them Dusty and Dylan. I was the only licensed driver. I decided to be the sober driver. They were all drinking Purple Passion. She and I had to use the restroom, so we stopped at the local grocery store.
While we were in the bathroom, the boys were up to no good. We climbed back into my 1983 Oldsmobile Toronado convertible. I stuck the keys in the ignition, and saw blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. Seems the boys had decided to steal beer from the storeroom without telling us - stashing it in my backseat. We sat in the grocery store high box, surrounded by plexiglass (remember those?) until we were finally told we could go home sometime well after midnight. Thank God, I told Mary. They are honest.
Mary and I are the kind of friends that while staying the course move in and out of our friendship for years at a time. It's our norm - we both have big circles. I will never forget her support after my divorce. She invited me to everything for a year - her parties, her Florida vacation home. It was a respite for me and my kids. She also recommended her storeroom floor designer to be my decorator, who helped me with my home after my divorce. When I was married last fall, her store's event spinoff furnished my beautiful reception at the Clinton Library.
We hadn't caught up much in over a year, so I was surprised when she texted me last week. "I'm having surgery next week. A cyst the size of a grapefruit. I told the surgeon to send it directly to you."
I texted the surgeon immediately. "I've got this, you don't have to do anything. I've called the gross room."
I scoured two pre-ops on her surgery day, before finally finding her. When in the second one, I asked some nurses to help me find her. One challenged me. "Are you family or friend?" I answered, "I'm her friend." "Well then you need to check in at guest services. All family and friends must go to guest services. Leave pre-op, you will find it around the corner to the left." I felt taken down a notch - my doctor coat meant nothing to her but a challenge to beat down, and since she didn't recognize me she put me in my place. I was so shocked I just did what she said - I have been in pre and post op many times over the years and have never been treated that way. I vowed, in the future, to assert myself more. I'm not only her friend, I'm her doctor. Albeit one behind the sidelines, but important nonetheless. So if I need help finding her in pre-op, you can direct me to her instead of sending me outside to a queue.
Luckily the cyst was benign - her surgeon ordered a frozen so she and her family were assured right away. But the surgery was complicated, so she was inpatient for almost a week. Affording me to visit her often, share gross and micro pics of her specimen, support the anxieties of her and her family. Catch up. I miss the hell out of our teenage selves. But in our long conversations we proved that we are both still here. Same people, future incarnations.
"Thank you so much for spending time with me this week."
"Seriously? I should thank you. I am normally buried in my scope. Well, except for when I interact with Dr. Woods and Dr. Music. But really you are a breath of fresh air. I am sorry for your circumstances, but proud to support you. I sign out 65 cases a day, and there's no way I could give each person behind them all the attention I have given you this week. But sharing your path, the gross and microscopic pics - makes me feel like a real doctor. I don't do this for other patients. This week makes me wish I could on occasion. And last week, this would not have been possible. I was super slammed. This is a crazy slow unusual week, and I am glad."
Texting her surgeon the day after her surgery made me realize how touch and go it was. She texted back, "It was like someone poured cement into her belly. There were so many adhesions from previous surgery. My partner and I felt like residents again. It was the hardest surgery I have done in practice. I can't imagine her pain tolerance - it must be huge. We freed up a lot of her bowel, she should be much more comfortable."
I hung out with her one afternoon while I was waiting to go to a late meeting. "They said it might be awhile before I can use stairs. I'm thinking of getting a bed delivered to the house."
"Well, that shouldn't be a problem. You are a furniture mogul, after all. Just call your peeps and have them deliver."
"LOL. That's exaggerating."
"Not at all." She and her family have many stores throughout the South. "I'm headed out early. Treadmill/yoga night for me - no kids. Hope you get a good night sleep. I'll visit in the morning, if you are still here."
Luckily she went home the next day. I got to celebrate the good news with her and her husband during an early morning visit by her doctor. When I went back to check on her late morning housekeeping was already scouring her room. I texted her, "I'm glad you are gone but I'm going to miss you so much - let's catch up soon over dinner and wine." She texted back, "Thanks again Giz, definitely soon." I may be her doctor, but I am definitely her friend first.
*Posted with her permission. And her appreciation. She's my first and best audience, and I'm so happy she likes this essay.