I had hell-week until Wednesday night. I had been in significant pain since Saturday when a lump the size of several inches of garden hose appeared from the top of my incision to my groin. Starting Sunday, I spent most of my time flat on my back—that being the only position in which I could find even a little relief. Monday, I called the doctor’s office only to learn that he would be in surgery all day. His nurse assured me that my symptoms were to be expected since I had lymph nodes removed during the hernia surgery.

I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t understand why the pain and swelling was getting worse instead of better, and why the swollen area resembled an intestine. No, I thought, it can’t be intestine because the internal repair mesh is holding that in place. Tuesday night, it hit me that the mesh must have broken free, and allowed the intestine to float upwards. I was positively distraught, not so much because I would have to go through another surgery with a less rosy outlook, but because Peggy would miss her trip to France. By the time she got home from work, I was in tears, insisting that she go no matter what, and promising that I would have friends care for me.

Peggy was puzzled. “You never wanted me to go to France in the first place, and now you’re insisting that I go at such a bad time!?” I said that for me to miss her and worry about her while she away was entirely different from me wishing to be the reason she stayed home. She said she would decide after we saw the doctor.

Along with my anxiety over her trip, I was also mad at myself for not insisting that I be seen on Monday. I stand up for myself well except when I’m sick, and then even mundane tasks sometimes overwhelm me. For example, changing my e-mail address this week was a major coup given my condition, and actually facing real people in any situation required so much heroism that I wondered how I ever pulled it off.

Nonetheless, I was unable to think of anything Tuesday night and Wednesday except my appointment with the surgeon on Wednesday afternoon. That I had to do, and I had to do it well, meaning that I had to be prepared to battle for getting the second surgery done immediately, because I knew that Peggy would not leave if it wasn’t behind me. I therefore took a written copy of everything I wanted to tell the doctor. I made the list partly because he is a terrible listener, but also because of my problem with remembering things when I am in pain. Although Peggy would serve as my backup, I knew that I could stand up for myself if only I could marshal my resources.

The surgeon read my list, examined my belly, said he thought the swelling was fluid and that my pain was caused by going off the Vicodin two days after surgery: “Pain left untreated feeds on itself.” He also said that the possibility of a mess failure was “too insignificant to consider.” As for my list, he admitted that it had grabbed his attention, but he said he was sorry that I felt the need to grab his attention. I was sorry too.

The Percocet helped so much that I couldn’t believe how much it helped; and the surgeon’s assurance that my problem wasn’t dire was an even bigger help.

Now, I’m happy, and Peggy’s happy. Peggy is also excited about her trip actually coming off, having passed through, first, the cancer scare, and then the failed mesh scare. I am also resigned to the necessity of letting Peggy do things for me until her departure. Oh, but how much easier it is to be the helper than the helpee, because the latter feels humiliating despite my knowing that we all have to endure it at times. The greater my need for help, the greater my resistance to accepting it. This, I’m sure, is my real weakness, for I would never make the same judgment against others that I so readily make against myself.