getting back what you had before

I had to look up the definition of the word recover. It means “to get back.” Or “to bring back to normal position or condition.”

When you recover, you get something back, and you feel normal again. Whatever normal is for you.

I just recovered. Just now in this spot downtown where I’m sitting to write to you. I'm typing and smiling now in a perfectly respectable way, but a few minutes ago, I was laughing so hard my eyes were full of water and my stomach hurt and I was listing helplessly to the side. Because of an email exchange with my husband about a fart smell.

So now you know that my husband is recovering from his abdominal surgery enough to respond to my brilliant email. It’s a slow process—and he’s doing great, and the surgery went well, and the nursing team was so very good, and our mothers and friends and family and colleagues have been just super kind. And also: benign. Benign, benign, benign. Yes.

Throughout this process—actually from way back when he got sick about a year and a half ago—I’ve been learning a lot about recovery. About getting back what you had before. Here’s some stuff about that:

1: Recovery goes better when you plan for it.

My friends kept telling me, “Cheryl, it’s not going to be like last time.” And I would tell them that I knew they were talking reasonable logic while I was feeling some kind of post-traumatic free-wheeling panic, but still I couldn’t quite believe it. Last time was six years ago. An emergency appendectomy that went all kinds of wrong, ending in a wretched 9-day hospital stay for him plus a terrifying stint of staying up until crazy hours organizing 12 million favors and lugging my breastfeeding 11-month-old back and forth from the hospital for me—all while having just moved in temporarily with very new friends.

They were right. It wasn’t like last time.

We chose the surgeon; my husband put in for FMLA; our daughter is in school now; and we had planned ahead for the extraordinary crew of friends and family helping with meals and our daughter and our work. I spent at least 10 days planning for help around this surgery. And I am so glad and so damn grateful.

2: You probably need more recovery time than you think you do.

I have looked askance at my husband on the days when he’s tried to do too much. Those are the days when he feels fine in the morning and then walks too far or visits too long or eats too freely.

But really, I did too much, too. Because I underestimated my own recovery around all this. Maybe that sounds self-indulgent. I feel weird typing it. I didn’t have surgery, after all. What I had was a pile of logistics to manage and a hot heap of anxiety (most of which I somehow managed to splash out all over some dear and patient friends instead of on the person who was about to get his guts sliced open).

I told my clients and my work colleagues that I would be unreachable on Day 1 and 2, and that I would be intermittently working and responding to emails on Days 3 through 5, and that I would be back in business (though mostly from home) after that.


That whole first week, my husband was in the hospital. Recovering. And part of my recovery was that I wanted to be with him. I didn’t want to be staring slackjawed into my screen a few feet away from him. I wanted to have space to talk with him, to be quiet with him, to rest with him.

Okay, fine. So I wasn’t emailing or doing very much work that week. The next week I’d jump back in with both feet, I thought.

Again: ha.

As he was recovering on the couch, I was falling asleep in the car in parking lots before meetings, before picking up our daughter, before going into the library to work. I was so tired. SO TIRED. The only thing I can compare it to is that first trimester pregnant kind of tired. I’m not pregnant. I don’t know if it was releasing the anxiety I had been carrying or if it was the crazy hours of work overtime I put it in before the surgery to make sure all my bases were covered or what. All I know is that I, like my husband, needed more recovery time than I thought I did.

3: We tend to settle for close enough to normal, which is not the definition of recovery.

The “bring back to normal position or condition” version of the definition strikes me as the sneaky, important one. Because I feel like we tend to quit recovery at “close enough to normal” instead. There is external pressure to get back in the game, and there is internal desire to be done with the whole recovery thing—usually before actually back to normal position or condition. Consider:

What if, when we recover after a huge work project, we file the stuff that needs to be filed and send the thank yous and recycle all that paper we don’t need anymore and take some time off to rest—instead of letting it all sit there while we listlessly jam around in our email inboxes until something else urgent has to be done?

What if, when we recover our kitchens before bed, we wash everything and wipe all the counters and deal with all the random lip balm tubes and opened mail and other detritus that has collected there—instead of limping into the next day still carrying yesterday’s pile-up?

What if, when our children recover from the intense rhythm of a school year, we endure when they complain, argue, and generally don’t know what to do with themselves at first and we do what we can to let summertime evenings and weekends and vacations unfold a little more freely for a while—instead of packing the summer full the brim and arriving exhausted back at school when it’s over?

What if, almost two weeks after our spouse’s surgery, we say yes to a friend’s offer of a free massage therapy session, and when that friend works on our hands, we cry, not realizing what we were still holding onto?

We need recovery, for the little stuff and the big stuff. If you’ve got some specific recovering you need to do, and you just need me to remind you that it’s okay to take time for that, let me know. So many people do that for me, and I will do that for you.

I’ve missed you, and I’m glad I took a break. Both are true.