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Focusing on others makes you realize you may not have it that bad

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

By Sonja Reis

The publisher's husband Ezra Reis and son Silas, both of Kennedy, the night before his life sparing heart surgery.


By Sonja Reis

Me. Me. Me. Me.

From grandchildren to great grandparents and politicians to taxpayers everyone thinks about how bad things are for themselves and rarely take into account the trials and tribulations of others.

Yes, even you. And, especially me.

This past week, I spent significant time corralled helplessly within the confines of UPMC's Shadyside Hospital. My husband was there waiting to have – for the second time in his life I might add – heart bypass surgery to correct a rapidly ballooning aneurysm. Needless to say, he wasn't looking forward to it and made life miserable for anyone who crossed his path.

I, of course, silently (or maybe not so silently, as he got an earful) seethed as I internalized his behaviors as a reflection on me. I'm guilty of worrying what everyone else thinks. I think it's safe to say, most of us are.

After being herded into the waiting room on the day of his surgery and assigned a number so that updates could be shared without violating that most sacred of healthcare information acts, I pulled out my laptop computer preparing to work my way through the day (worry). Apparently, I was in the minority. I looked around at the dozens of people clustered in family groups and saw cell phones in heavy use. Laptops and stacks of work documents? Not so much.

As I'd already committed to putting on the appearance of nonchalance, I tried to work. That lasted all of three minutes before I started listening in on the conversations around me.

HIPAA be damned!

There was this sweet older couple that caught my attention. She was chattering away about her loved ones' repeat visit from the dreaded C-word. He was all the while nodding his head, grunting attentively, or tending to her needs (she was wheelchair bound and also sharing her own health woes).

After a few hours of this and oft-repeated checks of the patient status board, a surgery update call came in for them.

"They called to say they don't have to cut off her leg and surgery should last another two hours," she tells her husband before picking up her cell phone to begin calling others to share that good news.

He wanders out of the scene playing out before me and I hear his wife of 50 years murmur into her phone, "Your Dad is crying. I didn't know this was affecting him like this."

He eventually returns with nary a tear in sight and the conversation turns to me. I share my husband's health issues and tell them I'm trying to edit some stories while I wait.

You own a paper? One for your town? Which one? I say McKees Rocks and then the stories begin on their end.

We took the kids there when they were little to climb a mound, she says.

He mentions a recent visit where he delivered a truckload of pipes to a business along the Ohio River. I think he still needs (or wants) to be working. I didn't ask because I wanted to avoid a conversation switch to politics.

I learned about their first date, at a Frugal MacDougal near Sharon, Pa. (where they still live). I laugh at the restaurant name and learn it was a now defunct and much cheaper version of McDonald's. Did we have those in Pittsburgh? I tell them about my first date with hubby. We had pizza at Mineo's in Squirrel Hill.

The conversation was a welcome respite from focusing on me. And I'm sure it was good for them to stop focusing on themselves for a bit, also.

Eventually, my update call came and I had my post surgery chat with the surgeon (or super deity, as the hospital chaplain and our Rabbi friend calls them) who performed this life sparing work.

I learned all went as well as could be expected and I was then able to shed a few tears of relief myself.

As of this writing, my husband is on the mend. There are some post-op issues that we're hopeful can be resolved. If not, I'm just glad he's still here, he's still snarky, and still able to live another day with me and our kiddos.

If my new friend and his big rig happen to be in town soon, I hope he sees a copy of this write up in our community's paper. I want him and his lovely wife to know I appreciated the opportunity to stop focusing on me.

We should all try to do it more often.



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