> Spirituality > Spiritual Odysseys

Who Will Live

September 6, 2012 | by Susan Schwartz

I lie awake worrying about my upcoming surgery. Will I lose my ability to speak? Will I even wake up?

No one knows I am afraid. I cover it up so well, though there is a pit deep inside of me. At the doctor’s office I ask many intelligent and pointed questions. I read up on all the test results and get second opinions, clearly indicating I understand the issues. My confidence with the entire medical lingo makes it seem that this is simply routine to me. I’ve even been asked if I went to medical school since I can follow the discussions and consultations with such ease.

But no one sees me when I wake up at 2 AM and can’t sleep anymore. When I envision myself on the operating table, knowing that though I will not feel it at the time, an incision is being made and I will surely ache from it when I wake up. I tell myself the surgeon is simply God’s messenger; that it is all in His hands and I have nothing to fear.

Easier said than done. I may say it out loud to others and even in my head, but my subconscious has not internalized this. One of the possible effects of this surgery is damage to the vocal chords. What if I can’t speak above a whisper when it is over? What if I can no longer read a story to my grandsons?

And my biggest fear: what if I don’t wake up at all? Of course, I won’t know it so that seems a silly worry. But am I ready to say goodbye to my children?

I make it all sound very matter of fact to them. I don’t go into all the details, just some basic information. Yes, I tell them the surgery is three hours, the recovery two; that I have to stay overnight in the hospital. But I assure them this is very common, just a blip on the radar. I’ll be back to work before they know it. I don’t tell them I may not be able to speak. I don’t tell them the recuperation can take weeks. I don’t tell them about the other small mass they found that I am not even mentioning at this juncture.

I know that ultimately I don’t have the master plan, but I am still so afraid.

And I don’t tell them about the fear. I have always been the strong one, the one who keeps a clear head in emergencies. The one who has handled family tragedies head-on. I’m the go-to person, the list maker, the one who has everything planned out.

Who will handle this if things go awry? Who will deal with my crisis?

I know that ultimately I don’t have the master plan, that I can only do so much, and the rest is up to Him. I know I should find comfort in this.

But I am still so afraid.

Related Article: Standing Before God

A Few Days before Surgery

The battle between fear and trusting God seems to wage stronger each day as the surgery draws near. A family member tells me they are planning to come to town for a visit next month. Next month seems so far removed from now I can’t even think about it. I tell them we will talk about it soon.

In an effort to maintain some sort of normalcy I cook in advance for Shabbos guests, make shopping lists and try to think about menu plans for Rosh Hashanah. This makes me think about the awesomeness of this time of year – how whatever decisions that were made about my surgery and its outcome were written last year. I hold on to the fact that my doctor tells me she sees no reason not to be optimistic about the outcome of the surgery and I know her to be a forthright and direct person.

But sleep still eludes me.


The surgeon comes to see me right before the operation. “Will it hurt when I wake up,” I ask? He assures me with a smile that it won’t. I know this can’t be true because even a simple paper cut can hurt for a day, and we both know this is far more substantial. But I smile with him, knowing we are both pretending.


I open my eyes in the recovery room. I was right about the pain and the hoarseness. I can’t speak above a whisper and the pain is heavy around my neck.

The surgeon comes to my bedside. “You're cured!” he exclaims. “We found what we were looking for and got it all.”

Despite his earlier mocking of the pain question, I know he is telling me the truth this time. The hoarseness will resolve in time, and the pain will fade in the weeks to come. The worst is behind me.

I come home and start to slowly regain my strength and voice. For the first few days I have no other focus other than convincing myself and others that I am getting stronger each day. I am not used to pampering myself and it is hard for me to accept that I really am not ready to return to normal life yet.

But as the days progress and I can move with less pain, I become more aware of the world outside. I look at the calendar and realize Rosh Hashanah is only two weeks away. I can’t pretend anymore that this surgery was just a blip on the radar that passed with little effect. Last year I stood in shul praying for good health for myself, my spouse, my children and grandchildren. Much like every year before, I tried to imbue my words with meaning and intent. To be honest, my focus was more on the others than on myself. My health has never been in question, where my husband has faced several serious issues in the past. My children and grandchildren are all healthy and I beseeched God to keep them that way. How little I thought of anything looming in my own future.

This Rosh Hashanah, I will try harder to remember the thanks I have for allowing me to reach this year at all.

And here I am, almost a year later, wondering how my prayers might have been different if I knew what was in store for me. When I stand in shul this Rosh Hashanah, I will still pray for the continued health of those dear to me. But I will also try harder to remember the thanks I have for allowing me to reach this year at all. I know that everything is in His hands. I know that the outcome of my surgery could have been different if that was what was intended.

I fear that as the months go by and my scars heal, I will forget how close I came to not reaching this Rosh Hashanah in good health. It is easy to become complacent when things are going smoothly. My challenge will be to remember the battle scars as the year moves forward, and to conquer my fears with the faith that if I do my part, the Almighty will surely do His.

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