Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“It’s not serious,” the doctor tells me. “In fact, it’s fairly common. One week on antibiotics will knock this right out of your system.”
“How common is it,” I ask, “for patients to ignore these symptoms and delay seeing you for five months?”
Actually, it’s more common than you might expect.
* * * * * * *
I remember my younger self, stepping into a pair of jeans and discovering I’d lost so much weight that both of my legs fit into one leg of the pants. Busy dealing with other people’s issues, I’d failed to notice the symptoms of mononucleosis — loss of appetite and exhaustion — and faced a two-year recovery from a severe case.
This time the physical ailment is not the serious issue I need to address. I head to the pharmacy thinking about how often I focus entirely on others’ needs at the expense of my own well-being. Does this unconscious desire to nurture others and my unwitting denial of self-care pose a chronic risk to my health?
When I return nine days later and she writes a prescription for a different antibiotic, my doctor reassures me it’s not serious. “You’re going to see an improvement within 48 hours. It’s not uncommon to have to switch antibiotics.”
Not serious. Not uncommon. I cling to these assurances even as I imagine the bacteria to be uncommonly persistent since discovering a host who willfully ignored their existence for so long. Perhaps they will be unwilling to yield gracefully to penicillin.
* * * * * * *
One week later my doctor declares me healed and I do not disagree with her, despite my knowing her assessment to be only partially true. My healing process is not yet complete. When we pray for God’s blessings of healing we ask for both healing of spirit and body. When we offer wishes of healing to those who are ill we bless them with refuah shleimah, a whole or complete recovery.
I have attained refuat ha-guf, the healing of body; I am struggling to arrive at refuat ha-nefesh, the healing of spirit. I allowed my soul’s desire to nurture — a palpable and unrelenting need — to override my body’s need to be tended, and I have not yet forgiven myself for this disregard. I’m left with a sense of spiritual dislocation as my body returns to its healthy state.
Leaving the doctor’s office, I acknowledge how lucky I am to have access to excellent health care, to suffer from common ailments easily remedied by readily available medication. Grateful for the physical healing I have experienced, I resolve to continue nurturing others while remembering to treat my own needs as significant.
If I can remain faithful to this promise in the months ahead then I will consider myself wholly and completely healed.