The Things People Say

Source: National Library of Scotland

I don’t know if my husband knows it but when we first started dating he had competition, a very sweet friend of a friend.

One night I picked up a phone call from the hospital, calling to see if I was free to come in and interpret in the Emergency Room. When I arrived it quickly became clear that this was a messy case: the patient distrusted the resident whom she viewed as not yet a real doctor, the resident insisted on speaking in her broken Spanish instead of using the interpreter (me), and the whole shebang was going rapidly downhill as the patient argued to leave against medical recommendations –a decision that could very well have cost her life.

After a long night and a whole lot of heavy-duty interpreting and cultural brokering we convinced her to stay for treatment, and I trudged home exhausted and content. On my phone were two text messages, one from each suitor sent hours and hours ago. I sent back a text to each explaining what I had been up to, sorry I wasn’t ignoring them, and how glad that this time I hadn’t let the call go to voicemail. They sent back the following replies:

Nice Guy: “Wow. What a great job! You’re really awesome for having done that.”

(or something along those lines) — a solidly good, B+/A- answer

Future husband: “It’s good to help people when they need it.”

This, I realized as I read it, was the A+ answer. I had never imagined it until he said it, but there was my worldview in a nutshell. Right,” I thought, “No pedestals, no grandeur. You get it–it’s simply good to be there for other people, because that’s what’s right.” Is it any wonder that this man won my heart?

Fast-forward to today as we recover from my husband donating his kidney to his brother.

“Oh, what a tremendous gift of love,” they all say, “You must be so very happy to be part of it.”

This is the sort of tripe that well-intentioned people say when they don’t know how to sum up an indescribable situation. It leaves those of us actually going through the process with no other alternative but to nod and try not feel guilty that our internal experience doesn’t  glow in comparison.

I’d love to reply: “No, actually, I was terrified. And now I’m so exhausted from anxiety, hospitals, and medicine schedules I can’t remember what it’s like to laugh. And through the whole thing I wanted my mommy and daddy.” I mean, seriously, who volunteers for this sort of shit? Less than six months into your marriage? In another country? I did, insomuch that I knew it was part of the bargain when we moved back to Brazil, when I decided to marry him. He did, insomuch that he stepped forward when another relative was selected first and then backed out leaving no immediate family member but him to donate. But… if you had asked me if I would choose to have the man I swore to love and protect be accosted by men in white coats with scalpels who remove part of his body? That answer is “NO,” and not just simply “NO” but that I would have done anything–including physically throwing other aforementioned family members in those doctors’ path–if it meant he would be safe and sound. But… if 10 years down the line could we have lived with ourselves if his brother had died and we had stood by and done nothing? Again, NO. So …we signed up for this shit. I’m no Florence Nightingale. He’s no superhero. We do believe that it’s good to be there for other people, especially family, when they need it.

We have one family friend who said something else. She said, “Oh, this must be so hard for you, so far from family, all alone with no one else here with you. God bless this whole situation, may he help it to all turn out right. It just has to turn out right. Each day I pray, and every day until everyone’s healed I’m including a prayer for you all.” A+ answer. Amen, and me too.


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