- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A friend told me of a woman, her hospital roommate, who stated sadly that she didn’t know of a single soul that she could call in the middle of the night in an emergency.

My friend told me of this lonely woman’s predicament as a way of thanking me for crawling out of my cozy bed at 2 a.m. Saturday and driving to the District in cold rain to coax her into going to an emergency room.

Forgive me, for not providing the particulars; they are private and not exactly the issue.

One public issue, for a different column on another day, is to rail against the inequitable hospital treatment of poor people that persists in this city.

First, we went to Washington Hospital Center, took one glance in the standing-room-only waiting room and, without a word, made a U-turn in the driveway and headed across town to another hospital where she walked in and was seen by a triage nurse before I could park my car.

On a more personal note, sitting in the waiting room and at my friend’s bedside for hours gave me the opportunity to take stock of my health and my relationships.

After all, it is that soul-searching time of the year.

My cup runneth over. I am truly blessed to be in relatively good health. And, like my friend, I can run out of fingers counting the number of family and friends I could call at 2 a.m. in distress.

Yet I also realize that all too often I take these greatest of life’s treasures for granted. Do you? You can possess all of Oprah’s riches, but even she knows that if you don’t have good health and a handful of BFFs (best friends forever), especially when the road gets bumpy, you might as well be living under a bridge. Sick and alone is not a fate I’d wish on my worst foe.

By far the biggest story of 2007 was the senseless springtime shooting deaths of Virginia Tech students and teachers at the hands of a deranged young man. However, I suspect that their survivors were helped immensely through an unimaginably tough time by the love and support that surrounded them not only from family and friends but also from total strangers.

So, I make another attempt at a New Year’s resolution: To take better care of my relationships, first by taking better care of me.

“No matter what you do in the future, promise me you will put aside some time for you, even if it’s no more than two hours a week,” said my friend, barely able to breathe.

“Right.”

“No, I’m serious. Don’t put it off,” she insisted.

My friend and I called the roll of the people we know who died in 2007. Too many of them are uncomfortably close to us in age.

We come from a generation of women who have been taught to put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own. We’ve run ourselves ragged caring for children, parents, spouses and partners, friends, neighbors, co-workers. The list goes on.

American Wonder Women are mounting a hefty physical and psychological debt which many of us are unaware of until it’s too late.

With the advent of the Internet, women can work at home as well as at the office, shop for groceries, pay bills and check our children’s homework. We think we’re supposed to operate like a cable news outlet, 24-7.

Slow down? Relax? When was the last time you sat with a friend over a steaming cup of tea and neither of you was stretched out on a gurney? Sitting next to my friend’s stretcher in that cold, quiet emergency room in the wee hours of the morning, I started rummaging through my overstuffed purse, thinking there must be something in there to write with so I could make good use of this “free” time. Amid the receipts and the scraps of “to do” and “don’t forget” notes, I discovered a folded, dog-eared doctor’s referral sheet for a blood test dated three months earlier. Intriguing — isn’t it? — the way the universe sends you messages. Interesting, too, how you’ll do something for others that you won’t do for yourself.

Just then, the nurse peeped in and informed us that it would be at least another hour before my friend’s “blood work comes back.” Sistagirl was clearly more comfortable from the prescription she had been given that was making her drowsy.

It was at this moment that I decided to do something I wouldn’t normally do. I went home. I thought the best way to help my friend at that juncture was to get some sleep myself so I would be rested somewhat by the time she needed me again later that day.

Healthy choice. She was not released from the hospital until late Sunday.

Jan. 1 brings with it that time-honored treasure that allows us to wipe the slate clean and start afresh.

How many of us will dust off the treadmill in the den, throw out the cigarettes, pour out the scotch or cut up the credit cards? How many of us will vow to be better organized, more punctual, more patient and tolerant? How many of us will commit to deeper friendships? By Feb. 1, far too many of us are back at square one, disillusioned and ready to throw in the towel on our resolutions. But, we can’t give up. Nothing worth having comes easily or fast.

May you continue to strive for better health and healthier relationships throughout this New Year 2008.

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