is suffering in silence a virtue?I had a long day of pre-op, and ended up at the Dana Farber cafeteria, with a hot cup of coffee in hand, staring at the accoutrement station, searching for the non-caloric sweeteners.

“Do you think they have any Sativa?” I asked the middle-aged man next to me as he pushed a button to add cream to his coffee.


“You know, a sweetener— like Equal, or Splenda, or Sweet n’ Low. They should have Sativa, or Truvia, or something like that, because they’re all-natural sweeteners. This is Dana Farber, after all.”  (They actually have soy milk.)

“Never heard of Sativa,” he told me.

And then I realized my mistake.

“OMG, I didn’t mean Sativa… I meant Stevia! I mixed up a marijuana strain with a coffee sweetener!”  He looked at me bewildered.

I started to shake with laughter so hard, the coffee started to spill over the sides of the Styrofoam cup. Obviously, my visit to the pot shop had quite an impact on me.

But finding laughter that day at Dana Farber was not easy. With frank discussions about exactly what they will be cutting and analyzing, how long the recovery will be, and with a lesson on how to empty drains that will stick out from my concave chest area after the surgery, I found myself sobered.

I found myself thinking a lot about the pain.  I’m not so good when it comes to pain.  My husband and I defy the stereotypes that women are strong and men are big babies when they are sick or hurt. Stoic is definitely not my middle name.

I don’t like being a big baby. I believe, in theory, that it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle it. I believe that the best of people put the pedal to the medal and grin and bear it. And while this suffering in silence thing is a trait I admire, I simply don’t have it.

If I get a paper cut, I make sure Mike knows it. He knows how I did it, when I did it, how deep it is.  For anything bigger, I moan and groan. I talk about how much it hurts. I like Mike to know how much pain I am in, non-stop, like the announcers on the Pats game (but he can’t turn me off.) I like sympathy from him in the form of a head scratchy and a delicious peppermint foot massage.

This is clearly not an inherited trait. My mother never complained about anything. She never had a headache (she only gave headaches), she never admitted to being tired.  Through years of blood transfusions, feeling totally crappy, exhausted, miserable, she was always remarkably stoic. She simply didn’t have it in her to complain.

And in this aspect (some would argue that this is not the only one) I married my mother. Mike also suffers in silence, defying the “man” stereotype. Last week he had dental surgery, a miserable procedure where they drilled a hole into his jawbone and screwed a titanium bolt into a hole they filled with bovine bone marrow.

“I’ll pick you up after the surgery,” I told him.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll have my car there. I’ll be fine, I’ll drive myself home.”

“Let me go get the drugs for you,” I told him later.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine. I’m still numb, I’m just going to run out to CVS.”

Hadn’t he ever heard of milking it?

Later, in bed, he was laying there in a drug-induced haze, eyes closed, but clearly still awake.

“Are you in pain?” I asked him.

“Very much so.”

“Then why aren’t you moaning and groaning and telling me how much pain you’re in.”

There was a long silence, and then he said, in all seriousness:

“I’m trying to lead by example.”

There were only two words for this, and they were not “happy birthday.” I almost kicked him in the balls (that would have taken his mind off his mouth, right?)

A few days later, I asked Mike, “Do you really think I should suffer in silence after I get a boob cut off?  Do you really think that suffering in silence is always a good thing?”

“Not necessarily,” he said, “but maybe you could suffer in a little bit of silence?”

I don’t think so.  And I’m thinking he better be ready at the hospital with the peppermint foot cream.

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