Life After Storm Sandy

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By Hannah Reich Berman

Never having lived in a cave, I am no expert, but I suspect that after several weeks of my home being plunged into cold and damp darkness, it is surely more cavelike than homelike. As I now—finally—have power and heat, it is no longer dark or cold, but the feeling of dampness remains. And if floodwaters and destruction were not enough for me to concentrate on, I was scheduled for shoulder surgery before I was even able to move back into this cave from where I now write.

The worst part of my surgical experience was fasting. Adhering to the pre-op instructions, I stopped eating by 7 o’clock Monday evening, but, as the operation didn’t begin until 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, by the time I got into the recovery room it was 5 p.m. and I was feeling faint. The sensation had nothing to do with the surgery, but the operating room had been cold and the combination of cold and hunger was the root of the problem. Fortunately, I did not faint. That, undoubtedly, was because I have enough reserve adipose tissue to sustain me well into the middle of next month!

Once out of “recovery” and into a “holding” room before discharge, a nurse brought graham crackers and orange juice to me. Unfortunately, there was no kosher certification on the graham crackers label, so that took care of that. And I can’t even look at orange juice, much less drink the stuff. That’s a holdover from the days when my mother would chase me around the kitchen table with a small glass of orange juice, laced with something known as cod liver oil. Half the time some juice would spill out of the glass and onto the floor and, 60 years later, I can still smell it. I gag at the sight of orange juice. So much for my postoperative snack! My daughter, who was with me by then, fished around in my handbag for anything edible but only came up with a piece of sugar-free sucking candy. I knew it would do little to assuage my hunger but, in desperation, I took it.

It was after 7 p.m. when we left the hospital. We turned on the car’s heater to help keep me warm, and then, without exchanging so much as a word, we glanced knowingly at one another and (chill or no chill) took a detour to the local yogurt shop—not only because I was famished but because it was Tuesday, which is “two for one” day at this place. Neither of us could resist that bargain, and I was so hungry by then that I didn’t even need a spoon. I would have eaten right through the container in which it was served.

My shoulder surgery was minor but not without anxiety. As if my flooding problems were not enough of a challenge, the doctor stressed me even more. He explained, pre-operatively, that I might be unable to use my right arm for a week. I looked at him in horror as my right hand, which just happens to be attached to my right arm, is the one I use to play Mah-Jongg. Life can be cruel! I was upset but, in an attempt to generate some mirth, I appeared wide-eyed and innocent and suggested that, since use of my right arm was vital to my way of life, I would prefer that he operate on my left shoulder instead.

That was when I learned that his sense of humor is not as finely developed as his surgical skills, because he didn’t seem to know that I was joking and he looked at me like I was crazy! Skilled surgeon though he is, the man was wrong. As soon as I was awake and in the recovery room, I checked things out and happily discovered that I was able to stretch my right arm out in front of me just far enough to pick up and discard a Mah-Jongg tile while playing my favorite game!

A recovery-room nurse watched me stretching my arm out over and over again and gave me the same “Are you crazy?” look. But she had a more finely developed sense of humor, so when I told her I was checking to see if I would be able to play Mah-Jongg, she laughed out loud.

Yet it may be a moot point, because there might not be much time for recreation. On Thanksgiving, one day after the surgery, an insurance adjuster called to tell me what I would be paid for my now defunct automobile. He explained that, to collect, I would need proof of title. When I told him that all of my important papers were swept away in dirty floodwater, he suggested that I apply online for a replacement title. As I was unable to recall if the title was in Hubby’s name or mine, I couldn’t do it online. Silly me! Why did I think things would suddenly get easy?

In order to straighten out the issue, I now have the glorious opportunity to personally go into an august establishment known as the Department of Motor Vehicles—I think of it as just another gift, courtesy of Storm Sandy! I will need to prove to someone at the DMV that I am me. I’m thinking of taking along my yoga instructor, because he’ll be only too happy to vouch for the fact that I am who I say I am. He will even testify that, based on my ungainly performance in his yoga studio, no one else in her right mind would ever claim to be me.

However, if the title is not in my name, there could be further complications. I will need to prove that I was married to the titleholder, Hubby, Arnold J. Berman. Maybe I should also bring along my framed ketubah. Nothing could be more fun than schlepping a heavy frame while dealing with a painful shoulder and arm. With any luck, I might even get to wait several hours on line before getting the opportunity to explain myself to some clerk who couldn’t care less if I get money for my lost car.

So, tomorrow morning, off to the DMV I will go. But, as tomorrow is Friday, I hope I won’t find myself spending Shabbos there. Maybe I should bring along a toothbrush and a change of clothing just in case this takes a few days. Who knows? I may even be writing the next installment of this column from that building. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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