Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dr. Else Goldstein: The Good Woman

written by Stephie Goldfish

In the spring of 1991, at the ripe old age of 26 and 1/2, my life was falling apart, symbolically speaking. The words that follow cannot even compare to all the feelings that spring up when speaking about her, Else, but her patience with me through twelve years of therapy with her is how I would define the nature of a good woman.

She is my mother
She is like my mother
She is not my mother

Will I ever see her again?

She is not dying.
She is retiring.
Or is she dying?
It feels like she is dying!

I am dying inside over the loss it will be to not see her as often as I did over those 12 years.

In 2002 Else had sadly told me she had cancer,
"What type?" I asked.
She asked, "As opposed to what type?"
I guessed, "Leukemia?"
She bluntly replied, "I have Breast Cancer!"

Pausing...taking in that information...I started to cry, and so did she.

Life, I thought, would not be...without her...Else.

She walks with confidence. But, mostly talks and listens with wisdom. Pearls of wisdom. She even taught me how to eat swine! And not feel guilt. She taught me how to eat lox and cream cheese on an "everything" bagel, please! A jewish tradition.

She introduced me to Otto Dix, a German Expressionist painter, who painted Else's father, Dr. Mayer-Hermann, in 1926. The painting is now a part of the permanent collection of the MoMA:

the eyes,
the nose,
and those ruby lips.

Else helped me deal with reality, even in my states of insanity. She helped me through periods of depression. She made my sad days happy.

Once, Else gave me the coat off her back when I had gone to see her one early, bright, cool spring day in April 1992, the day after being released from the hospital, wearing a white linen dress suit with no blouse or bra, the jacket was not buttoned either, except I wore a string of pearls. I had lost so much weight after getting Salmonella food poisoning, which one doctor had first diagnosed as Typhoid Fever. During this week, one patient in my room had been double amputated at the ankles — she would never walk again. I symbolically identified with the woman, because back in 1988 I had had two ectopic pregnancies (or tubal-ligations), a metaphor of losing my "feet". No child would I ever bear having tiny feet to run or walk. After seeing me in this New York State of Mind, I was readmitted to the hospital for another three weeks to face more demons. Else made me see that the women in my life will continue having children, and inserted, "Children do grow up, you know!"

And, Breasts of women — another symbol of the life a mother or woman gives.

Else had been battling breast cancer for two years before she retired in 2003. I do not know if she was in remission. Should've I asked? Or did I want to know the answer?

Losing hair, wearing wigs, getting shingles, having chemo and radiation, having radical surgeries, Else showed me the strength of a woman. Through all this, she was still there for me, to help solve my petty little problems they now seem, but never once did she belittle me.

Her words of wisdom have stood the test of time, as I savored every minute that went by speaking and talking with her over my major issues, but to her simple ruffles of life that needed ironed.

I asked her if she would be at my next wedding, if I ever remarried, and she said, "You bet," and pragmatically added, "Only if it is in New York." I regret that I did not invite her, because I went and got married without her knowing. I was so foolish.

We talked of my mother at times. And through all my difficulties in life and feelings I have towards my mother — good, bad, happy, and sad — Else always made me remember that my mother did the best she could with the circumstances she was dealt. And all "that" is the past, and now is the "present", so Move On, as Barbra Streisand sings in her Back to Broadway CD.

Coincidences seem eternal since I have known this woman — Else:

I ran into her on the Upper West Side as she was walking along Broadway doing some shopping. We smiled in acknowledgment. I was with two friends, and she was with her soul mate. It was the winter of 1993.

I ran into her and her soul mate again on the Upper West Side at Nueva Victoria sipping decaf cafe con leches, which she later called dessert. Seeing her I exclaimed, "Else, what a small world!" It was the early fall of 1995.

Running to catch a 5th Avenue bus, I stumbled up the stairs, cursing under my breath, and there she sat, calmly reading The New York Times, which she always promised me a subscription to, so that I would be in the know. It was a hot summer day in 2000.

I ran into her in the spring of 2002 in the 34th Street subway exit to Macy's. She was again with her soul mate, but she was tired and resting on a bench. She didn't see me, but I saw them go to the Macy's Flower Show.

Something was wrong, but I didn't know.

It has been since the spring of 2003 when I saw her last, and now spring 2010 has come and gone. Why did it have to end?

Else calmed my anxieties and soothed my pain as we talked of dying, both facing death. She longed for twenty more years — I thought I just wanted five or ten!

She may not live to see those twenty years, but I pray to God that if she has gone I will see her again.

Else helped me grow up, not just to womanhood, but also to adulthood, a world that is filled with happy moments, sad moments, difficult times, easy times, some angry times, some fun times, a world filled with sometimes-happy people, sometimes-sad people, some difficult people, easygoing people, angry people, a world that is filled with war, and sometimes peace.

Else once told me that friends are precious, and I introduced her as my friend one time. She was curious of my introduction at the time. But, Else has been more to me than a doctor; she truly has been my "friend".

Through this woman's patience with me, I learned to be a more patient woman, which to me is the best attribute a woman can have.

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