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I'm shocked my friends didn't visit me in the hospital. Am I overreacting?

The question

I am a single woman, late 30s, very busy with work, but with a core nucleus of good friends (or so I thought) from different social groups. This past week, my appendix burst. I was rushed to the emergency room straight from work, and wound up in the hospital for five days. The problem is: No one really came to visit me. One friend dropped by on his lunch hour one day, but apart from that 10-minute visit I was alone the whole time.

The reasons for not being able to visit and/or help me varied: plans to go to the cottage, birthday parties, etc. Other friends simply ignored the whole thing and didn't say a word. To make matters worse, I have a dog and so I was lying on a stretcher in the emergency room begging friends to help take care of him. No one would. The excuses were – well, see above. My parents finally had to get him. I am now home, but I am hurt no one cared enough even to try to bring me a toothbrush at any point during my stay. How do I deal with this? Tell my friends that it bothers me that they care more about cottage weekends and birthday parties than about me? Or am I making a big deal out of nothing? What I feel like doing is never speaking to any of them again.

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The answer

I don't think you're making a big deal out of nothing at all.

Quite the contrary. Who visits you in the hospital is a huge deal, and a litmus test of who really cares about you.

In my 20s, I had a girlfriend who was very important to me, who ended up needing an extended hospital stay. Call her Sally. I went to visit her every day for an entire summer. I, Dave "Loyalty" Eddie, remained her boyfriend. When "Sally" was given a clean bill of health, we went back to "dating."

After some months (nerd alert: ultrageeky story approaching) I was studying in my carrel at the library when I fell over and gashed my forearm. It became infected, swelled like a Popeye arm, and I wound up in hospital – like you, for five days – with a could've-been life-threatening blood infection.

And "Sally" never visited! But another woman did, a mere acquaintance who was, as it suddenly seemed to me from my hospital bed, quite alluring. She brought me bonbons and delivered bon mots with a Bette Davis-type delivery. To make a long story short, it was sayonara "Sally" hello Bette Davis.

Now I'm not saying you should dump your friends like I dumped "Sally." Nor do I see any real point in confronting your friends.

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But I'd say it's time to take stock. How you go about that is up to you. I would have to know a lot more about the people involved and your relationship to them to comment meaningfully. But broad strokes:

I do detect a couple of silver linings here. First, your parents. You know how your parents picked up your dog? That's what family does (or at least should: in some families not, sadly), so be nice to your parents. Because as you've discovered it's amazing how "in the wind" one's friends can be when your little skiff hits the "horse latitudes." (And in case you don't know that excellent expression it's when a ship hits a part of the ocean so bereft of wind that the sailors have to heave all the horses overboard because they drink too much water.)

I do have one friend, someone I've known since the age of 11, who I know would help me in a tight spot and always has – who would help me throw up a barn if the need arose. (Doesn't really come up much in the downtown core where I live but the point is I know he would.)

It's nice to have one of those. Maybe cultivate the guy who popped by in his lunch hour into that?

Apart from that, as part of your stock-taking maybe ask yourself: Have you been as good a friend to your friends as you could be? Hospital visiting and helping out begets hospital visiting and helping out, I've found, and you mentioned work a couple of times. Is it possible you've been so busy your relationships have been downgraded into hail-fellow-well-met status and not true hospital-visitation-level friends?

The best way to have good friends is to be a good friend to the people around you, to help them out and give of yourself in whatever way you can, and expect nothing in return. To hope they'll reciprocate, for sure, but never to expect it, at which point (at least I hope and have my fingers crossed for you) they may surprise you.

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