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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I cannot believe I'm writing to you, but this problem has been festering for 13 years and I'm at the end of my rope. It's my sister-in-law, "Ethel." She's a hypochondriac who feels that she must be the center of attention. Regardless of the situation, she has always "been there, done that, I know how you feel."

My father has lung cancer and underwent six weeks of exhaustive radiation. My mother and I are watching him die and have spent many sleepless nights with him. Ethel sounds like a broken record, repeating that she knows how he feels, knows how we feel, etc. I want to say to her, "Unless you have watched a father die, or watched a husband die, then you CANNOT 'understand' what Mother and I are going through!"

Her kids are brats, and I'm not the only one to say so. She leaves them unattended to go to a job that she does not need. My brother has a terrific job and makes excellent money. I cannot figure out why he tolerates her. People can't stand to be around her and make fun of her every chance they get. She's always "sick" because it's her way of getting attention. I'm sick of biting my tongue and I'm itching to tell her off. Should I? -- ITCHING ON THE EAST COAST

DEAR ITCHING: No! Telling her off would be counterproductive and would create more problems than you already have. You can't change your sister-in-law. Avoid the poor woman whenever possible, and in the interest of family unity, tolerate her when you must.

DEAR ABBY: When I saw the letter from "Eileen" about "Mary Helen," who was criticized because her efforts to save her brother "Bill" were futile, I had to write. I had a heart attack from a condition that I, like Bill, thought was the flu. I collapsed at work and was essentially dead when I hit the floor. Three to five minutes was all that was necessary for my death to be complete.

Fortunately for me, three of my co-workers knew CPR. After calling 911, they immediately started to work on me. They kept me alive until the paramedics came to take over. My doctors have told me that only one person in 10 recovers as I did.

Later, one of my rescuers confessed to me that she had used the wrong cadence in performing the chest compressions and that she was afraid she would hurt me or break a rib if she pressed too hard. I replied that she should not have worried. I was grateful for her efforts because even an injury was better than the alternative!

If Eileen and her friend, Mary Helen, had done nothing, death was a guaranteed result. Bill's only hope for life was that Mary Helen do something, and she did -- to the best of her ability. I can guarantee Mary Helen that Bill was grateful for her attempt, as I am thankful for those who saved me. -- GRATEFUL IN SEATTLE

DEAR GRATEFUL: Heartfelt congratulations on your recovery. I'm sure "Mary Helen" and "Eileen" will appreciate your having shared your personal experience. It highlights that any CPR is better than no CPR at all.

CONFIDENTIAL TO "YOUNG WORKING MOTHER": You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed and without enough time. Malcolm Forbes once said, "Unless you are serving time, there is never enough of it."

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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