I am not a natural nurse. I am, in fact, pretty much the very opposite of a natural nurse. I panic at the sight of blood. I swoon in the presence of people who are swooning. If someone is sick to their stomach, even in a movie, well, I must close my eyes and plug my ears or I will be sympathetically joining them. I don’t see things that need to be done, like a pillow that needs to be straightened or a glass that must be held steady as you help a bedridden person to drink from a straw. While I know I have a brain in my head; while I know I can be exceedingly clever and practical about some things, nursing the invalid has never been my strength.
Over the years, I have watched my sister with something akin to awe in the face of the illnesses that have visited our family members. While she never went into nursing, she has nonetheless always been an efficient and natural nurse. When Dad got throat cancer, she cleaned his tracheotomy tube as discretely and as easily as if she had been doing such things her whole life. She straightened his bed sheets, arranged his head more comfortably on his pillows, cleaned his tracheotomy paraphernalia and nonchalantly whisked away – and cleaned – his urine ‘thingy’ (and yes, she would know the right name for it). When Mom’s dementia first began to manifest, my sister calmed not only my mother but me (see ‘The Real Reason You Boil Water When a Baby is Being Born’) with a quiet, reassuring professionalism that left me in absolute awe.
So, I wasn’t really prepared – about a month ago – to suddenly be taking care of the person who normally takes care of me. My husband does not ‘do’ the ‘man cold’. He does not like to be coddled or cared for. When he is sick, he usually finds a dark corner, crawls into it, and orders me not to come back until he feels better. Neither of us were prepared for how much he would need me these past weeks.
In retrospect, we now realize that the signs had been there for about a week before his back gave out entirely and placed him in the position in which he has found himself for the past month: face contorted in agony and flat on his back on the floor of our living room (the only surface that affords him a modicum of relief). Thus began an endless stream of visits to medical professionals: four times to the hospital (including a midnight trip by ambulance when we were unable to get him off the floor); four times to the chiropractor and now, weekly trips to a physiotherapist. Doctors have tried everything to ease his pain – including a few woozy and unhelpful days on morphine – all to tell us that it is likely his sciatic nerve got wedged into a torn muscle, which subsequently healed up around the nerve and must now be worked back out, likely with several more months of physiotherapy. And, we have learned, nerve pain is almost impossible to treat with any degree of effectiveness. We have been told he is just going to have to live with the pain until the nerve can be worked free (and yes, for those who are wondering, we have also been trying CBD oil, without the THC).
Of all the women my husband could have married, I am the least likely candidate to be of much use to a man who can no longer stand, sit, walk or easily go to the bathroom: a man who must drink and eat while lying in a prone position on the floor. My first major hurdle however, was actually feeding him. We have been married almost thirteen years now, and to my great delight, he has never let me near his kitchen (see ‘A Few Things You Should Know About Me Before We Get Married’). And I won’t lie: for the first few days, I was in a dead panic. You see, he doesn’t eat the ‘normal’ things I would eat under such circumstances (microwave popcorn and peanut butter sandwiches for example). Oh, no: he makes – and will only eat – actual meals…
The very worst though, was the discouragement. My husband never, ever sits still. He is a man who is in constant motion. He never buys groceries for the week; he just goes back and forth every single day, picking things up as we need them. Anything to ‘keep moving’. I don’t think he has ever seen an entire movie in a theatre. I have gotten used to sitting on the edge of a movie aisle (even though my preference would be to sit mid-way up, dead centre of the centre aisle). Because he will have to get up and walk at least once during the movie. Guaranteed.
After he hurt his back, the first time I became truly frightened was about a week after he had been lying in a prone position. I came into our bedroom to check on him, intending to snuggle in and join him for an afternoon snooze. He was on morphine that day, and when he rolled his head in my direction, his eyes were glassy; almost filmed over; as he muttered, “What time is it?” When I told him, it was 2:00 p.m., he turned his head away and said in quiet discouragement, “Oh. I was hoping this day was over.” I don’t think he has ever scared me as badly as he did at that moment. His hopelessness was palpable.
In a panic, I wrote to our church pastor and to our friends at The Barn. And I asked them to pray. Living in a community; having friends and neighbours who know and love you; is an amazing and wonderful gift. Within hours, I heard from countless friends who said they would indeed pray for us; who asked me what we needed (I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me to admit that yes, I sure did need some help). Within days, people started dropping off meals. And mowing our lawn. And coming over to walk our dog. And bringing a group of young people to pile our firewood. And stopping in just to chat with my gregarious husband.
My husband’s pain – that nerve pain which is so hard to treat – did not (and has not) abated, but his morale changed overnight, and it changed dramatically. Our friends’ prayers haven’t been able to erase the pain but boy, did they sooth his soul… Never could I have imagined such a frenetically active man lying quiet for hours, days, weeks at a time. Never could I have imagined the peace he would find in this challenge; the patience he would slowly acquire.
It’s been a month since this all began. The physiotherapist says we likely have a few more months to go. Nonetheless, I knew we’re going to be alright one day last week as he lay on the floor of our outdoor balcony, looking lovingly and trustingly up into my face as I – on my hands and knees – carefully used an electric razor to give him a shave and a haircut while the dog joyously looked on and contributed with the occasional loving lick for good measure.
And the funny thing: I have actually gotten pretty good at straightening pillows; at holding a cup and a straw (metal, of course) ‘just so’ to help my husband drink; at placing an ice pack exactly where it’s needed; at helping my husband in and out of the car without hurting his back or my own; at monitoring medication schedules; at running all the myriad errands my husband used to run (I must say, he enjoyed all that the running around a great deal more than I do); at using up the leftovers in the fridge, and once in awhile, taking our very forgiving dog out to play (to our dog’s disgust, I can’t throw a ball nearly as far as his Paw can). I have even discovered that while I don’t like cooking much, I can make an awesome, healthy and delicious variety of salads and wonderful cold plates that make my husband’s eyes light up in appreciation. I have relearned the art of grocery shopping (it was hit-and-miss for awhile: I horrified my frugal husband, those first weeks, by totally misinterpreting the cost of fruit per kilogram, notably bringing home four apples that cost – gasp – 10$ and a little bunch of green grapes that cost just slightly more).
I do look forward to him being back on his feet. I miss taking walks together and holding hands. I miss hugging him. And being hugged by him. It’s a big adjustment, having an equal partner who can no longer be equal. I truly didn’t realise how very much he actually does that I never have to even think about.
But while this lasts, I love taking care of him. I signed up for this. In sickness and health, we’re a team…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com
6 thoughts on “In Sickness and in Health”
Thank you for sharing!!.. I have “degenerative disease of the lower spine” so I can relate a bit to your husband’s issues, and perhaps he will never totally be without pain depending on his physical activities… but love will find a way and together you and your family will overcome… 🙂
“When you are truly inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project… your mind transcends its limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world! Then those dormant forces, faculties and talents inside you become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” Patanjali “
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What an amazing and inspiring quote, Larry… I am truly so sorry to hear that you, too, have painful back issues. I have recently heard so many similar stories. When we are wrapped in a cocoon of good health, it is so easy not to see how many people live with daily pain, often in complete silence. Sending you warm, loving and healing energy…🙏🙏🙏
Good wishes, Patti.
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Thank you, Alex 😊 I’ll take all the good wishes sent in our direction 😊🙏🙏🙏
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So sorry to hear of your husband’s struggle with pain. Good for you, taking on the task of easing his discomfort, and filling the gap, even though it’s not your usual routine.
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Thanks Candice 😊 I know he’d do the same for me 🥰 And it’s been good for us. Sure makes us appreciate one another…
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