Sunday, February 26, 2012

When the Illness Tide Turns

Wait a minute. I'm the sick one here. I have the mysterious pain condition that gets me a first class ticket on the medical specialties train. You ask me how am I doing today. You notice the slightest blip in my demeanor and wonder if I forgot to take my meds again. You come to my medical appointments with me to be my buddy and my memory.

Richard got the news from his cardiologist that his heart is showing signs of enlargement. We have known he has a congenital valve issue and that some day (in a galaxy far, far away I always thought) he would need heart surgery. Over the past couple of months he has had blood work, worn a twenty-four hour halter heart monitor, had a treadmill stress test, and had a two and a half hour cardiac MRI (which experience his brother describes as akin to being in a coffin on a construction site). We are lining up the specialists for him.

The worry-vane is now being spun about by his condition. I had grown used to him being the allay-er of anxieties and the carrier of hope for my recovery. It's been a long time since I thought of him as fragile in any way. He has a damn black belt in Tae Kwon Do ! If that's not a guarantee of longevity, even immortality, then what is?

I am, of course, doing my best to show him the amount of concern he can tolerate and the level of optimism I truly feel. I am feeding him beets and spinach and kiwis and quinoa. He has, with my quiet acquiesence, taken over control of the TV remote control device. I try to make him laugh. I hold him close.

I don't like this new equation. I'd prefer to be the sufferer than the one bearing witness, helpless to make it all better. We have, thankfully, lived long enough so that the illness tide is turning, and Richard is getting swamped. In my heart, I do know that one thing we excel at is holding hands and rowing together. It's my turn to build up some calluses.

Has this kind of turn ever happened in your relationship?


Anonymous said...

Only for brief moments has this happened in my relationship. Unfortunately, although my partner is great with emergency care, the stress causes him to fall apart, back into his own symptoms and it takes quite a toll on his well-being and my ability to feel cared for. Sometimes I'm afraid that the stress of always having to take care of myself will be the end of me.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

It is indeed a double stress. And that can be too much for one person, or two people, to carry. Some people have friends, relatives, a community they can call on to help with chores, and emotional support. For some couples, it can help to talk to each other -- about the stress, how they can support each other, and what things can drop to the bottom of the list, at least during the crisis times. If there is compassion for each other (and for oneself) in the relationship, drawing on that during stressful times can help the load feel lighter.