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Posted on 5. March 2015

Caregiving for the Caregiver

By Abbie Cornett

My husband and I have been married for 18 years, and together for more than 20. I can honestly say that he is one of the healthiest people I have ever known. He has always worked out, never smoked, drinks little and has never been overweight. He has never had to take medicine and has only caught a bug a handful of times. The absolute picture of health!

On the flip side, I have been sick a lot. He has stood by me through every illness, surgery and hospitalization. He insisted on getting married even though I was sick and nobody knew with what. He has always been by my side, advocated for my care, fought with doctors, insurance companies and bill collectors. In a lot of ways, my illness became a part of our marriage. Our roles were clearly defined; I was the patient, and he was the caregiver. Then, recently, to both of our surprise, he became ill - I mean really ill, and our roles suddenly reversed. I am not sure who was more surprised about it, him or me.

Suddenly I found myself standing next to his hospital bed, reading his chart and asking his doctors questions. I can honestly say neither one of us was prepared for the redefining of our roles. Let‘s just say there was some friction.

In the past, he would grill the doctors and nurses, monitor my medications and constantly tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing. When I started asking his doctors and nurses questions, he said I was being pushy. When I read his charts, he got grumpy. When I tried to tell him to take it easy, he rolled his eyes. Let’s just say I didn’t find his behavior amusing, and was not above pointing out that I was behaving exactly how he had been for years. That didn’t help!

On the lighter side, I did get to walk him through the do’s and don’ts of being a patient in the hospital. Ordering meals became a teaching moment. When the nurse and I were going over the menu options with him, he thought he wanted the Lenten special with green beans. I explained that what hospitals called green beans generally weren’t green and certainly didn’t taste like the ones he was used to, and there was nothing special about the Lenten special. He looked at me like I had lost my mind and turned to the nurse who was quietly shaking her head in agreement and smiling. When he complained that the nurses and phlebotomist kept waking him up and he was tired, I laughingly told him no one ever went to the hospital for rest; he would have to wait to sleep until he got home.

While he was learning about being a patient, I was learning how to deal with three children who were scared. While I am very used to taking care of our three children by myself, I had never had to deal with them when I was sick. It wasn’t just my husband and I that were facing a new reality, it was also our children, and they didn’t like it at all. Getting them to school in the morning became an odyssey with fighting, tears and anger all around.

My husband is home from the hospital now; things are better but still different. The whole family is learning how to live with the changes in our lives and how we will move forward. I am sure there will be more friction, just as I am sure there will be humor, but that’s all part of being a family.

Has your caregiver ever needed you?

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