Friday, March 27, 2009

A Long Story Full of Resentment

(Sorry. I think I needed to purge myself of the whole experience. I will not be the least bit offended if you lose patience and only make it about halfway through this long -- even more narcissistic than usual -- post.)

It all started with a cold the week before my position at my former company was eliminated. I am afraid I was not the loving, attentive wife I like to pretend I am. When Bob gets sick, my thoughts usually run along these lines, "Oh great. He's sick. And he'll refuse to take care of himself, which means either he won't get well, and I'll be kept awake by his sniffling and coughing for the next two months, or he'll come down with pneumonia, and I'm going to have to take care of everything around here by myself, including him." I also happen to know that when he does find himself bedridden, he is extremely vocal about how horrible it is to be so, and he's very grumpy. In other words, he would never win any awards for "Patient of the Year."

I was right. He didn't take care of himself. He not only had his normal "minister-ly" duties to conduct, but on March 14th, he had to officiate a funeral. All funerals are sad, but this one was particularly so: a 32-year-old young man, diagnosed two years ago with colon cancer, who left behind his young widow and seven-year-old son. One can understand that a minister would want to be there for this family and that he did not want to scrimp on the service, most particularly the eulogy.

Bob's reasons for ignoring illness are always understandable. I didn't know him when he was a teacher, but I'm sure in those days, it was, "I can't take care of myself. I have to grade these papers." (Because, you know, you read in the news all the time about those kids who go on shooting sprees in schools because teachers have taken too long to grade papers.) When we worked together in publishing, it was, "I know I'm coughing up blood, but I have to fly to Buffalo in this blizzard to make this sale; it might not happen otherwise." (Because, quite obviously, the company was going to collapse if that one sale didn't happen.) When he was in school, it was, "I have to write this paper. It's due in two days." (Because seminary professors would far rather see a student drop dead typing out the last sentence of that paper than allow an extra week to write it.) Resentment (whom you need to hold completely responsible for all those parenthetical remarks I didn't just write), however, is not much into understanding.

All this is to say that when I received just about the worst news someone can receive career-wise, Bob was "here for me," but he really wasn't. How could he be when he was off with a grieving family, writing two sermons for two different services, and either sneezing his brains out or blowing his nose every five minutes? He did the best he could, was completely understanding every time I burst into tears of frustration/rage/hurt/worry, but really, I was pretty much on my own. My cell phone rang. Resentment suggested I needed a little company. Well, and you know me: I still haven't learned how to say "no."

I put everything on hold and waited "just to get through Bob's rough weekend," while I entertained resentment. Once the weekend was past, I was sure I'd get to be the center of attention. We'd work through all my emotions, and then, together, we'd set about mapping out a plan for my future. Well, it never happened.

We got to Monday (Bob's "day off"), and instead of my long-awaited, "all-about-me" day, I found myself with a husband who wanted to do nothing but nap. He kept saying, "I don't know why I'm so tired." Resentment calmly patted me on the arm, assuring me I need not respond (especially if I were going to respond in some concerned-wifely way) and sarcastically replied for me, "Gee, I can't imagine. You've got a cold. You've been caring for a grieving family. You spent the whole weekend officiating church services. Oh, and your wife just lost her job. There must be something really wrong with you."

Tuesday morning, he went off to church as usual, but when he came home for lunch, he told me he really wasn't feeling well. He was achy and chilled. He was going to go lie down for a little while. Three hours later, he was still lying down. I convinced him to take his temperature, and, as suspected, it was hovering somewhere just above 100. He started taking aspirin and insisted on beginning the process of doing research for his sermon. Stupidly, I let him. Luckily, I was not so stupid as to agree that he could go for a run when he tried to pull the old, "It's not in my chest. As long as it's not in my chest, it's okay to exercise" routine (I would like to shoot whoever came up with that little rule about exercise). Because my husband's Ten Commandments of Exercising seem to be missing "Thou shalt not exercise with a fever," I had to point out to him that a broken leg isn't in the chest, but that if someone wants a broken leg to heal, running on it is not the answer.

At this point, you can probably tell that no one could have compared me to Florence Nightingale. I was getting pretty annoyed, because his symptoms seemed to be screaming "flu." He'd had a flu shot last fall. My guess is that it isn't exactly easy to get the flu when you've had the shot. Someone has to work pretty damn hard to pick up those one or two odd strands of the virus that are resistant to the vaccine. Part of his job, naturally, involves frequent visits to hospitals and nursing homes. Some might be tempted to compare me to Lady Macbeth the minute I walk through the doors of a hospital, and I may be a bit obsessive, yes, but I am quite sure Bob visits all the time with nary a thought to washing his hands.

By Wednesday night, however, my annoyance was waning. I've known Bob for fifteen years, and I've never seen him so sick. He couldn't keep down any food, and he was in absolute agony. He kept complaining that not only did he feel like someone was squeezing his abdomen and holding it in a vice-like grip but that he also felt like he was being stabbed in the back with a knitting needle. I immediately suspected a kidney stone (my college roommate suffered from occasional kidney stones, and I knew the symptoms). He didn't tell me this at the time, but he was convinced it was colon cancer (some of his symptoms, which are too gross to relate, were eerily similar to those suffered by the poor young man whose funeral Bob had just officiated). He refused to go to the emergency room, however, so we waited until Thursday afternoon when he could get an appointment with our doctor.

Our doctor was somewhat mystified. He said it sounded like Bob had been hit by about three different things. He had blood drawn to be tested and did a quick urine analysis to discover a bladder infection ("How'd you manage that?" he asked, as bladder infections are so uncommon in men). He assured Bob that he did not have colon cancer, while noting he might have a kidney stone or a kidney infection (I was busy patting myself on the back for my brilliant skills at bedside diagnosis while being amused that Bob had jumped to the cancer conclusion). Bob got a prescription for an antibiotic, and we were told the blood test results would most likely be back the next day.

Well, the blood test results weren't. Meanwhile, Bob didn't seem to be getting much better. The pain was gone (again, not to go into the gross details, but we're pretty sure he passed a kidney stone), but he still had no appetite. Despite being on the antibiotic for two days, on Saturday night, his temperature went back up to 102.5. (He conveniently didn't tell me this until it was back down to a respectable 101.4 the next day, so opposed is he to going to the ER. I don't know what I'm going to do if he ever, say, chops off his finger while splitting wood.)

On Monday, resentment packed bags and left town, because I was being a terrible, inattentive host and had made the mistake of inviting worry, care, and concern to pull out sofa beds and unpack sleeping bags. The doctor called to tell us he'd gotten the blood test results and wanted to draw more blood to re-test it, because Bob's white blood cell counts were triple what they should be. When we saw him, he seemed mystified, because he'd expected with a white blood cell count that high, Bob certainly must have a kidney infection. However, the urine analysis showed no signs of that.

Well, anyone who has even had a passing acquaintance with hypochondria knows that elevated white blood cell count = leukemia (despite the fact that this is what the body naturally does when it's fighting off infection). Give a hypochondriac the Internet, and she will take it a little further, coming up with the following equation: elevated white blood cell count + fever that doesn't respond to antibiotic + abdominal pain + loss of appetite = husband dead from leukemia within months and despondent widow driven by her grief to the loony bin (oh, and she will completely forget the fact that just a few days ago, she thought her husband was silly to be worrying about cancer).

Luckily, by Tuesday morning, we had the new blood test results. His white blood cell count was back to normal, so the antibiotics were working, and I could banish all thoughts of leukemia. He had a staph infection. The problem is, we're still not sure why. It could be from a kidney stone, or it could be a heart valve infection. None of this is as serious as leukemia, but it's still serious stuff and needs to be monitored carefully. He had a CT scan on Wednesday, and next Tuesday (once the antibiotics have run their course), he goes to have his heart checked.

Meanwhile, he's beginning to feel much better. He doesn't understand why nobody wants him to preach on Sunday. He's complaining about lying around in bed all day. He's suggesting that, if not a run, he at least might like to go for a walk. He won't listen to me when I tell him he still isn't well, that we still don't know exactly what's wrong with him, that he still needs to take care of himself. Why won't he listen to me after all the care I've been giving him?

Oh, would you look at that? Leukemia walks out the door, and here comes resentment, back for what looks like (judging from the trunks) a rather lengthy stay...


bloglily said...

Oh, Emily! You've done a marvelous job caring for Bob, whose illness sounds very difficult to care for properly -- I'm so glad there's more of a sense of what's wrong and he's being watched carefully. Now, you just be sure you don't invite Guilt in to your house, okay? (Also, I am so blown away by how HARDY Bob is. Exercise is totally the first thing to go when I don't feel even the teeniest bit well!)

Feminine Feminist said...

Oh my gosh! What a terrible time you're both having. So sorry that Bob is ill. Bravo for you to being honest enough to admit how wearing it is... and that you have some serious things to work through in terms of the end of your job. Much love to both of you... S x

Rebecca H. said...

Oh, I sympathize. First of all, I'm glad Bob is doing better, and I hope he's perfectly well very soon. I do know what you mean about resentment -- I've felt that way often enough with Hobgoblin's headaches. I know they are bad, and yet it's hard to really GET it. Taking good care of someone who is great takes the soul of a saint, I think.

Anne Camille said...

Oh Em, I'm sorry that you & Bob are going through this. But, I know that you are not so resentful as to be uncaring and while you may not be Flo Nightengale, I'm suspect that you were a good caretaker for Bob, even if he isn't the easiest patient. But, it's hard being a caregiver when the patient isn't facing his own illness. Our culture places such pressure on men about not being sick that I think they make it worse for themselves and their families.

I hope that he does have someone who is preaching for him on Sunday. I will tell you what I've been telling the clergy at my church recently (being on the board, I feel that I have a little leeway in saying this to them, but they don't always put into practice, either): Bob needs to take care of himself, you need to take care of each other, and both should consider that 'day off' as a Sabbath day -- a day of rest and re-creation. In other words, this is not a day to run errands and do the laundry, or cleanup the yard around the church or the manse, or any number of tasks that he might find to do. He owes it to himself, to you and to his congregation.

I hope that the tests next week come back quickly and with signs of an impending recovery.

Anonymous said...

Dear Emily that is all so unpleasant. And I know exactly how resentment turns up for a visit in these sorts of circumstances. And poor Bob, too. When you are rarely sick it takes you by surprise, I think, and makes you even slower on the uptake to realise how serious the illness might be, because that sort of thing happens to other people. Which is just incredibly annoying for the person who might be trying to look after you.
You definitely should still have 'pay attention to me' day, so make sure you get it.
And I'm with Bloglily that you shouldn't start feeling guilt, and with Cam that part of Bob's responsibility to his job is to look after himself.

Susan said...

Dear Resentment: when you left Emily's house during the week, you came to mine, didn't you? Because there I was, with trying to recover from my back injury, and the second child home with the fever virus all week, and on Thursday I had a meltdown and said I was fed up with everything and could I have a day to myself please, to try to get better? It didn't happen of course, but as you left on Friday, to be replaced by Bad Mother Remorse and Getting Even (I have now succumbed to the SAME virus as both kids had), please don't be hard on Emily. She has so much to cope with.

I personally think you and Bob are due some Healing Time and Couple time - and I totally agree with spouses (men) who insist on running with a fever, why, oh why? Hope Bob feels better soon and the heart thing isn't that - send Revenge and Remorse far away, Em!

Emily Barton said...

Bloglily, I'm checking caller i.d., and if Guilt calls, I'm not answering. And I'm with you: any, ANY excuse (neighbor down the street has a cold, and didn't I shake her hand the other day and might catch it? Better take it easy) to nix exercise, and I'll use it. Bob, I think, is a born runner. He really loves it (unfathomable to me, as that is).

Fem, thank you! We still need to talk. I'm around all the time now...

Dorr, oooo, "St. Emily." I kinda like the sound of that. Think it will go over well with our parishioners?

MFS, yes, poor Bob. I think he's still surprised when he thinks about just how sick he actually was. Meanwhile, I am SO happy to have the (almost) normal Bob back. I say almost, because we just had an hour-long philosophical discussion, and he had to go back to bed to rest up (you know, he's usually just getting started after a mere hour).

Susan, oh, so sorry to hear things have not improved much for you. I hope that particularly unfair guest Bad Mother Remorse barely said hello and that Revenge has left the premises. Don't worry, I've locked my own doors. Life is looking brighter now, and I don't need anymore unwelcome guests.

Emily Barton said...

Cam, we are trying very hard to establish a "Sabbath" around here. This whole ordeal has really brought home the need for that. It's not easy, though...

litlove said...

Oh poor Emily! I HATE it when my husband is sick because it releases such a poisonous cocktail of fear and resentment and alarm. I'm a terrible nurse when it comes to physical illness (emotional upheavals and I'm right in there, fearless. Someone starts to throw up and I'm moving into college). This sounds like the worst kind - an illness that grows and grows in order to wring every last drop of anxiety from the situation. And what terrible timing on Bob's part. Naturally he doesn't want to go to the doctor if he assumes he's got cancer every time he's ill, but I agree - he needs to look after himself better for your sake, even if he can't bring himself to do it for himself. Very glad to hear that he's on the mend, and you need to be thinking in terms of REWARD right now, for having got through it at all.

ZoesMom said...

I think the resentment is completely understandable. Resentment and I would be very close right now if I were you. I completely agree with everyone who's said Bob needs to take better care of himself. And you need some time to take care of yourself and not be worrying about him. While I am relieve he is feeling better, I still worry about you.

Anonymous said...

When luck strikes it strikes hard huh? And you are right about hypochondria and the internet. They are both snuggly friends of my DH when illness strikes. I, on the other hand, become nurse ratchet and have a poor bedside manner. Unless I'm sick of course ;) And, um, blizzards in Buffalo? Poor Buffalo always getting throw under the bus!

Stefanie said...

I totally understand the resentment. Thankfully my husband is rarely ill or I might have killed him by now. However, when he's having MS symptoms it is almost as bad. I'll make a suggestion to try something and he will insist it won't work. Eventually he gets despearate and he will try my suggestion but by that time it has suddenly become his own idea and he is so happy about how it has helped and how much better he feels and how glad he is he thought of it. He is not the silent suffering type either and sometimes he makes me want to scream. So I can totally relate. I hope Bob is feeling better soon.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, I've been treating myself to lots of little rewards, and now that Bob is so much better, so has he. He's been wonderful, so I'm finally getting that "all about me" time.

ZM, don't worry about me. I've got my books and my chocolate and even my chocolate cake (discovered the Amish farm market sells delicious chocolate cake). And things are much better now.

Sara, oh you don't know how hard I had to fight Nurse Ratchet in the beginning, but I came around. Florence Nightingale gets much more praise and affection that Ratchet (but sometimes she's more effective when it comes to getting patients to listen).

Stef, I hate to say it, but how SO like a husband to give himself credit for your suggestions. He's feeling much better now, so all is well.