You said it in your vows and now is your chance to prove it. Your spouse is facing a major health challenge. When you are committed to a relationship, an event like that affects both of you. It’s scary, difficult and frustrating to become your partner’s caregiver. But it is also an opportunity to rise to one of life’s biggest challenges and prove, to yourself and your spouse, that love can triumph over disaster.
Being the caregiver to a spouse can be a hardship. As we all know, navigating the sometimes-troubled waters of everyday life is difficult enough. Life events leading up to and following a surgical procedure or a serious illness is much more taxing. It is a time to call on all your strengths and suspend some of your own needs to give priority to your loved one. This is sometimes easier said than done. When you are already stressed out by being a caretaker, this is the time when other things also seem to spin out of control. The dog gets sick, the kids have a problem or something major breaks at home and needs to be repaired. Concerned family members who want to help, will call or come by at inappropriate times and just can’t understand why you are tired and worn out rather than grateful to see them. Often, the patient, your loving spouse, doesn’t want to pay attention to important doctor’s orders. Instead, they want to whine, demand more Jell-O and hog the remote.
Your only salvation is to begin to develop a Nurse Ratchet persona. Remember the scary “caregiver” from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”? It’s easy to rationalize your irritation as tough love when it’s really an important warning sign that you are being stretched beyond your limits.
Here are some suggestions to keep yourself focused and calm while keeping the peace and insisting that your patient follow the doctor’s orders.
- Find a neighbor or family member to take care of the dog for a while. Both the dog and you can use a bit of away time so your spouse can have a peaceful recovery. If your spouse protests, keep the dog separated as much as possible so healing can occur. A dog who is eager for attention can really hurt somebody who is recovering from surgery. If foster pet care is not possible, grin and bear it. In my case, my spouse wouldn’t hear of it so the darling doggie stayed.
- Give yourself some time to just sit and have coffee, email a friend, exercise, or watch a favorite television show. Your spouse knows you are there and can ring a bell or text you if you are urgently needed. Make sure he or she knows your whereabouts. It’s even okay to say you need a break.
- Ask a neighbor or a family member to come over for an hour or so to let you run some errands or just be by yourself a bit. Drive around and listen to the radio. Roll up the windows and scream if you need to. It’s also okay to ask members of your network to take care of laundry, do dishes, pick up groceries, or do anything else that will keep your household chores to a minimum. Support is the best antidote for feelings of martyrdom.
- Keep a list of the do’s and don’ts for the recovery period. I recommend writing these things down on a dry-erase board kept where your patient can see it. Point to the key areas to be followed and make sure they understand why this is important. Sometimes seeing a treatment plan can be more powerful than verbal reminders.
- Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious food. Remember, if the caregiver is worn out, the patient will not be in the best hands.
And try to soften the Nurse Ratchet persona. Kindness, patience, and understanding are generally a better approach. One day, you may be on the other side and need a caregiver as well. So, model the kind of care that you would like to receive if the tables were turned.