I have such lofty ideals. I imagine myself as a caregiver who wafts in and out of the sickroom with a kind-of angelic glow. A serene Florence Nightingale type, dripping with kindness, patience and love.
But I’m not!
A fortnight ago, my husband underwent a surgical procedure. I was so worried something would go terribly wrong and I’d be widowed. Thankfully, everything went swimmingly and I was so happy when I was finally allowed to see Rhys again after the procedure.
My Florence Nightingale aspirations were firmly in place and I was determined to keep my halo aglow while I nursed him back to health. But within ten minutes of leaving the hospital, I wanted to scream. Swear words formed silently.
‘I thought you loved him!’ my internal critic screamed. ‘I thought you wanted him to live to love another day. And here he is, barely off the operating table, and you’re already swearing at him in your head! That isn’t love. You don’t love him! Do you wish he’d died on the operating table!?’
Most of my life, I’ve uncritically accepted these mental lacerations. But not this time. This time, I started to really look at them. Pick them apart. You know what I found?
A load of tripe. Florence Nightingale, I ain’t. Pollyanna, I ain’t. Cinderella, I ain’t. I’m just a little girl from Cardiff trying her best to single-handedly care for a man incapacitated by excruciating pain.
I had expected Rhys to come out of anaesthesia and be somewhat alert. I’d expected him to sip politely on a chocolated malted on the way home, go straight to bed and sleep peacefully.
Instead, Rhys could not wake up. He fell asleep while the doctor was talking. He fell asleep when he was supposed to be drinking his apple juice and accused me of nickin’ it when I caught it just before it spilled. He fell asleep when he was supposed to be getting dressed to go home. I just couldn’t shift him! The nurse finally dragged him, complaining and groaning loudly, to his feet with brute force.
Then Rhys demanded a burger and chips. After all our agreements of ‘soft foods only for a few days’ he demanded a freekin’ burger full well knowing he’d suffer for it later (and he did).
‘F-ck you!’ I thought in fatigue and frustration…and felt instantly guilty. ‘Aren’t you glad he’s okay? How could you even think F-U at the man you’re so glad to have safe and sound? Or don’t you love him or want him anymore?’
Well, I’m not Florence Bloody Nightingale and Rhys is certainly not a model patient. I’m just one very tired wife on call 24/7 using a freeking white board to keep track of everything: regular meds, pain meds, water, coffee, soup, malts, protein drinks, emptying urinals, stool softeners, bowel movements, ice packs, cough drops, remote controls, entertainment, liniment, blankets, pillows and watching his chest rise and fall with each painful breath, fighting not to sleep myself, while he keeps up a constant loud chorus of ‘ow, ow, ow, ow, ow’ interspersed with enough swear words to make a sailor blush!
I’ve said a few (okay, many!) of those words myself! But, regardless of how I felt or what I thought or said, I’m taking as good care of Rhys as I know how to take. I may not glow or glide or have a halo, but his water is cold, his soup hot and his pain meds delivered right on schedule and, about 95% of the time, with a smile…even at 2 a.m.
As long as Rhys recovers with all his needs met, I’ll consider myself a success as a caregiver. As long as I keep my mouth buttoned shut, I may secretly be a swearing, cussing, overworked, frustrated, angry, exhausted caregiver, but I’m a success nonetheless.
Photo by The Library of Congress