Monday, February 04, 2008

Partners in sickness and in health

The whole dynamic between patient and partner is a demanding one.

I can never thank R enough for just taking all of this in his stride and being so brilliantly calming and positive about everything. His life got shelved by this whole thing too, and there was never a whimper of complaint. Apart from when he would say things like "If it wasn't for your right boob, we'd be...." but he was joking and our method of dealing with it all has needed lashing of black humour to wash it down.

And I know, from hearing about other people's experiences (both as partners and as patients) that it can't actually be that easy for him. And lately I've been trying to shelve some of the responsibility for dealing with me onto a few other shoulders, to give his a break. But he still soldiers on.

For one thing, he's always been very realistic about bringing me down to earth with some of my paranoias. If I'm convinced it's metastasised as cancer of the ankle, he's talking me down, sometimes gently, sometimes more firmly. But he's never ever been wrong (other than in the first instance of diagnosis, when I too thought it was probably benign, so that hardly counts).

But however firmly he sometimes has to bring me back down to earth, he always shows some degree of empathy, even if my fears are ludicrous. And if it's good news, he'll be happy for me, even if it was what he expected all along.

Which is why it surprised me when I saw a couple have quite a different experience at the hospital on Friday.

She was young with very long hair so my instinctive reaction was that she was there checking out a suspicious lump for the first time. I found myself hoping for her that all was alright.

She went into the Professor's office for the appointment before me, and left her partner outside. He started fiddling with his phone. A few minutes later, she bounded out, a smile across her face, and sat down next to her partner.

I'm clear! she announced, putting a hand on his lap.

He was still ensconced in his phone message.

I'm cancer-free and good to go for another year!

He grunted something inaudible in response, eyes still on his phone. Her cheeriness started to fade as it had nowhere to go.

It took five minutes before he sat up and paid some attention to the situation and that's only because they were about to leave and he was looking for a loo.

Now, I don't care how tough it has been on you matey boy, but please be at least slightly happy for your girlfriend when she sails through the annual test for cancer recurrence.

I mean, maybe they were a couple who had recently got together, maybe they'd just had a fight, maybe, maybe whatever.

I mean come on! Given how nervous I was feeling about my own impending clinical examination, I felt like smacking him for his indifference.


irene said...

Men do react strangely when having to handle a partner's breast cancer. My husband retreated into loud complaints about a stiff neck on diagnosis day. I ended up running after him that evening and feeling hugely resentful. Took us months to talk that one through, but it is apparently not uncommon. I think quite often they just don't know what to do with their feelings.

georgie said...

You've done well with R, AM.
To find a kind man, particularly if he's patient too.
In terms of your husband's reaction, Irene: yes, that's so common. Illness is threatening. It changes the dynamics, the expectations in a relationship and the role that each may expect to play.
I remember a long time ago when my mother was sick in bed with a cold or flu, my father would gather us children together and take us out in the car, leaving her alone.
I remember my mother coming home from hospital from some routine operation and my father going out of his way to take us all out.
I recall my mother saying to me
'surely you're not going too?'
It makes me sad to think of it and the fact that I didn't stay.
He was punishing my mother for being ill. It must have made him feel weak.

On a happier note, Irene, at least AM has R and she has the two of us too.

Boy, how lucky is she !

irene said...

Yes Georgie, Anne-Marie's R does seem to be a pearl amongst men to have around when ill. I'm sorry about your father's behaviour towards your mother when she was ill - my own father was pretty much the same, I think he became exasperated by it all. Younger men are different from that generation, I'm glad to say.

Ralph and I did sort our stuff out, with the aid of Relate, eventually. It was a bit of rough ride, but taught me a lot about the dynamics in our relationship, painful though that was. I'm not enough of a hypocrite to say I'm glad about that though.

But happy that Anne-Marie has such a good chap, who is probably blushing by now if he get to read this.