Thursday, December 29, 2011

I do: In Sickness and In Health

I have always dreaded social etiquettes, particularly small talk stuff. More specifically, I dread how to respond to the simple query "How are you?" For a moment, I am torn between responding with the old cliche' expression "fine, how are you? And then diverting the focus away from me with anything, like "nice day, huh?" Or "How you doing?"

But for some 15 years now, since my wife became increasing ill, I have dreaded the question even more. "How's your wife?" From close friends or family who know of her illness, this scares me even more.

Should I just lie and say "fine", "she's better"? Or should I tell them the truth and launch into details on medications, side-effects, failed surgeries and treatments, incompetent doctors, and how hard it is to see her writing in pain 18 hours a day, and be unable to do anything about it?

With certain people, even after repeated updates on her condidition, I am shocked by by their response, "Oh, I didn't know she was ill?" "What did you say was wrong with her?" Don't they pay attention? I've told them a half dozen times over the past two years. Don't they know it hurts to be asked the same question again and again and have to repeat the same answer to the same person?

I know people mean well. They shake their heads appropriately. "Hope she gets better", "Tell her I'm praying for her", is little help. "Thanks, I'll make sure to tell her." I lie. But in truth, I almost wish they didn't ask. They innocently expect I'll say "Oh, she's better." But I can't. I wonder if they think I am making it up to gain sympathy?

I am so tired of the well-intentioned advice. "Oh, I was in a lot of pain a couple of years ago. I know what she if going through." No you don't. "I drank this tea, rubbed on this ointment, saw this doctor, and it went away." There is little we haven't tried already. The pain is worse, damn it. Name the med, we've tried it. Name the tea, she drank that, too.

Not long ago she got a phone call from a distant friend, who told her in a scolding tone: "You are still in pain? You need to get a hold on yourself. Get up, get out of bed. Do things. You are making yourself sick." My wife cried hopelessly for some time afterwards. If only it was so easy.

Obviously, this friend does not have to help me pick my wife up from the floor when she has dizzy spells and falls, or hear her moans of pain as she tries to walk across the room, or get in and out of bed. I know her friend meant well, but it did little to cheer up my wife, or to give her hope.

Ironically, some friends greet me and don't even ask about her anymore. Did they forget? Are they being discreet? Are they being insensitive? I guess they know what I will say already.

Chronic pain is unrelenting. It is mean, cruel. It is unfair. "Your wife is chosen by God", says one dear friend, "Her suffering will save many souls." But this can't be God's will. "All things happen for a reason". Oh yeah? I have heard them all. "Don't forget God performs miracles", they say in an attempt to comfort us. But there is no parting of the sea here. Instead, the sea deepens.

"How much worse can it get?" She moans in frustration. "Don't you dare ask that question", I scold her. It can get worse, much worse. I don't pray for miracles any more. God must already know we need one. I pray for courage to be her crutch, her support, but I am running out of what to say that will give her hope to live on. "Think about your kids. Think about your grandchildren. Think about the new baby grandson coming in April."

"I know, I know." She nods in tears.


V said...

I'm really sorry to hear what you and your wif are going through. I won't claim to understand, but I will share that I'm going through a horrible medical issue myself. I know a little about pain and suffering, shame and humiliation, and worst of all, about people being insensitive and downright rude. I hate hearng the same crap: mind over matter, you're making it worse, you need to do xyz, blah blah blah. If it were a case of mind over matter I'd banish this shit from my body. I'm not making it worse, again, if I had that kind of power, I'd cure myself. As for remedies, I just tune out if it doesn't interest me. Ok, sorry to vent here.
As for the question of how to answer mindless small talk; most people are being polite and, as you noticed, don't pay much attention to the answer. So you can either answer politely and they'll forget or answer honestly and they'll remember. Proceed with caution as I must confess my biggest fault is being too honest. But I can assure you that answering honsetly gets results. Social ettiquitte be damned. If it hurts talk about it, say "I appreciate your concern but I'd rather not talk about it." Or do what I do and say "Pretty shitty, actually." Tht one usually shuts them up fast. And if it doesn't, well, they're probably socially retarded.

Rick Rivers said...

Thanks V. Good advice. I broke my vow on silence, not to write about it on my Blog already. Never tried "I'd rather not talk about it" though.

#167 Dad said...

I'm not big on praying, but I just said one for your beautiful wife.