Being sick is hard.
Caring for a sick loved one is a whole different kind of hard.
Working in clinical practice as a doctor means that one does come in contact with sick people and their relatives daily. It seems easier on one’s emotional health to just detach – to do ward rounds and clinics, be professional, empathetic if need be, and efficient in delivering medical care at the best standard possible.
That might seem feasible on paper, but it is almost impossible in reality, because we are emotional beings, every one of us. We are wired to feel things, and even in the most officially regulated and constrained environment there is still that emotional thread that get tugged on from time to time.
For me, observing relatives of the people I care for pulls that thread. My heart aches when I see their loved ones in pain as they try to grasp the intensity of the situation and cope with reality. To see them have so much hope that their loved one will get better, even though all evidence points in the opposite direction, is a beautiful yet heartbreaking thing. To see them cry as they watch the person they knew as healthy and bubbly become a shadow of what they once were, is a pain and an ache that cannot even be put into words.
Sometime during my first week I had to perform a procedure for a woman who had recently become paraplegic. A paraplegic person has lost the ability to move both legs. Unfortunately, that condition can be accompanied by other extras, like loss of control over both urination and defeacation. For this middle-aged woman, that was the case. From the first time I saw her, and through every contact I had with this lady, her husband was right by her side.
Midway through the procedure, she began to cry, from what I could sense as as tears of despair. Husband was having none of it. He told her he was going to leave the room if her tears kept streaming.
“Why are you saying you will leave if I keep crying? Didn’t you say you would stay by my side, for better or for worse?” Those words left her mouth, and almost broke me. Obviously I did my thing and left like I did not hear a word of what transpired between them, but I kept replaying that touching scene in my head for days.
It’s easy to judge the husband and stick up your nose at what he said, but being in the position of primary caregiver to a sick loved one who needs a lot of assistance – and would probably need that much assistance for the rest of their life – can drive one into despair and hopelessness. They try to be strong and do the best they can, but the glum reality keeps staring them in the face. Like the humans they are, the be-tough-and-stay-strong shell cracks too.
That woman was correct. In true love it actually IS for better and for worse. For some, it is sworn in front of God, a spouse, a priest and both families on wedding day. For others, you don’t need to. Knowing them as your mother, father, brother, sister already seals the deal. It’s in these times when you realise that love is much deeper than the feelings. Love is an intentional decision. When you decide to love, you decide to stay.
My heart will always go out to those who are primary caregivers of sick relatives or friends. It takes strength, courage and a whole lot of love to go through such an emotionally draining experience.
To anyone reading who is in this situation, it’s okay to cry. I know you want to be a beacon of strength, but you’re hurting as they’re hurting, so take some time for yourself and cry. Cry to yourself. Cry to God. You’re giving so much of yourself to take care of your loved one which is not a bad thing, but it inadvertently leaves your emotional and physical tank almost empty. Please try to take of yourself too. Eat. Talk with someone you trust. Pray. Take a walk. Sleep. Lest you become a patient too.
If you know someone in this position, please check in as often as you can. Make them laugh. Pray with them. Pray for them. Because it is tough.
Of course no one wishes for these misfortunes to befall them, but in the event that they do, what will you do? What is your translation of “I love you”? Is it only to be present when things are rosy and check out when they get hazy? Or does your “I love you” mean “I will stay through the merry highs and the gloomy lows”?