When you stare at bedside monitors for hours on end, you become an expert on respiratory rate, hemoglobin counts, and oxygen saturation. Numerical differentials take on meaning that you think you can decode. But you can’t.
There were discussions about my mom’s fevers and intensive reviews of her chest CT scans. People drew sine graphs of heart rates for me. Why? I am a doctor’s wife.
I appear like I know what they are talking about. But I don’t. I just ask slightly informed questions. This is misleading, I find out.
I diagnose all my friends with various mental and physical illnesses. This, I assume, is why I have such few friends.
I absorbed medical lingo from the years of quizzing my husband for board certification tests, proofreading his submissions to medical journals and half-sleeping next to him as he directs care during middle-of-the-night calls.
So much so, that every December, I diagnose all the excessively coughing fathers, mothers and children at my kids’ school with pertussis.
When you are married to a pulmonologist and your mom has pneumonia, you earn hospital perks. Other than that, the joys of being married to someone with a grueling job are slim.
One quiet Sunday, I bought hummus and pretzels and the check out woman said to me, “My god. You are beautiful. You are Dr. Poch’s wife, yes?” Most people can show up in sweatpants to the hospital when their mom is in the ICU. I am not most people. As Dave’s wife, with all these cute ICU nurses running amok, casual wear and a make-up-less face is NOT an option.
She offered me an employee discount. She saw the pink sticker on my shirt, the one that granted permission to enter an ICU room and hoped that my Mom recovers. Then she asked her employee to wipe a table down for me because she said, “Lord only who knows what lives on those tabletops.”
“We just love your husband.”
“He is our favorite physician, if not one of our favorite physicians.”
“He is so funny.”
“He makes this place enjoyable…thankfully.”
These are some of the inflated remarks that I hear. Are they said to all spouses whose partners work 100+ hours each week?
My husband is hilarious; this is true. He is the only person in the world that makes driving to Home Depot with three children and a dog, humorous when it’s 90 degrees out and no one has napped. His expression alone will sometimes make me cry from laughing.
It’s nice to feel that the huge sacrifices Dave makes to be a doctor every single day make a difference. Dare I say it? It might be worth it. No, I didn’t say that.
I couldn’t bring three kids to the ICU and mind them and visit with my worried Dad and very sick Mom. Maybe people do that when they don’t actually know how dangerous and dirty those rooms are?
Knowing that Dave would be checking on my mom gave me great relief. And knowing the attending physician personally, also made me for once, appreciate Dave’s co-workers as dedicated people. They took so much time with me –-never rushing me, always being kind and honest.
The girls said they wanted to come with me to the hospital. This happens when this is your baby-daddy’s job is in the ICU. They have been there many times. Why? Sometimes, he wants to drive the girls to soccer but is running late.
Sometimes, your dog visits the ICU when, in the middle of the night during your daughter’s first sleepover party, your husband leaves and takes the dog with him (walking the dog with seven overtired children is daunting at 7am).
When I finally was able to visit my mom, I witnessed my Dad sitting dutifully bedside her. He watched my mom for days and nights. He listened to her. She was scared a few times the night before. He comforted her. I don’t know what I would do without my Dad. I need him to take care of my mom.
I don’t have the reserve of patience to care for her and my own children’s capricious needs at the same time.
I think often about the elasticity of the human heart. It grows to whatever size it needs to be. If you think you can’t love anymore, you do. If you think you can’t love your husband anymore, you do.
I heard my mom snap at my Dad. She said, “You’ve done your duty. Now go.” My Dad’s feelings were hurt. His response to me, when I asked him why she would say such a rude thing: “Well, sweetheart. That’s what you get after 54 years of marriage. I will be long gone, resting in peace when you and Dave have been married for 54 years. Let’s see how you speak to each other then.”
My husband witnesses a harsh reality every day. People hurting. People recovering. People being mean and acting scared. Dave lives this world.
I don’t cut him enough slack, for sure. It was a sore reminder with my Mom’s sickness, how impacting his day-to-day job is. Maybe I should make him a coffee a little more?
Note: My husband read this piece and immediately asked me if I was going to make him coffee.