When I was a kid, even a broken bone didn’t warrant my physician father’s attention. And bleeding gashes requiring stitches were simply attended to in the kitchen. All other complaints (obviously not requiring surgery) were highly suspect– with reponses like “hypochondriac” or “psychosomatic” or “let’s cut it off.”
Thus, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I learned to attend to my own needs for rest or comfort when injured or feeling ill. It was my husband who taught me. Actually, he did it for me. Poor guy. He’s the compassionate, sensitive type who should have never married a cold doctor’s daughter.
Because I just roll my eyes when he’s in pain. Like yesterday. When the stump of a tree that he was cutting down kicked him in the shin, and he came hobbling into the house. His face contorted in a dramatic show of distress and all I could do was sigh–just as dramatically.
“What now?” I ask, perturbed.
(Casey cannot use the chainsaw without crisis. Usually, it ends up stuck in a tree or broken. Once it “scratched” up his chest. And now this. He’s limping. Just days before we leave for a weekend marriage retreat at a “yoga” center.)
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say– or at least I think this loud enough that my disapproval is audible. “Have you elevated it?” “Iced it?” “Are you taking Arnica?”
This is the extent of my consideration. And it doesn’t really count because the whole time I’m oozing “inconvenienced.” We were in the middle of a kitchen pantry renovation which will now be left to me. And there are 3 extra boys in the house who I’ll now have to supervise, alone. There are also chores to attend to before we leave later this week and those are now mine as well.
(That is, “if” we leave. He’s worried that it’s broken.)
Despite the fact that we have treated 99% of our family medical needs through alternative care under the guidance of our Naturopath (including conception, labor and birth), my husband’s knee jerk reaction, to any health needs of his own, is to seek pharmaceuticals or go to the Emergency Room.
Doctor’s daughters don’t go to the Emergency Room. I try to talk him out of it. “I doubt you have any kind of break,” I tell him. Even though that’s exactly what my physician father told me– on two different occasions (at age 4 and 10)–and he was wrong. He also missed a college case of Mono.
But I’m better than my surgeon father at assessing loved ones. I’ve never made a wrong call. Like the time I refused to drive my husband to the ER in the middle of the night when he was hallucinating from fever. I used cold compresses and homeopathics and his temperature dropped in no time without those bright lights and hours wasted in the waiting room of the nearest hospital, 20 minutes away–where they would have been inclined to do a spinal tap to rule out Meningitis.
I’ve refused the ER on at least two other occasions too, and he’s always survived. This morning I distract him with a healing meditation that invites him to “let go” and “trust” that his body knows what to do. Three hours later, he’s asking for the ER again. “What about the meditation?” I say, annoyed with his flimsy faith.
He contorts his face in a demonstrative display of pain and worry, “I just want to make sure I’m not doing it any harm,” he says, hoping I’ll understand. But I’m just disgusted–with his childishness and my lack of compassion. I suggest the chiropractor.
Late at night when he’s sleeping beside me, my doctor daughter’s shield comes down. I realize that I’m not so heartless after all. I’m afraid. My husband’s vunerability threatens my world. It means he’s mortal and I don’t want to think about that. I imagine how scary it must have been for him to have a tree hit his leg and I think about what else could have happen. (I know he has too.)
I want to roll over and place my hands on his shin and tell him I’m sorry for his pain. But I don’t. He needs his sleep. Instead, I dream of Mountain Lions stalking my family, and I wake to noisy boys again.
24 hours later, we compromise. I let him call my father to check in. He catches my step mom during office hours. She’s a nurse, and she tells him the same thing. “It’s probably not broken.”
Next we try the chiropractor, but she doesn’t have any appointments. Finally he gets in at the Naturopathic Physician’s office. He’ll go to the ER if she suggests it. I offer a half smile. A truce. More amused than annoyed with his attachment to attention. And I stay home.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself and greater compassion, it’s this: When I take care of myself–without the kind of judgment that was dished out in my childhood (like I’ve dished out to my husband)–then I have a lot more to give. A few hours alone without a handful of boys should make all the difference. Hopefully, they’ll come home with good news. I’ll have a warm bath with Epsom salts ready and waiting–and a greater measure of kindness.
(To read Part II of my husband’s hurt leg saga, click here.
To read more about my life growing up with physicians, click here.)