A glimpse of the other side: lessons from looking after my sick husband

The past week has been an eye-opening experience for me. For once, I wasn’t the sickest person in the house! My husband was really unwell (thank goodness he’s recovering now) and looking after him has given me a glimpse of what it’s like to have a spouse with a chronic illness. His issue was hopefully not a long-term one, but it did mean he was out of action for a few days. Here’s a few things I realised about having a poorly spouse:

  • It can be lonely. My husband wasn’t up for talking much and I really missed him! It made me think he must miss me when I want to nap all Saturday afternoon? It’s never really occurred to me before. (Or perhaps it’s a blessed relief, haha!)
  • The housework becomes never-ending. I don’t understand how our house went from relatively tidy to completely out of control in a matter of hours! There have been so many tasks I just couldn’t get to this week. Having someone sick to look after shouldn’t add that much strain, but somehow it creates lots more small tasks like trips to the doctor, picking up medication and making special food. There’s also picking up the tasks the sicky would usually do.
  • Parenting is HARD. I felt like I’d lost my teammate while Mr couldn’t help put the kids to bed or sit and play with them. I was so exhausted from looking after three people I became quite impatient and shouty with Small and Tiny. I could see that they were missing their Daddy too. It was a bit heartbreaking to keep them away from him at times so he could rest. I had a fresh realisation of how they must miss me too when I take time out to rest. It also gave me a new dose of respect for single-parents – you are amazing!
  • It can make you really anxious. At one point we really didn’t know what was wrong with my husband or what to do about it. My mind was busy planning for worst case scenarios (which didn’t actually happen!) – what we would do with Tiny and Small while I took him to A&E, constantly checking he hadn’t overdosed on painkillers. I struggled to switch off and get to sleep or think about other things. Now I’ll admit that I’m the world’s most thorough worrier, whereas my husband is an eternal optimist, so I’m sure his experience of this is a bit different. But I like to imagine he does worry about me occasionally!
  • It’s really awful to watch someone you love in pain. I just wanted to do anything to make it stop. I’m sure my constant pushing of drugs and remedies was very irritating! I found it hard to relax myself, as in the back of my mind was the knowledge that he was really uncomfortable.
  • Sometimes you just have to get on with it. I mentioned above that I wasn’t the sickest person in the house. But I did still have a chest infection and felt quite unwell. It made me appreciate even more how well my husband cares for me usually in this scenario! I had a bit of a balancing act trying to get some rest while doing essential tasks so Mr didn’t have to. It made me realise that I’m stronger than I think – when the chips are down, I can cope.
  • It’s easy to become an island. I was tempted at points to batten down the hatches until the storm passed. But the fact is, I needed help to get through last week! I’m so grateful for my parents, in-laws and friends who took the kids and made sure they enjoyed the last week of their summer holidays instead of being cooped up with zombie parents. Apparently Small reported, “It’s sooo boring at home, mum and dad have been ill for sooo long!” Practical help is important, but seeing friendly faces and talking about other things is equally so. Illness can feel all-consuming and little moments of normality remind us that there is still a world outside.

Although it’s been a really difficult week, I’m grateful for the insight it has given me into caring for someone you love when they’re sick. When you have a long-term condition, you can get used to other people’s assistance as they become part of the routines that help you deal with symptoms. It’s easy to feel entitled to support, without realising the sacrifices that people you love make for you.

I’m so grateful for everything my husband does for me on a daily basis, without me even asking. In a way, it was nice to be able to look after him for a change.

3 Comments

  1. I’m sorry your hubby has been so poorly, but I can imagine how the role reversal has been quite an eye-opener. It sounds like you two are lucky to have each other, you make a great team! This also made me think, like when you mentioned the anxiety and worry, how my parents must feel a lot of the time with me, so it’s good to take a step back every now and then to see how those around us are affected. I’m glad he’s doing a little better, fingers crossed it’s a smooth recovery from here on out!
    Caz xx

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  2. This is a great reminder of how hard it is to be the caregiver. Generally I do most of the work with parenting, but when my spouse is sick I notice the few things he contributes really matter.

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  3. What a great reminder of all our caregivers do for us. Even when we’re able to do most things for ourselves, our families add so much to our daily lives that we may not even realize. I know I’m always grateful to have my wonderful, supportive Hubby by my side. I’m glad your husband is doing better; I hope he continues to recover and is back to his normal self soon.

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