This week my husband, Chris, managed to tear his meniscus in his knee by simply standing still. One minute he was stood watching Jonah on his skateboard, the next second he was on the floor writhing in agony.
I watched and waited, assuming he would get up, brush himself off and laugh – but the colour drained from his face and I knew from the look in his eyes, that it was serious.
Unable to stand up on his own, I ran to a local neighbour for assistance. Without hesitation our fellow campers flocked to help – each with an offer of a mobility aid. A kindly gentlemen by the name of ‘Bob’ offered to drive us to the nearby medical centre.
The whole family crammed into Bob’s Nissan Micra together with an array of walking sticks and a bag of generously donated Lucozade and boiled sweets. With a parting wave from the concerned onlookers we left with the general impression that they knew more about what lay in wait than we did.
Our first stumbling block was the language barrier. The Receptionist at the medical centre did not speak a word of English and we did not know enough Spanish to explain what had happened. With Chris perched in a wheel chair we lingered around the corridors looking confused until an English-speaking janitor told us we were supposed to be upstairs.
As we waited outside Dr Gui’s office, it became apparent that there was no queuing system, as you would expect in the UK. As soon as one patient emerged, the next would leap in. Those with a physical disadvantage could expect to wait all day!
The Spanish patients, obviously thinking they had an advantage over Chris in his wheelchair, did not bargain on my two primary values being fairness and bravery. I parked Chris right outside the doctor’s door and gave them a defiant look. Suffice to say we were the next in.
Our stony-faced female Doctor showed no compassion as we manoeuvred clumsily through the door. After gesturing wildly for our children to get out, she spoke only in Spanish and made no allowances for our lack of comprehension. She repeated herself louder, each time asking the same question. She looked at her watch in annoyance whilst Chris flicked through his Spanish dictionary like a frenzied Professor. Finally he gave up and just made a twisting gesture with his hands. She nodded, flicked off her rubber gloves, sat back down and typed ferociously on her keyboard, using only her index fingers. We predicted that her keyboard would not last the year if she continued to batter it so violently.
Dr Gui printed off a piece of A4 paper, handed it to Chris and signalled for us to leave using the same pointy finger.
We emerged none the wiser. What now?
We took our piece of paper down to reception. He nodded, picked up the telephone and called a taxi. We were off to the hospital.
At the hospital, we were guided into a packed waiting room with plastic seats and paint peeling from the walls. Chris was again placed in a wheel chair and manoeuvred into a space between the badly wired TV and the water machine (with no water). Lola, Jonah and I squeezed our butt cheeks onto two small chairs opposite a pale-faced man with a blank stare. We were told to listen for Chris’s name.
After munching through half a packet of boiled sweets and watching a horse give birth on TV, we finally heard Chris’s name being called, followed by what we could only assume, were directions to where he should go.
At Formula One speed, I wheeled Chris through the waiting room and weaved in and out of sick patients and concerned relatives until we reached a set of electronic doors. Although Chris protested that it was forbidden to enter, we pressed the red button and raced through, finding ourselves in a maze of corridors.
Nobody seemed to notice or care about my angry husband as we pivoted him around in his wheelchair against his will. His inability to move left him rather vulnerable to my haphazard driving skills. At the point of walking his elbow into a stone wall, he barked that we should just go home before we killed him or caused him further injury.
Thankfully as we neared the exit, an official-looking lady in a white uniform appeared, looking rather relieved to have found us. She took control of the wheel chair and disappeared with Chris, leaving the kids and I stood rather bemused.
Fifteen minutes later Chris emerged through some double doors, being driven at speed by the same women, who bellowed for us to follow. Chris mouthed the words ‘X-Ray’ and ‘Trauma’. We nodded and followed like obedient puppies.
Our hearts sank as she led us back to the depressing waiting room. It seemed busier than before. With very few seats remaining, the nurse scanned the room impatiently and directed Chris towards the exit. As she shifted him nonchalantly into position, she whacked his extended foot into the back of a chair making the whole waiting room gasp in dismay. All and sundry cringed as they watched to see what Chris would do. In true gallant fashion, he suppressed his roar and obvious agony; though what he really wanted to shout was etched all over his face.
An hour later we prepared to leave the trauma ward (not a moment too soon) heavily bandaged with a month’s supply of pain killers, 15 days of bed rest and an order to return to the UK for a possible operation.
Back at the campsite, Chris was not short of visitors, nor sympathy as all the ‘old folk’ gathered at our pitch with offers of mobility scooters and co-codamol (usually prescribed for their husband’s hernias).
Chris settled himself in the ‘garden’ on a comfortable seat in the sunshine and commenced his convalescence without delay. Other than the odd groan, he contentedly read his book, sipped his coffee and discussed his pain, discomfort and diagnosis with passing interested (or nosey) campers.
That night I cooked tea, washed the dishes, walked the dog, retrieved the laundry, ironed, made coffee and supper, put away the outside furniture, showered the kids, and completing the usual rigmarole of preparing the beds for sleep. It was the end to an exhausting day.
The following morning, with Chris ‘out of action’, I walked the dog walk, put away the beds, prepared breakfast, dressed the kids, fed the dog, washed the breakfast dishes, emptied the toilet and walked to the supermarket.
I was back in time to prepare lunch, wash the dishes, put away the shopping, take the kids swimming, make coffee, feed the dog and cycle into town to post a letter.
By the time I cycled back, darkness had descended but Chris was still sat in his convalescing spot, reading. He barely acknowledged my return – so engrossed was he in his book.
I prepared and cooked tea, washed the dishes, walked the dog, packed the bikes and furniture away, dried the towels, cleaned the van, swept the floors, prepared the beds and made some supper.
Chris and I barely exchanged three words all day.
As I watched him shuffle into the same spot in the garden the following morning, I was overwhelmed by a familiar feeling – one that often arises when Chris is ill…. RESENTMENT!
It doesn’t matter how hard I try to suppress it, or wish it away, it bubbles up inside until I am almost fit to burst.
It is not that he is ill, or in pain that infuriates me. That I have sympathy for. It is that, in my mind, he mentally ‘gives-up’ when he is struck down with any ailment.
Before we left the UK, Chris had a yellow sick jumper. I cannot tell you how I felt when I returned from work to see him laid up on the sofa in his yellow jumper – but I can assure you my first emotion was not one of sympathy!
That yellow jumper made me murderous! It signified defeat.
He would lay there, surrounded by a million rolled up, used, white snot rags repeating ‘Kids, your Dad is dying’ until they acknowledged his knocking at death’s door. Not even the dog could escape his wallowing self-pity…’Buddy, your Dad is ill…’ And so it would continue – until I would finally explode in a tyrant of expletives about the curse of ‘man flu’.
I often say that Chris has a tremendous capacity to recover quickly. I’m fairly certain that this is closely connected to him being married to an awful, intolerant and unsympathetic wife!
We regularly joke that I am ‘no nurse’. My defence often involves a debate about the difference between male and female pain thresholds (child-birth is always my trump card) and the existence of ‘man flu’. I find it fascinating that Chris dismisses almost all academic research as bias, other than one academic study that revealed that men do in fact, suffer more significantly than women, when it comes to flu.
After the third day of sitting in the same spot with his ‘I’m excused’ mentality I finally succumbed to the heartless, pitiless bitch within – the inner demon that so clashes with my desire to be a nicer person – and asked if there was anything wrong with his mouth, his arms…his brain.
Surprised by my sudden outburst, Chris was rather taken aback. As he quite rightly stated – it is a matter of perception. Whilst I was willing to make allowances for his knee, I was rather ruthless in relation to his ‘mental presence’. He viewed his disconnect as a way of staying out of everyone’s way.
Whilst we argued the toss, the heart of the matter was that I missed him. I missed his health. I missed his support. I missed his vital role in our family. I missed my husband; my/our enabler.
We are a partnership, and if one of us is not functioning properly, the other suffers. It is simple. We are a well-functioning machine. But if one of our cogs stops turning, it is not long before the machine becomes defunct.
And it got me thinking about how much we take our health for granted. When we say ‘I do’ to the vow of ‘In sickness and in health’ – how many of us actually anticipate a life with a poorly partner?
I am aware that we are talking simply about a knee injury on this occasion, but in 2007 I had a massive subarachnoid brain haemorrhage. I am just one of a lucky 4% of people worldwide to survive such a massive brain trauma and live with no ill effects.
Our life together could have been very different. At best I should have been learning to walk and talk again. With a 9 day old baby, it would have been left to Chris to care for me and our children.
And I know, with my hand on my heart, I know, he would have done it. That is why he is a better person than me.
Because I don’t know if I could. And that scares me.
I married a healthy, strong man. Not just physically, but mentally too. I said ‘I do’ to that man. But what if life changes? What if he changes?
I don’t doubt my love for him. Of that I am sure.
But I do doubt my own ability to care for him without resentment…without resenting ‘what was’ and fighting off the injustice of never getting it back. I am worried that love will be replaced by duty.
Life can change in the blink of an eye. And not all of us will survive the fall-out of such significant change.
Perhaps I should forgive myself for feeling resentment, or even murderous intent on occasions – Perhaps it is simply a process of mourning and adjusting? May be it’s not that simple. Who knows?
I hope, in time, I can surprise myself. I hope that I can live up to the vow I so staunchly said ‘I do’ to. I hope I don’t fail Chris, or any of my family for that fact, when their health deteriorates beyond a bad knee or a bout of man flu.
But I am a person with flaws, and that I know all too well.
As Karma would have it. I am sat here today with the worst cold I have had in 5 years. I feel dreadful. I am surrounded by crumpled up tissues and medicinal aids – as my wonderful husband waits on me hand and foot (with a bad knee).
His unconditional love exposes my inadequacies so brilliantly – he hasn’t even taken advantage of the opportunity to smugly win a point in this week’s debate. That makes him the better person too.
So our experience of the Spanish healthcare system has reminded us of how glad we are to have acted on our dream now; whilst we are still young and (relatively) healthy.
We didn’t wait for the ‘one day’ because we know all too well that that ‘one day’ may never come.
Don’t assume good health. Don’t wait for retirement. Don’t gamble on your future wellbeing.
….Oh and marry a bloody good nurse!