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When You Need to Take Care of Someone but Don't Have Any 'Spoons'

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This past March, my husband fell ill. Really ill. We knew something was up, so we went to the doctor that morning, then the emergency room, and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally at almost 10 p.m. we were called back, where a doctor did an examination. They did some scans and what do you know: My husband’s appendix was a ticking time bomb. They called the surgeon, who took him into surgery within a half hour of the scan.

He was nervous, so I comforted him. I called my mom who lives in town to come sit with me while we waited. I called my in-laws who live three hours away to let them know, and my father-in-law drove up so he could see him when he came out of surgery. And then, I waited some more. I have been to the ER many, many times as a chronically ill patient, usually for fluids, a bad reaction to a new medication, or sometimes even a dislocation I can’t get back in (anyone else think they should give out stamp cards? Nine visits and the 10th is free?) I’ve gone into surgery. But this was completely different. I wasn’t the one who was sick. It was my loved one.

For the first time, I experienced the anxiety and frustration of not being able to do anything to make him feel better. That was usually my husband’s job. My job was too be sick. I hated being on the other end of things. All I could do was sit and wait. He came out of surgery, no complications, and was told to be on bedrest for a few weeks. He came home and felt awful, as one does after having an organ removed. He couldn’t sit up by himself, or reach the side tables by the bed. And then I saw the bigger picture, the biggest role reversal: He was sick, and I had to take care of him. I set alarms for every three hours and 45 minutes day and night so he could stay on top of his pain medication. I got him water, food and pillows and helped him take a shower — all of the things he usually did for me. And for a healthy person, that is exhausting. But for someone who is chronically ill? It is nearly impossible.

My husband was patient and kind, never demanding or anything of the sort, and I could see how much he was struggling. So I pushed myself. I pushed beyond my limits, and kept pushing, until I finally broke down. I realized my husband not having any of his “spoons” didn’t magically give me more. I had the same number of spoons as before, except now I was stretching them, and borrowing all the spoons from the next day to keep up. I didn’t want to ask for help, I wanted to take care of my husband as he does for me all the time.

I thought admitting I needed help meant I wasn’t a good wife. But one day I broke down crying. My whole body hurt, I was fatigued, I had negative spoons to pull from, and I just sobbed in the shower, trying to figure out how I was going to keep going for the next two to three weeks. How was I going to take care of him when I couldn’t even take care of myself? So I asked for help. I called my mom, and she came over to help with some things like preparing food that could be heated later, doing laundry and the dishes. My sister and brother also came to help at alternating times, getting my husband water or medicine or helping get his laptop up or whatever, so I could lay down and rest. So I could take care of me.

I realized then that as a “spoonie,” it takes a village. You can’t do everything yourself, you are not a superhuman, and just because your loved one is ill doesn’t mean you are all of a sudden better. In fact, you will make yourself worse if you just keep pushing through. You will burn out quickly. I am so blessed I had family in town who could help me, and I am glad I reached out for help. I am thankful I realized I wasn’t alone. Never feel ashamed of asking for help, because those who love you will want to support you, and will be glad you trusted them enough to ask.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 2, 2016
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