Let Inga Tell You: Life with the worst patient ever can be a real pain

“Fortunately, we had an old pair of crutches around” during Olof's recent bout with knee pain, Inga says.

What is it with men, anyway?

No, don’t even try to answer that. It’s just one of life’s imponderables. But obviously some anomaly in the Y (Why???) chromosome.

Over the past 11 years I’ve written countless columns about my wonderful husband, Olof, who is the easiest guy on the planet to get along with. Well, until he is sick or injured. Then he becomes the worst patient ever.

This was definitely true after his heart attack in 2018. We were 12 hours from leaving for a trip by airplane when I noticed with concern that Olof appeared to be in considerable pain. Not, of course, that Olof would ever admit that he was minutes away from a massive near-fatal cardiac episode, because that would make it much too easy for anyone, like his soon-to-be-formerly adoring wife, to actually help him.

When queried, he maintained he’d eaten a restaurant lunch that was giving him heartburn (he had never had heartburn in his life) and would I please not make a big deal out of it! He was fine!

To prove his point, he then decided to stand up (very, very bad move) and promptly keeled over, doing a full-force face plant into an armoire, suffering a serious brain injury in the process. For the first time, I wished I’d had a shorter husband who would have had less momentum on his way to the ground than my 6-foot-3 spouse.

The irony is that the brain bleed and facial and neck injuries took much longer to heal than the heart attack.

I confess that by the time he was fully recovered, I hated him. Yes, I know that sounds mean.

His neurosurgeon had released him home only if I would be constantly monitoring him for a specific list of danger signs that could indicate impending stroke or seizure. Or death. Trying to nurse someone back to health who is utterly uncommunicative about his physical condition is exasperating. In Olof Land, if you don’t admit it, it’s not happening.

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I said to Olof at the time, “but only one of us has a degree in nuclear physics. The other one is actually intelligent. And cannot keep you alive without your verbal participation.”

It was incredibly stressful.

“Surely,” I’d implore, “there is some middle ground between denial of discomfort and paramedics resuscitating you.”

Fortunately, he did make a full recovery, thanks to excellent medical care and his sainted wife. (That would be moi.) I even, ultimately, came to be fond of him again.

But I did feel compelled to observe to him that he was such an impossible patient that if he should develop a long-term malady, I was putting him in a home. And not necessarily a nice one.

Fast forward to October 2020. Olof is limping. Badly. But he denies anything is wrong. The next day Olof has fished the crutches from a long-ago sprained ankle out of the hall closet and is using them. He is wincing painfully and becomes perilously close to falling on multiple occasions, especially when navigating the steps down to our bedroom. His knee is significantly swollen. But he is “fine.”

No, he insists, he didn’t actually “do” anything to it. (Do I believe this?) It just got sorer and sorer. He’s sure it will be fine in a few days.

I, of course, suggest Advil and ice and elevation. Olof is willing to consider elevation, but not the Advil or the ice. Especially not the Advil. That stuff isn’t good for you, he insists. Neither is falling on your recently healed head, I rejoin.

Olof’s theory is that if you take pharmaceuticals or other amelioratives (ice), then you won’t know when you’re better.

“Actually, Olof,” I countered, “when the Advil wears off in eight hours and the pain returns, you’ll have a pretty good idea. And you will have suffered less in the meantime, never mind reduced a lot of potentially joint-harming inflammation.” (My first husband was a doctor.)

But Olof was stoically refusing all treatment, including and especially a trip to urgent care.

“Just so we’re clear,” I announced to him on Day 5, “I do not respond to medical emergencies after 9 p.m. So if you fall after that time, I am merely putting a blanket over you — a scratchy one if it’s between 1 and 4 a.m. — and leaving you until morning.”

After a week, Olof’s knee started to get better, and after 10 days it was pretty much fine. During this time he had never ingested a pharmaceutical or seen an ice cube. In his view, this was perfect vindication for his “Do not feed the lions,” “It will heal on its own” approach to medical care. Don’t ask, don’t tell and, whatever you do, don’t admit pain.

OK, not my philosophy. But from now on, you’re calling your own paramedics.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆