Let Inga Tell You: Surviving the afflictions of the bad patient you live with
Over the years, my friends and I have come to agree that husbands, when sick, tend to fall into one of two categories. One group reverts to total incapacitation and needs last rites for a head cold. The other refuses to acknowledge illness at any cost.
My husband is in the latter category. He has always had a “Do not feed the lions” approach to health care. The less you tell the doctors, he maintains, the fewer procedures will be inflicted on you.
Please note that this philosophy, while working well at times, has almost killed him at others.
Olof has always been a truly terrible patient, but after his 2018 heart attack and head injury (he did a face plant into our armoire on his way to the floor), I found it exasperating trying to nurse someone back to health who was utterly uncommunicative about how he was feeling.
“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 has to be some middle ground between denial of discomfort” — the chest pain he claimed was “heartburn” — “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.
Such is Olof’s lack of cooperation in his health care that I have felt compelled to observe that if he should develop a long-term malady, I would put him in a home. Preferably the type you see on “60 Minutes.”
Here is an example of how it goes when Olof is ailing. There was an occasion back in 2011 that I noticed him limping. Badly. But he denied anything was wrong. Even that he was limping. Even after he fished crutches from a long-ago athletic injury out of the hall closet. His knee was significantly swollen, but he insisted he hadn’t “done” anything to it. He was wincing painfully and became perilously close to falling on multiple occasions, especially when navigating the two steps down to our bedroom.
I, of course, suggested ibuprofen and ice and elevation. Olof was willing to consider elevation but not the ibuprofen or the ice. Especially not the ibuprofen. That stuff isn’t good for you, he insisted.
Neither is falling on your head, I rejoined.
Olof’s theory is that if you take pharmaceuticals or other amelioratives (ice), then you don’t know when you’re better.
“Actually, Olof,” I countered, “when the ibuprofen 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.” (I used to be married to a doctor.)
But Olof was stoically refusing all treatment, including and especially a trip to urgent care.
He was immune to threats. “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.”
As Olof pointed out, he had had a similar affliction several years earlier, although that time with his ankle. He’d been worked up by our draconian primary care doctor at the time, Dr. No (as in no alcohol, no sugar, no starches). She had a particular vendetta against pasta. Olof loved pasta.
Dr. No sent Olof for X-rays and lab tests, citing a preliminary diagnosis of gout. If so, she informed Olof, he would have to start eating a diet rich in low-purine foods like coffee, bread, rice and … pasta.
Olof could barely believe his ears. Did the “p” word actually across Dr. No’s rabidly carb-averse lips? (We were so glad when she retired.)
Until the test results came back, Olof said, could I start making pasta every night? Maybe lunch, too? Which, by the way, only he can have? “You want pasta,” he added, “you’ve got to have your own gout.”
Olof was suddenly one happy guy. This wasn’t a bad trade-off. He loses a foot but gains pasta.
But three linguine-filled days later, it was determined that whatever was ailing Olof’s ankle was not gout.
Both Olof’s ankle and later the swollen knee resolved untreated and undiagnosed within 10 days. Olof insisted his medical philosophy had again been vindicated. If you just leave things long enough, they will either get better or kill you. Either of which is preferable to seeing a doctor. Never mind that the “kill you” option very nearly happened several years later with the heart attack.
And as always, he recovered much sooner from his various afflictions than his wife did.
Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. ◆
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