Does Being Sick Have to Mean Abandonment?

If you're a regular reader, you may know that my husband recently had hip replacement surgery.


I am now his caregiver. I am suddenly on the other end of things.

It's a role I'm not used to, save for when my children were little and needed me to care for them. And it's a role I'm not all that comfortable with, for whatever reason. Am I doing it right? Am I doing enough?

Someone recently told me that it's a good sign I'm working, since that must mean my husband is doing well. My answer? "Maybe it is a sign I'm ignoring him."

I guess I'm feeling a bit guilty and/or inadequate. I'm trying, I really am. But between my sick and aging dog who needs her twice-a-day meds and pretty constant supervision, working, preparing meals, food shopping, fielding loads of phone calls from well-wishers, doing the laundry, helping him dress... I'm finding it a bit challenging. Maybe it's that I'm trying to measure up to how wonderful he was to me when I had my medical issues, pulling it off as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Interesting how something popped up in my inbox the other day about this topic. And it's quite upsetting.

A study that examined the role gender plays found that a woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is the patient. Yup. Abandoned by her spouse for being sick.

Now, it's important (and comforting) to note that this generally applied to "life-altering medical illness," according to the studies' authors, not things like hip replacement. But still. It makes me angry. And frightened for women. (I remember when I had breast cancer, so many people enjoyed relaying stories to me of all the men they knew who left their wives after their diagnosis. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, running away from a sick spouse. Was I supposed to feel somehow grateful that mine stayed?)

Perhaps men are just not used to being able to handle the role of caretaker. Face it; most men haven't experienced what most women have: juggling numerous demanding roles within the relationship. Or maybe illness is just too frightening.

I apologize to those men (including my DH) who have lovingly cared for their spouses and managed to keep their marriages together despite challenging medical crises. That's a good thing for sure. The study found that longer marriages remained more stable, which is nice to know. But then again, this study also found that the older the woman was, the more likely her partnership would end in the face of illness. (I'll admit, that's kind of confusing to me - wouldn't it be more likely that people who have been married longest are also older?)

At any rate, I'm wondering about this caregiving thing. Why do you suppose men run? Why do women stay and care for their spouse? What types of experiences with caregiving and illness have you had?

P.S. If you have any tips for me on how to be a (better) caretaker, I'd love to hear them, too!

To read what HealthyWomen.org has to say about caregving, click here.

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