Monday, December 21, 2009

In Sickness And In Health

I was beaten at the "which spouse is sicker game" this weekend. Anyone who is married knows this game - whoever is the sickest gets to do less of the work, take the easier parenting duties, and generally garner whatever sympathy the less sick person is willing to offer. The less sick person goes along with this, knowing that at some point, the tables will turn - it is one of the few times the Golden Rule reigns supreme. One of the first strategic moves, then, is claiming to be sick first. Just like calling shotgun, you've got to declare your illness first. The sticky part is when both spouses claim to be sick, that's where the negotiations begin.

I've made this handy chart to show, in order from least to greatest, the heirarchy of sickness.

Really minor injury (bad bruise, stubbed toe, removable splinter)
Single symptom (cough, sore throat, runny nose)
Multiple symptoms, minor cold
Multiple symptoms, major cold
Minor injury (slammed finger in door, dropped can of soup on foot, rubbed eye with hand that just chopped jalapeno peppers)
Fever + cold symptoms
Fever + chills + cold symptoms
Regular Flu
Swine Flu, Bird Flu, or any other Flu named after an animal
Bleeding in copious amounts
Pregnancy, first and third trimesters especially
Major injury (broken bones, concussion)
Organ malfunction

If either spouse has more than one of the items on the list (say, Minor cold symptoms plus minor injury) then the sum of the two illnesses will be taken into consideration. If a spouse has three items (say, Pregnancy plus vomiting plus stubbed toe) then the other spouse had better just give in right then. Especially if pregnancy is one of the illnesses, and you had something to do with it. Trust me, it's for your own good.

As simple as my handy chart makes it seem, in actuality there are many gray areas to determining spousal sickness preference. Who called sickness first, for example. How each person slept the night before. How obvious the symptoms are, along with how easily the symptoms are faked. How "tough" the person generally is, and how frequently they cry wolf over sickness. What fun things is the person willing to sacrifice in order to be considered sick?

One thing that should not be taken into account is whinyness. The louder person is not necessarily the sicker person. That makes things extremely difficult to sort out, since each person's tolerance level for the same illness could make a complainer appear sicker. If you are married to a vocal sick person, but you are more of a suck-it-up type, it's time to start being more vocal yourself. Unfortunately, you have to speak the other person's language, and a loud sick person is going to interpret your stoic silence as "I'm just fine, and I'd love to bathe the kids tonight while you play xbox with your buddies!" Even if you have children actively vomiting while you writhe on the floor in pain, DO NOT assume your spouse understands the level of your illness. And if you are the spouse reading this that says "Gee, I'm so lucky! My spouse can handle life just fine while he/she's sick. He/she's a trouper!" then chances are you are married to someone who has yet to learn the art of sickness expression.

Not that I have any personal experience with that. We don't even own an xbox.

Back to the topic of sickness heirarchy. Let's use a personal example to demonstrate. On Saturday, I woke up with a sore throat plus I didn't sleep well the night before. Ryan had some gas pains in his stomach. Both the sore throat and the gas pains would be considered a single symptom illness, but my bad sleep trumps his good sleep, putting me in the position of Most Sick. However, he clearly believed himself to be sicker than me, and did things like laid in bed, took naps, generally acted like a sick person. I, on the other hand, felt miffed that my clearly worse sickness was not being acknowledged. I mean seriously, gas pains? Gas is definitely a less impressive symptom, even in the single-symptom range. And it's grosser, too. I had a perfectly respectable illness, and there I was, grocery shopping and running errands and taking care of the kids.

By Sunday morning, the balance shifted in Ryan's favor. I still slept badly, but this time it was as much from the sore throat as it was from Ryan's flopping around in bed. At 6:15 a.m. I asked him if he wanted to go to urgent care, but he said no, he'd be okay. I got the kids up and out the door for church by myself. I wanted his help, but he couldn't help me. I tried to keep my resentment bottled up (the way all painful emotions should be, ha ha) and reminded myself that just two weeks ago, he did the whole Sunday routine alone while I gallivanted around Maryland. I could be the trouper. I came home from church to find him still in bed. At about 3 p.m., right about the time I wanted him to watch the kids so I could take a nap, he headed to urgent care. They sent him to Orem Community Hospital for a CAT scan, at which point it turned out NOT to be gas pains after all, but instead an inflamed appendix. He was sent to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he underwent surgery at about 8 p.m.

I farmed out the kids to some extremely generous neighbors and sat with Ryan in the various holding areas before his surgery. I held his hand and rubbed his arm and generally tried to be positive and supportive. This was, of course, to assuage my guilt. How on EARTH was I supposed to know that his single minor symptom illness was in actuality a Major Organ Malfunction?? Really, how was I supposed to know? My husband says "gas pain" - the medical community says "death's door." Talk about mixed messages! And here I was being all snooty, in my mind at least, about how much work I was doing by myself while Ryan got to lie around all day. Of course, he was lying around while one of his internal organs was blowing up like a Jiffy-Pop bag, but I repeat, how was I supposed to know??

Clearly my guilty conscience is seeking justification here. While it might appear that I am a selfish, uncaring spouse, rest assured that when the severity of his situation came to light, I did the right thing. Actually, once he decided to go to urgent care I knew he must have been in worse pain than he let on. And you know what? Until he was wheeled off for surgery, we had a great time together at the hospital. The kids were gone, he and I watched some Survivor, we talked and hung out and basically considered it a really expensive date. If you've watched the comedian Brian Regan's skit about visiting the emergency room, then you'll appreciate this information: Ryan was a 7 but they gave him morphine anyway, and the haunted choir in the half-room next to us was so loud we couldn't stop laughing. If none of that made sense, watch this video.

Ultimately, Ryan's surgery went well, he spent the night at the hospital and came home this afternoon. So far he's not in much pain, although he can't bend down or use his stomach muscles for much. And as for my sore throat? It magically got a whole lot better when the option of being the sicker spouse was taken away. Maybe I'm the one that needs to read between the lines when it comes to gauging how sick my spouse is. Or take another lesson in the Golden Rule.


Drake Steel said...

Great post Emily! What is this the year of sick people in the extended Mudgett family? Also isn't Appendix now a keyhole surgery? They make it sound so easy, painless and less invasive. Just 3 small cuts etc. Then why could my wife barely walk for the first week after she got the gall bladder taken out? (I really know the difference, my dad was bed ridden for a winter after he had his gall bladder taken out, but that's not whiny enough...)


Sarah said...

Fabulous!! I should have had this years ago when the hubby had hernia surgery. Could have saved me a lot of bottled resentment. Of course, had I thought about it, I would have sold the bottled resentment instead of storing it in my emotional food storage room.

Glad you're hanging in there.

rachel said...

I love how you rank illnesses. And I love the jiffy-pop reference!