On the Side: August 2021
Understanding His World
“I’ll just sleep while it’s red,” I reasoned. At the time, this made perfect sense to my sleep-deprived brain. Happily, I woke up a few seconds later with my foot still on the brake and the traffic light now a lovely shade of green. I thought I was the only intern this had ever happened to, but I soon learned my husband had once had a similar experience. After a different long night on call at the hospital, he had been awakened at a green traffic light by the horn of the driver behind him!
Sleep deprivation is only one of the problems that plague residents and fellows on call in programs across America. I understand it isn’t so much of an issue now. A few years after our training programs ended, the practice of leaving residents on duty for 30+ hours straight also ended. A lawsuit in another state brought reforms of programs nationwide, after one patient’s poor outcome was connected in court to someone who’d been awake for well over 24 hours. It took a tragedy.
As a physician myself, who is married to a physician, I can understand or commiserate a bit with my husband’s world. Many of you may also be in the medical field. You may serve as a physician, an advanced practice provider, a nurse or as a specialist in some other area of medicine. I myself am not in the world of medicine anymore, but I understand some of what doctors are up against. And I think all of us who are married to physicians have to at least make a stab at that. In the long run, it will help us and our marriages, if we will try to do so.
Beside sleep deprivation, which is real and common, there is stress. Imagine you are in charge of taking care of someone who is very, very ill. Your decisions, no matter how big or small, are going to affect this person either positively or negatively. Sometimes, thankfully, the person gets better. Sometimes, sadly, the person does not. You may extend their life for a while, and keep them comfortable, and do your very best, but in the end they may still die. And you are left with that.
Now multiply that by a hundred, or a thousand, or by even more. Now you have a measuring tool to try and understand the stress that your husband, as a practicing physician, is under. Every day, and every hour of every working day, he makes decisions that either help someone or don’t help someone get better.
You may say, “Oh, but my husband doesn’t see patients every day. He doesn’t have to make life or death decisions.” You misunderstand. Your husband makes these kinds of decisions all the time. Anytime he interacts with a patient, or their file, or their labs, or involves himself in the decision-making process for their care; anytime he consults with the patient or their other doctors or team members, he is making or influencing decisions, which will affect the patient. That is stress.
Besides stress from his work, there is stress from regulations and paperwork. You will probably hear about this kind of stress the most, because it seems easier and safer to complain about it than the other kinds. “Mountains” of paperwork does not adequately describe it. Physicians’ offices and hospitals hire teams of people to deal with this stuff, so the physicians don’t have to, but still they are drawn inevitably into it, like a fly into a web. And, since rules and regulations often change, and are sometimes retro-active, occasionally your husband’s practice may be reviewed to see if it has kept in step with them. Even more stress.
In addition to all of these things, throw in a worldwide pandemic. But let’s not even get in to all that.
I remember being so sleepy one morning, after being up all night on call, that I sat at the nurses’ station trying to read a patient’s routine lab results. I needed to find out if his potassium level (K) was okay. I scanned the page, eventually found the potassium, followed the little dots across the page to the result of 3.8 and then further on to the normal range (3.5-4-5). Then I had the arduous task of trying and figure out if 3.8 actually fell between 3.5 and 4.5. After I finally realized that it did, I remember asking myself, “What is potassium anyway and why do I care if it’s within normal limits?” That may have been the morning I fell asleep at the light going home; if not, it was another morning just like it. There were so many.
Our husbands are rock stars. They do the impossible and the near impossible every day and they hardly ever complain. Why? Mostly for that old reason that drove all of them to medical school in the first place. They wanted to help people and felt that being a doctor was the best way to make use of their God-given talents.
What can we do to help them? Understand, at least in part, what they are facing every day. Be patient when they come home after a long day or two on call and fall asleep on the bed, while it is still made up! Love them anyway when they seem a bit distracted or distant. Listen when they have things to say. Make a home that is safe and loving for them to come home to. My husband hugs me every day when he comes home and tells me it is the best part of his day. I believe him.
God tells us, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22, NIV). Basically, we are just what our husbands need. Let’s intercede on their behalf daily before the Lord, asking for God’s blessing in their important work of trying to help people get better. Remember that we are the people, who take care of the people, who take care of everyone else. And if you do ever find him asleep across a bed that’s already been made up, just toss a blanket over him as you head out the door. He’ll appreciate it! Just as he appreciates you already and thanks God in his heart for all that you do. Blessings!
Sharon is a physician, and the wife of a physician, living in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska. Her prayer is that God will bless you and help you realize how important a role you play in your husband’s life. She asks you to remember that Side By Side is a great outlet for women married to doctors; so, if you need a little understanding or encouragement, please feel free to seek it there. She certainly has.