I got an e-mail this morning and could not stand to go another day without telling you my thoughts. Believe me, this question is not unique. Please read the following e-mail, and then I'll give you my response:
My husband recently had a severe flare-up caused by a herniated disc. He's had it for five years. Now it's in both sides of his body, from his back to his toes. He is using a scooter to get around. He cannot walk and is hunched over at the waist with severe pain. He is currently taking three meds: Motrin, Vicodin and Flexeril. They help very little! He has been seen by his doctor, and he will have an MRI plus physical therapy. Can you help him?
What this poor lady must be going throughAs you see, the e-mail starts with "My husband" -- and that's the first problem. Why is this man's wife the one who's searching for a solution? When I said that a health problem is sometimes harder on the partner, I'm sure I was telling many of you something you already knew. Those who care for a person with a health problem go through the same fear, anger and frustration -- they just don't have the pain.
One reason is that when people have been suffering for a long time, they tend to give up. Or the system just wears them down. Unfortunately, the more depressed the person with the health problem gets, the harder the loved one must work to find the Holy Grail--that one miraculous thing that will help.
What usually happens is that the loved one learns to adapt to the changes and accepts that things will never get better. That's why success is so rare.
Don't ignore medical issuesThe second sentence of the e-mail lets us know that this has been an issue in this couple's life for five years. The fourth sentence confirms that the husband has adapted to change and has allowed the system to accommodate his needs. The use of the scooter is a clear example of this. This man most likely did not just wake up one morning and discover that he could not walk. My bet is that this was a steady decline over a five-year period.
Do you think that if the husband had taken any initiative, he could have kept himself out of a scooter? I do. I've been in the health care profession for 16 years, and I have seen only a handful of back pain sufferers resort to a scooter for mobility.
In fact, the worst case I have ever seen was a 100-year-old woman who was bent in half from her rib cage. Her entire upper body was parallel to the floor, and she could not see more than three feet ahead of where she was walking. But she was walking. And she remained active until she died.
Find and treat the cause of chronic painAgain, it's my bet that when the pain first started, the husband was not on three different pain medications at the same time. Chances are, he went back to his physician and demanded more and stronger pain killers. News flash -- medications don't help the condition get any better.
The worst part about suffering with a condition for so long is that the husband has come to believe that his condition is so bad now that the only one who can help him is a medical professional. He has turned a deaf ear to everything the wife might suggest, which may be causing harm to their relationship.
Help others by helping yourselfThe truth is, there are a lot of people who could help him. But it's not going to happen until he first decides to help himself. Did his wife do anything wrong? No. Could she have done anything differently? Maybe, but it probably wouldn't have changed things.
It is also important to understand that it's natural for both parties to feel some frustration. The problem is that neither of them is trying to see things from the other's point of view. In these situations, it is critical to communicate your feelings to each other.
That's why I'm going to approach this from a different perspective -- one that people inside the situation often find harder to see. If this advice means more coming from an outsider, that's great. You may want to print out this article and kindly hand it to your loved one. Even if you don't, be sure to at least ask them these two questions:
Both of them -- and maybe even you and your loved one -- will continue to struggle until they find that one trigger that motivates or inspires them. Exactly what it is or where it will come from I don't know. What I do know is that the sooner they start looking, the sooner they'll find it.
A different way to think about medical conditionsRegardless of the severity of your condition and the amount of progress you are making, it is up to you and you alone to find the inner strength to continue. You must abandon the "What can YOU do for ME" attitude. Try to think differently, keeping the following two principles in mind:
Immediate steps to take in a medical crisis:
Please don't let five years pass without taking responsibility for your recovery. If you are suffering now, you will only continue to suffer unless you educate yourself and take action.
Regardless of the answers you get to the two questions above, your partner will now understand the pain you've been feeling without your having to say it. Sometimes, being honest with each other is the most powerful demonstration of love. I don't mean to minimize your situation. It may be extremely difficult for this man to live his life, but as long as both of you live expectantly, you can never fail.
Live better by taking actionNo matter how bad your problem is, there is a solution. So live knowing you will get better. Live expecting to get better. Live by taking action and not settling until you have achieved your goals.
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