So my husband was sick this past week. Right as I had to leave to speak at a women’s retreat. I don’t like leaving Jeff and the kids at the best of times, but I felt terrible that I was getting on an airplane and wouldn’t be able to take care of him; especially since he rarely gets sick.
We didn’t really know what was wrong. Painful body aches, but no fever. Malaise, but nothing really definable. Some nausea, but low level. But it all added up to him feeling bad. He just wanted to lie down and not move.
What he didn’t want to do was go to the doctor.
What is it with men and doctors? A woman at my event this weekend asked that question. A man may look like he’s on death’s door, but any suggestion of “let’s get you to the doctor” is met with irritation and what looks to us like stubbornness. A refusal to do what seems to clearly be the logical, efficient, thing: ask for help, get help, and get well. So they don’t feel so bad!
The problem is: men don’t want to ask for help.
Which is almost infuriating to us when we are watching the one we love be miserable. It certainly was hard for me, this past weekend while I was away. Just go to the doctor! I wanted to scream. Maybe you have a kidney infection or something and antibiotics will clear it up! Why be miserable for days when you might be able to avoid it?
As hard as it was, I had to remember everything I say in my books, and stop myself from haranguing him. I had to respect his decision that he just wanted to rest and didn’t want the “fuss” of going to the doctor. And frankly, I had to remember that in men’s minds, asking for help means that they are weak. And feeling weak is right up there with feeling inadequate or incompetent as the most painful feelings a man can have. The prospect of going to the doctor, for them, can be more painful than whatever the sickness is to begin with.
It often seems that men will make the calculation to go to the doctor only when the scale tips the other direction. Only when he feels it is truly “worth it.” Which means the illness has to be bad enough that it trumps the pain of feeling “I’m-so-weak-and-helpless-I-have-to-ask-for-help”. Which is why it rarely happens.
As much as I wished Jeff would have gone to the doctor, I had to realize that his reluctance wasn’t in fact a negative trait like stubbornness. It was just a different set of priorities. A different wiring. A different person. And as bad as he felt, I didn’t want to be the cause of him feeling worse by nagging or haranguing and telling him that he was incapable of making the right call. Sure, there’s probably a time and place for insisting “we are going to the doctor now.” But this wasn’t it.
This was the time for me to help my husband in the only way I could from far away: to tell him that I loved him and I felt so bad that he felt so bad, and to stop myself from beating him over the head. To stop myself from bringing up the doctor two or three times a day. Or five. To instead thank him for being such a good dad to our kids there at home, even when he was feeling so awful. To instead tell him how much I missed him and I appreciated him keeping things running on the home front. That, I think, was the best medicine I could give him.