Physician Dr. Robin Schoenthaler once wrote in a Boston Globe column that, instead of looking for men who like those long romantic walks on the beach at sunset, women would do well to picture how the man of your dreams handles things when you’re sick. In fact, her recommendation for ideal husband material is a man who will hold your purse in the hospital waiting room.
It can be rare to hear in person from men about what it’s really like to live with us while we’re living with heart disease. It isn’t often, for example, that our WomenHeart online support community of thousands of female heart patients on Inspire.com hears directly from a real live male. But when Steve Kirsche of Wethersfield, CT stopped by to write about his own perspective as the spouse of a heart patient, I asked him for permission to reprint his personal observations here for you. Here’s what Steve had to tell us:
“When I had to select a topic to best describe the issue I hope to address I saw no exact match. There’s advice for other women with heart disease, but none for husbands whose wives have the disease.
“Martha, my wife of 38 years, developed breast cancer eight years ago, and after six years the chemo treatments she received all that time ago finally kicked in its most feared side effect: cardiomyopathy. * see glossary below for cardiac terms
“Her ejection fraction hovered around 20%, and two months ago she got great news that it is all the way up to 35%.
“But it still stinks and its been hard on everyone. My main goal is not to complain, but to give you ladies something to take back to your own life partners.
“Martha went from 100% energy all the time. We have four kids and six grandbabies, she has owned a successful travel agency for 22 years, been elected to our town’s governing body, walked 18 holes of golf all the time, was the family glue on all issues, and always was a very trim and beautiful-looking lady.
“I admit I still expect her to be the same, as universally people still tell her she looks so good and us guys are very slow to pick up on change.
“While always the last to leave a party, she is now the first. She requires more sleep than ever. She also has mild lupus and thyroid issues and is currently taking 20 medications per day.
“These medications are effecting her emotionally, and I found myself mad at her for things she never would have said before. It was a huge strain on our storybook romance.
“Shame on me for not picking this up sooner. Look at all the TV ads for the medications she is on. Heck, the first 15 seconds gives the benefits and the next 45 gives all the risks and side effects. It’s amazing this woman is functioning at all!!
“She has put on 20 pounds (in her words and not mine) – and it really bothers her for the first time ever being overweight. It doesn’t bother me, and I try to ease her mind a bit, although at the right time to show her I’m not treating her like breakable china, I tease her.
“I am learning to NOT react instantaneously when she appears to say something that would get me upset. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed, but I will get better and I will try to be more sympathetic. I will give her more of a chance to explain herself before going off the wall immediately.
“From time to time in conversations, her mortality comes up. She just turned 60 (we had a surprise party for her with 80 of her close friends and family that was perfect) and it’s still way too early to talk like that.
“When I think ‘Right, I know I can’t live without her’, I have committed to be the best friend and confidante I can be for her. It won’t be easy. I will fail at times, but I will try. Committing this to writing hopefully will help.
“So guys, let’s all stop looking at things from our historical perspective and be the men we should be. Our partners deserve it, and we’ll have them around longer if they understand we are trying our best.”
© 2012 Steve Kirsche
* Cardiomyopathy is a disease that weakens and enlarges your heart muscle, making it harder for your heart to pump blood and deliver it to the rest of your body; can lead to heart failure.
* Ejection fraction is a measurement of the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts; a normal ejection fraction is 55 to 70 percent.
* Confused about medical jargon in cardiology? Check out my patient-friendly glossary of terminology for those who have not yet been to med school.
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NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more on the importance of family support after a cardiac diagnosis in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).
♥ Are you a woman living with heart disease? Visit the WomenHeart online support community – it’s free to join!