A wife’s heart disease teaches her husband a big lesson

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

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.

♥   ♥   ♥

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote much more on family support (or lack thereof) 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 30% off the list price).

See also:

“You Look Great!” – and Other Things You Should Never Say to Heart Patients

Coping With Your Partner’s ICD and Heart Disease

When The Wrong Family Member Gets Heart Disease

Marriage Triples our Bypass Surgery Survival Rates – But Only if it’s Happy

Surviving The Crisis: The First Stage of Heart Attack Recovery

Creating a Coping Strategy: The Second Stage of Heart Attack Recovery

Handling the Homecoming Blues: The Third Stage of Heart Attack Recovery

Learning to Live With Heart Disease: The Fourth Stage of Heart Attack Recovery


♥  Are you a woman living with heart disease? Visit the WomenHeart online support community – it’s free to join!


12 thoughts on “A wife’s heart disease teaches her husband a big lesson

  1. What a great post! Which reminds me…

    When I first met my husband, due to various circumstances we spent many off-work hours together, as friends, in which I determined that he was smart, funny and insightful: a great guy, but somehow just not My Type.

    Some months later I fell to that year’s major flu: one that was knocking people flat for at least 3 weeks. And then he came to my apartment with groceries, poured me orange juice, cleaned my kitchen and made me a big pot of chicken soup. At that point I asked myself, “What on earth was ever so good about My Type?”

    From time to time, when faced with a major diagnosis/crisis, he wraps his arms around me and says, “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll get through this.” And we do.

    Let’s hear it for all supportive partners!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aaaawwww, Kathleen, that is so sweet – a touching tribute to a man who was not “Your Type” – but who actually is exactly Your Type!

      Reminds me of a brilliant magazine article I kept folded in a dresser drawer for many years comparing women’s attraction to the “boyfriend” types (like the dashing and slightly dangerous Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind) vs their dismissal of the “husband” types (quiet, reserved, dependable Ashley Wilkes). When we’re young, we may be more drawn to those exciting Rhett Butler types – but as we mature, we REALLY appreciate the trustworthy, decent Ashley Wilkes types.


      1. I think the Rhett Butler-Ashley Wilkes analogy says much about different kinds of attractions, though dear husband says a better comparison for him would be Stan Laurel.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, as always, Carolyn.

    Thanks for sharing Steve’s perspective. It’s good to let the spouses have a chance to talk about how our heart disease affects them, how they see and treat us, and more. Caregivers need support too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, Laura – caregivers and family members are often the forgotten members of the health care team while all attention is focused on The Patient.


  3. “My” Brian is just like “Martha’s” Steve.

    It’s great to hear about other fantastic partners out there. Yes, my Brian would “hold” absolutely anything I would ask or forget to ask him to hold. While I am fortunate, so far, not to have anything else inflict my body, I have cardiomyopathy EF25% (from initial 9%) from complete unknown reasons..i.e. perfect health, blood work, weight, exercising, non-smoking, etc. (you get the picture).

    Brian and I have been together for 4 years vs Martha/Steve’s great 38 years. I think I’m extremely lucky and grateful that after just a short time, 2 years at diagnosis, that Brian didn’t walk away saying this wasn’t part of the package/deal. Perhaps being in our late 40’s and a little of life experience(s) has something to due with it.

    Regardless, going from working full-time as a RN and hiking, cycling and active lives to some days being just lucky to let the dogs out is a huge change of pace for me. Brian is a recently retired Marine, and the snail pace that I have to go at, sometimes, I would have thought would have been a huge drawback and cramp in lifestyle. I’ll have to stop bragging about him so other gals won’t want to look up this fabulous man!! 🙂

    While my cardiomyopathy is more of just a “failure” vs disease/treatment-related, my wish would be that Steve and perhaps even “gentle giant” Brian could start a “man’s place” to chat about this “stuff” as they would call it! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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