The good thing about having this blog is that it puts a subtle bit of pressure on me to write about something I feel is worthy of a post on a somewhat regular basis. The problem with having this blog is that it puts—sometimes more than—a subtle bit of pressure on me to write about something I feel is worthy of a post on a somewhat regular basis.
New Year’s Eve this year came in with a whimper. Brian and I were holed up in a Hampton Inn in Ellsworth, ME, while Brian recovered from double open hernia surgery. Though he is now optimistic about his prognosis, if you ask him, I’m pretty sure he won’t recommend surgery as the very best way to ring in a new year.
The whole experience was strange for me, and I’m planning to write a proper essay on it soon. But, for several days, my world revolved around trips across the parking lot to the Walgreens, trips down to the lobby to heat up soup or to get coffee and cookies, and trips down to the front desk to ask to extend our stay. And I mostly just ran around like a crazy person trying to make sure I was staying on top of getting the meds and the food—and adequately staying on top of coordinating all the logistics.
In between, I launched into brand new relationship territory. I saw my partner at his most vulnerable. I moved, propped, and fluffed pillows, and I tried to help Brian into positions that would be as close to comfortable as possible. I tried to help him stand and walk even when it caused him excruciating pain to do so. I told him to breathe, and I coached him and routed for him as he accomplished the tiniest of tasks—things he had been able to do without thinking about it since he was a small child. And, even the little personal things that he couldn’t do, those too became my chores, like repeatedly emptying the small plastic urinal that the hospital gave us for when Brian couldn’t even get out of bed. Like I said—new relationship territory.
We turned on the TV just minutes before midnight, and we watched the New Year’s celebrations as if they were taking place on another planet. I hadn’t even bothered to pick up a cheap bottle of champagne because I figured that while Brian probably could have had a sip—despite the painkillers—I still would have paid money for something and then poured 95% of it down the drain.
Complications after the surgery had kept us in the hospital the first night, so our initial plan for a two night stay ended up turning into a four-night sojourn at the Hampton Inn, but on the day we finally left, Brian had progressed to being able to make repeated trips back and forth to the bathroom, and he had even managed two showers thanks to the shower seat I purchased at Walgreens.
Now that we’re back at home, Brian’s recovery has sped up. He still has pain, but he’s doing physical therapy and is back to most of his regular activities. Right now, he’s even clearing snow off of the walkway out front—something I couldn’t have imagined in those early days.
When I think back, those first few days were filled with fear and uncertainty. Everything closed in, and we could only focus on what was right in front of us. But, when I think about how we coped with it all—as partners, as a team—it was really just that we applied our regular strategizing and humor to a new and unfamiliar situation.
The strategizing was really important for us because I quickly figured out that Brian was unable to tell which actions were going to cause searing pain and which would not—turning every move into a sadistic game of roulette. Once I realized this, I started asking Brian questions about what worked better and what caused more pain, and we tried to keep track of the things that hurt him the most—such as having his legs dangle off of the bed. After a while, we’d plan out each activity together. When Brian wanted to get up, I’d pull back the sheets to expose his legs, and then we’d talk through how we were going to move him off the bed. We’d talk about whether or not he wanted or needed my help to walk. We’d talk about how fast or how slow we’d go. We’d talk through me moving obstacles out of the way—or stationing chairs in strategic places where Brian could hold onto them. Eventually, by talking through every little activity, we got to the point where Brian could more easily get into and out of bed, walk around the small hotel room, and could even use the bathroom and shower. It was small, but it was progress.
Another big part of our relationship is humor. Brian makes me laugh—a lot—and we joke with each other regularly. Sometimes it’s a way of flirting—even after five years together—and sometimes it’s a way to work through something. And sometimes it’s just that Brian loves making me laugh, and he knows that his silly impressions, puns, and bad jokes still make me laugh.
While we were at the Hampton Inn, Brian’s sense of humor started returning in those early days, and every time he cracked a joke, it made me hopeful. Sometimes he was only able to be funny when his pain meds were at their most effective, and he’d get grumpier as they’d wear off. But, just like the strategizing helped us manage to get Brian up and moving over those first few days, Brian’s sense of humor helped me know that I’d have my fun, impish partner back soon enough. It also helped to simply remind us that while this surgery was indeed serious, all indications pointed to a full recovery and us getting back to normal soon. Brian’s ability to start to laugh at himself and to find the humor in our situation helped to lighten our collective mood, release stress, and bring us closer together.
One of the reasons I think that people find real relationships so difficult is that very few romantic stories focus on unglamorous, mundane, and stressful events like helping a partner back to health after an illness or injury. These aren’t the steamy, sexy things one imagines while daydreaming, and blockbuster romances very rarely focus on scenes involving bedpans. But, when I think back on our 2012 New Year’s Eve in Ellsworth, what I mostly feel is pride. I’m proud of us for doing a good job of getting through a tough time, and I’m proud of us for getting through it with the same strategizing and humor with which we approach the rest of life. Sure, it was not as exciting and romantic as our previous New Year’s Eve when we wandered all around Boston, watched fireworks, and had wine and dessert at a fancy place near Quincy Market, but it was yet another challenge that we successfully navigated together.