I have the good fortune of having met my wife while working in the emergency department. She was an EMT/tech and I was an RN. She’s been exposed to healthcare. So she gets it on some level when I’ve had a bad day. She’s also been there when kids have died. So she got it when I worked in the ED too.
There are a few core differences to being married to someone in healthcare than to someone who works in an office with no needles or blood.
Let’s start with bad days. When my wife has a bad day…I mean now she works in management in retail. Stressful for sure. But no one walks in bloody and dying. My bad days have evolved from trauma in the emergency department, to insanity on an inpatient psychiatric unit, to a different sort of bad in outpatient psychiatry. I hear horrible stories of abuse, rape, murder, and often it’s not random. The abuse is by a parent. The sexual abuse or predator is a relative. They are horrific, soul-deep stories.
Over time I’ve grown a thick skin. And doing medication management for some people means I won’t hear the actual detailed story. But for my clients I do therapy with. Yeah I’ll hear it.
I also, even in the prescriber role, end up being the first person some one has told something. Often a kid. Often sexual abuse or physical abuse. They could have been in therapy for awhile, and for some reason, it’s just happened a lot, they tell me in our intake. I don’t know why. But it happens. Then I have to tell the parents. Then I often have to tell DCF. Then it totally backlogs my packed day.
So yeah. Bad days in my eleven year career have evolved from death and dying and abuse to abuse but in a different presentation. I’m not collecting the rape kit now I’m helping with the emotional healing after the rape.
It’s heavy stuff. Some times it gets to me. My wife knows. She doesn’t ask anymore because I don’t tell her. Obviously. I can’t. But she knows. She knows because I scoop up my sons and hold them and she sees the tears prick at the corners of my eyes. She sees me on my laptop until late into the night catching up on notes and billing. She knows I’ll put on something hilarious on the tv, or something that will make me cry so I have an excuse to let it out. I’ll pick up more hot yoga classes. I’ll make an effort to connect with a friend for a drink.
The bad days are bad when you are married to some one in healthcare and the recovery can be emotionally taxing on every one if you do not practice self care.
A couple other things: I have a high tolerance for bringing my kids to the doctor and I do a lot of self treatments at home. Which my wife thinks I’m totally nuts to do. e.g. An ingrown toenail. I’m opening that baby up, getting the pus out, and treating that at home. Rashes- unless it’s something I know is bad, we stay home and slap on some aquaphor. Head and mouth injuries- the boys have had a few- with lots of blood. Unless something is dislodged (like a tooth) or a bone is broken, we aren’t going. And the one time I went to an urgent care clinic for asthma that I tried treating at home- well I was taken by ambulance to the ED and evaluated by the ICU doc’s in the emergency department because they thought they were going to have to intubate me. I don’t mess around.
She can’t watch medical shows with me. I can’t tolerate them and she can’t tolerate me. Doctors never do blood draws, and nurses are sorely underrepresented, the whole situation generally just pisses me off. And I can usually guess the mystery diagnosis, which irritates my wife. So we don’t watch them.
I am a human lie detector. I don’t know if that’s a nurse thing, or specifically an emergency department/psychiatric nurse thing. Because all the ED nurses I know are scary and also are human lie detectors. So it’s definitely a thing. It means my clients can’t get away with a damn thing. Neither can my kids or my wife;)
I have interactions with law enforcement and attorneys regularly regarding clients. I’ve had high profile clients and cases and through it all at the end of my day I have to shut it off and go home and make dinner and pretend I’m normal, and that the case on the 5:00 news is complete news to me, not a case I’ve spent all day dealing with. After a day full of what feels indescribable and insurmountable acting “normal” just seems impossible.
Life with a nurse is interspersed with bad days, but it makes the good days that much sweeter. Because I walk with the worst regularly I relish the best. I give so much of myself to my clients that sometimes it’s hard to have anything left for my family.
But the days I have with them means I am present. I am there and I bask in the fun because I know all too well how quickly life can change. There is a darkness hanging over nurses, an edge, because we truly know that life is precious and we’ve seen people waste it, abuse it, lose it, and we don’t take our own for granted. I’ve seen people’s brains and insides. I’ve taken care of people who are murderers, rapists, and I’ve taken care of the victims. Those are things that can’t be unseen or unheard or forgotten. We’ve seen the worst of humanity in every possible way.
In Adrian Monk’s words, “It’s a gift, and a curse.” And it truly is. Nursing makes me smarter, tougher, kinder, more open and more educated. But it also makes me more cynical and more suspicious. Nursing brings out the best and the worst in me, and always pushes me to be better. I can’t speak for my wife, but I can hazard a guess. Life with a nurse is never boring, always a little unpredictable, and lots of fun- because for real, we are pretty fun.