By Dana Brown Ritter
My husband Michael and I have been married for two and a half years, and we are in the middle of a big adjustment. Of course there are all of the things two grown people need to get used to after getting married. How you like the bed made, how you like your eggs, making sure no empty containers are in the fridge or empty toilet paper rolls are in the bathroom. But, on top of all of the little stuff, for us, was one huge thing: letting other people into our lives.
My husband is a C5-6 quadriplegic, because of a gymnastics accident in high school. That was many years ago, so obviously I knew what I was getting into when we got married. Well. Maybe my head knew — but my heart — my heart took some time.
I had some experience in the past of caring for my grandfather after he suffered a series of strokes. So, I knew I had caregiving in me. Michael and I dated long distance, and as we grew closer, he let me in more and more on what it took to take care of him. By the time we got married, I had done it all. Many times.
But after our wedding and honeymoon and the newness wore off, it hit me. I was getting up sometimes between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning so I could make sure he was up, stretched, bathed, had done his bowel program, was dressed, had breakfast and had everything he would need for the day. All of that had to happen before throwing some clothes on myself, taking a shower if I was lucky and starting my two-hour commute to my full time job.
It was too much; but I wouldn’t admit it. I wanted to be the superwoman that everyone was telling me I must be if I married a guy in a wheelchair. The truth was, I was falling apart. The stress did a number on my body. I started having weight issues, and my hair fell out. I was getting depressed.
So we tried having help come in. At first it was just a few days a week, so I didn’t have to do four hours of work before going to work. But I wasn’t ready. I felt awful about it. Often, I would lay my cell phone on Michael’s chest, kiss him, walk out the door on my way to work, and break down and cry. There were many, many tears on my part, and a lot of frustration on his part, because he was trying to be independent and help me by getting outside help.
Having to rely on outside help forced me to admit two difficult truths. The first was that my husband really was paralyzed and couldn’t handle his personal care. The second was that I couldn’t take care of him all by myself. I didn’t want him to need the help, and I didn’t want to admit that I could use the help. It was a matter of pride.
It took about a year from the time I first felt the real grief of my husband’s disability, to the time I was comfortable letting someone else in. I was helped along the way by counseling and my incredible, loving husband. Getting approved for Medicaid reduced the financial burden and my busy work travel schedule made having help a necessity more than a choice.
So, here we are again. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, his caregivers come. I set the phone on his chest, leave for work and eagerly await the text message “Up and at ‘em” from him.
As long as they take good care of my man, show up reliably, and don’t mess around in my kitchen or my personal things, I can generally get through this three-times-a-week routine just fine.
It was a long, hard process letting someone in — admitting that, yes, someone else can help care for my husband. Will they ever be as loving and caring about it as me? Probably not. Will they be as good at it as me? My insecure side kind of hopes not, but the smart, loving part of me hopes so, for the sake of my husband. I now find myself in a place where I am thankful for these people who come into our home and help my husband — as long as they don’t cut their hair in my bathroom or make my bed in some weird “hospital” kind of way.
Dana Ritter and her husband Michael share their experiences in life and marriage through their blog, www.lovelikethislife.com. Dana is a television news producer and primary caregiver for her husband. They live outside Washington, D.C., where Dana covers the White House for CBN News.