Dudley was livid when I saw him yesterday, and not for the usual, petty things. It seems Mrs. Dudley (May) had been hospitalized recently for a potentially dangerous, serious complaint. HIPAA privacy laws prevent me from giving details here, but Dud was truly beside himself over May’s own reaction to the event. While under Emergency Room care, May began to have additional, seemingly unrelated problems as the doctors tried to address the original problem.
Her vital signs, especially blood pressure, began to destabilize. She became short of breath and began to shiver uncontrollably. In the end, while being admitted to the hospital for the original problem she was also treated extensively for respiration and blood pressure problems. The resulting tumult, of course rattled Dudley to the core as he wondered whether he would lose her to the attack. Luckily, it turned out that the “side effects” she was feeling were the result of May’s own fears and reactions to being sick and in danger. Her mind told her body that things were worse than they really were, and the body reacted accordingly.
But now that she’s home, May is still being treated for the blood pressure and breathing problems. They were first psychosomatically induced, but are now very real medical challenges that must be addressed. “Damn woman wouldn’t listen when I told her ‘don’t worry, the docs have this covered’, and sure enough she made things worse.” I tried to tell him such things are common and quite natural when you’re frightened, but Dud wasn’t having any of it. “The trouble is: You people all think too darn much!” he said. “And I mean you, too. That woman thought herself into a hole that she can’t get out of and you all try to say it’s “normal”, or something. It’s like she can’t see the facts as they are and she keeps trying to think her way out of it!”
And in a way, I suppose, Dud’s right. May’s blood pressure, gasping for air, and even the “shivering” were caused by her inability to deal with the involuntary medical incident that brought her to the hospital in the first place. Fear of the unknown, even fear for one’s own life can be powerful forces that take over our consciousness and remove control from an already helpless victim. I told this to Dudley and he seemed to calm a little at being told he was right – a thing he doesn’t often hear. The trick, I told him, is going to be to get her to simply move on. She’ll have to learn to accept the medical diagnosis, adopt the recommended treatments, and otherwise ignore the subject altogether. May will have to learn to focus on the next thing in her life without tying it to the past experience in the hospital.
For example: The doctor said she would no longer be able to handle her present job. If she frets about that, the breathing and blood pressure will return to bad levels. Instead, she needs to learn to simply view that as her “old job”, and concentrate on a new, better one for her medical needs. Dud, of course, hadn’t gone that far in his thinking and wasn’t sure he agreed: “I don’t know about that! She loved that job and the docs should give her a break,” he said. “Don’t they understand she liked that job a lot?” “They do,” I assured him, “but if it’s harmful to her health they’re right in telling her to change. She’s intelligent and hard-working and loves to learn new things. May is much better off delving into a new career and new people than trying to make the old square peg fit into a new round hole.” (Dud really likes to hear me talk in clichés.)
Finally he seemed to relax and begin to rethink the future. He was still not sure how “natural” May’s response to the illness had been, but he seemed OK with helping her focus on the future. Dud isn’t really as unfeeling as he sometimes sounds, he just needs to be reminded that he HAS feelings, after all.