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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Depressed spouses make themselves sick?

One of the most frustrating things I see in the hospital is when we have an older patient whose spouse just died and the couple had been happily married for over 40 years. We had one man recently who was a very successful member of the community even up until recently.

However his wife died a couple weeks ago, and then he became so depressed he ended up a permanent fixture in the hospital. He got pneumonia, he refused to eat, his medical condition deteriorated, he ended up on a ventilator, and he eventually made it back to the floors and continued to be a depressed mess.

I tell you I have the utmost sympathy for people in this situation. However (and I'm no expert in this area other than by mere observation as an RT), I wonder if they have their priorities straight. I know lots of people who were happily married, only to live on for many glorious years after their spouse passed on.

I consider myself happily married, but I sure would hope that if I passed on that my wife would go on with her life after the initial mourning process. I mean, I know their is nothing more difficult than losing a loved one (especially a child), but I can't imagine the one who passed on would want his best friend to spend the rest of her life mourning.

Being old and being fed up with going to the doctor, about being blind and deaf and having to tackle a million prescriptions every day is one thing. I know when my uncle Donald died recently, I was told he had simply decided he had enough, and then he got his wish a few days later. He was 92.

I understand that. But to be of good health, sound mind and body, and to simply give up living, to me, is a foolish thing to do. And, I might wonder, if that person didn't have his or her priorities in life mixed up. I rarely do this in real life, but I would like to ask these people some questions like:
  1. Do you believe in God?
  2. Do you place God ahead of your wife?
  3. Do you have children?
  4. If so, do you prioritize your yourself over your children?
  5. Do you have hobbies that you like to enjoy that you can still do?
  6. Were you so attached to your wife that her love was the only quality thing in your life?
  7. Do you have quality friends?
  8. If so, do you place your grief ahead of your quality friends?
  9. Do you not care that you are setting a bad example for the ones who still love you?
  10. Do you not think you are letting your freinds and family members down by giving up?
  11. Do you not care what other people think?
  12. Do you realize people feel sorry for you?

Sometimes, when I have time, which often I do here on nights (but not lately), I talk to these patients. I ask them, in an appropriate way (and only when they bring up the topic), the above questions, and sometimes I get them to participate in an intelligent discussion during the treatment. I get them talking about how wonderful his wife was, or career, or something.

And, more often than not, I get a smile. The reason, I think, is that, even while he is depressed, he doesn't want to be a stick in the mud; he doesn't want to share his depression; he understands that there are other people (like me) who still have several quality years of life left.

So they smile. And, I bet more often than not, they eventually recuperate. I bet most of them do. But, unfortunately, some never do. These people become permanent fixtures around the hospital and nursing home arenas. They are the ones who demand attention, ring their call bells every 15 minutes chanting to whomever answers the call with: "Get me this," or "get me that."

Those are the lucky ones. Those are the ones who are still willing to talk, because some of these individuals are so depressed they just lie there and sulk. I feel bad for them at first, but then after a while I wish they would just quit feeling sorry for themselves. I wish they had other priorities in their lives other than the one they lost.

I wonder if they do believe in God. I wonder if they do believe in heaven. Because, as I wrote before, I believe that people that have their priorities together are the best patients. In fact, I bet most of these people don't get sick and avoid the hospital altogether.

I'm no expert in this area, yet here I am just wondering.

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