I’ve never understood the need for people to keep secret their health issues. The first known memory I have of this happening in my life is from when I was about twelve years old and my mother learned she had cancer. The youngest of eight kids, everyone sheltered me and thought it was best that I didn’t know the details. I learned she was sick by eavesdropping. I realized she was dying by watching her deteriorate every day. But I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because they were all keeping it secret from me. It was a cruel thing for my family to do to me. I know they thought they had my best interests at heart, but it was the worst thing they could have done. When you’re faced with uncertainty and you don’t have the knowledge or the facts, your imagination runs wild. You become your worst enemy.
A couple of days ago I had this conversation with my husband’s sister. In two weeks she will have major surgery to find out if a growth is cancerous or not. Her husband knows, one of her daughters knows, and one of her brothers (my husband) knows. When my husband told me about his sister, he asked me to keep his sister in my prayers. He also suggested I call and talk with her since I had undergone a similar surgery many years ago. I didn’t know this was being kept a secret until my sister-in-law told me. As we talked about the turn of events and the tests that have led her to surgery and her fears about surgery and the unknowns, she told me it was so good to have someone to talk to about it all. She thanked me for calling but also asked me to not tell anyone else in the family about it. I’ll keep her promise, but I don’t understand the need for it.
I have three other family members going through medical crises right now and information is very difficult to get. One of my brothers-in-law has been having some heart problems for the last two months. He had three stents put in and has struggled ever since with intense pain. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want people to know he’s suffering, but in the meantime my sister is carrying the burden alone. She’s trying to care for him while trying to find answers to what is going on. She has lost confidence in the doctors and doesn’t know what to do. In desperation, she shared the story. First with me, then with one brother, and now all eight of us know about it. Yesterday her husband had more tests and my sister promised to share the results. We managed to learn that her husband is home and resting, but that’s about it. We’ve been calling each other asking, “Do you know an update?” “Have you heard anything?” The absence of news creates panic.
One of my nieces has been living a nightmare for the last two weeks with her husband. Details have been difficult to come by, but I’ve pieced together enough to know her husband went into the ER to be treated for kidney stones, had some kind of procedure done that required him to be put under, and in coming out of surgery and anesthesia something went horribly wrong. He coughed up blood and is on oxygen and the phrase “pulmonary edema” was mentioned. They have been in and out of three different hospitals for the last two weeks. She’s gone on Facebook to post cryptic updates, such as “Switching hospitals” and “We have no update.” This morning her update is “UNCLE.” All of their friends and relatives are leaving comments asking what is going on but no details are forthcoming. It is incredibly frustrating to know something horrible is happening but not knowing what. Her burden could be lighter if she shared it. We would find ways to help if we understood.
The third medical crisis I know of is happening in my own house. My husband started experiencing symptoms around Thanksgiving. He didn’t tell me he wasn’t feeling good and he didn’t go to the doctor. By April, I noticed he was taking a lot of naps on the weekends. Around Mother’s Day, he was awake only about two or three hours on Saturdays and Sundays. When asked about it, he kept insisting he wasn’t sleeping well at night. I had a long weekend over Memorial Day and realized in the course of four days he had been awake a total of sixteen hours. I forced him to talk to me about what was going on and, after I promised not to speak a word of it, he finally told me all of his symptoms, which included aches and pains everywhere but especially one of his toes. I pulled off his sock and saw an infected ingrown toenail. With all his other symptoms, I could see the tell-tale signs of diabetes. I went to the store and bought Epsom salts and we started soaking his foot, every night and twice a day on weekends for two weeks until the toe was healed enough to be dealt with. I convinced him to make a doctor’s appointment to get the toenail cut back and together we went at the beginning of July. Two weeks later he had a complete physical and blood work and learned he has hypothyroidism and diabetes, although he refuses to acknowledge the diabetes. He will only agree to the fact that his blood sugar is high. The doctor put him on two medicines and instructed him to change his diet and lose weight. With some prodding, I got my husband to agree to see a nutritionist and in that consultation I learned what food we should have or not have in our house and what kinds of meals I should be cooking.
Slowly he is feeling better. He still has a long road ahead of him, but we are taking it one day at a time. And still he refuses to talk about what is going on and forbids me to tell my family or his family. Even his two daughters know nothing about what is going on. I’ve explained how I feel this is so wrong, but he insists on handling it this way. He says he’ll tell them when he’s better. When I point out that he will be on thyroid medicine the rest of his life and that once a diabetic always a diabetic, he becomes belligerent.
One of my daughters still lives with us and she quickly noticed the change in diet and the two bottles of medicine on the kitchen counter. “It’s about time he went to the doctor,” she said. “Maybe now he can live again.” I smiled. My thoughts exactly.
I don’t understand the need some people have to keep secrets and to suffer a burden alone. This journey called Life is challenging and at times daunting. Sharing our experiences and lessons learned in order to help each other is a kind and nurturing thing to do. Why would you choose to walk alone when there is a hand to hold?