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Emails to my Therapist

Patient Doing Great; Caregiver Spouse Collapsed in a Worthless Heap


Dear Nicholas, Bob had his aorta surgery Thursday, got out of the hospital Saturday, and seems perfectly normal on Sunday night. In contrast, I’ve spent most of today on the sofa in a stupor of doze-snack-read-repeat.

Do not dare to suggest that I back off the sweets!

It’s a tiny example of what I’ve always heard about the wear and tear on a long-term caregiver spouse. But the four-day experience shouldn’t turn me into a flat tire, even for a day.

What I’ve Realized

It’s now clear to me: emotions are tiring,  perhaps especially when they are somewhat hidden from one’s self.

I knew this was not a high-risk surgery. No need to be freaked out about it. But there’s some of history of seriously scary moments in the medical care of Bob’s heart. I think the effect is never entirely gone.

This time I did not feel scared waiting for the surgery to be over. Both my brothers came to sit with me, and we had a fun time visiting. I didn’t feel worried. Not that I knew of.

Then the Buzzer Sounds

When the alert-the-family buzzer I’d been given signaled, I went to the desk and was told that the surgeon was ready to talk with me, so please go into the conference room to my left.

Conference room?


He couldn’t just come out into the waiting room and say Bob’s fine? We needed privacy for this?

Leaving my brothers in the waiting area, I went into the little room and took a seat. Minutes passed, seven or eight of them, I’d guess. I came up with a theory of what the doctor was going to tell me that would require a conversation but wouldn’t be too awful: such as, he’s doing fine, but we discovered that x or y still needs to be done. Nothing worse than that, I was sure of it.

However, at that point I was seeing my own heartbeat pulsing in my eyes, so that the room seemed to do a tiny jump about once a second.


The Door Opens

The surgeon steps in. This is the same man who, three years ago, did extreme emergency open-heart surgery on Bob and came out to tell me that Bob was alive but it wasn’t clear that he would wake up, there had been a crisis on the table.

Bob did wake up and, thanks to that guy’s skill and Bob’s general fitness, he has recovered amazingly well.

This time, it was a completely different conversation. Bob was fine, surgery went more easily than expected, he might even go home the next day. I’d be staying with him in the attending loved one recliner.

caregiver spouse

Different doc, roughly the same setting and surgical ensemble

The Room Stands Still

The conference room stopped pulsing. I said to the doctor, “Thank you, again.” He smiled. I was giddy with relief.

When I stepped out of the conference room, my 67-year-old twin brothers were standing just outside the door. I gave them the good news. They’d been out here trying to detect movement behind the translucent window of the door.  Franc accused Harry of trying to hear through the door. That funny and endearing picture–their caring so much–added to my glee.

Now everybody’s back home. And I could use a transfusion– of energy.


I have now regained just enough steam to tap this out, but not enough to go in the living room, turn on the TV, and watch movie stars get acting awards– and I love awards shows (who are they with? what are they wearing?) I hope my values aren’t changing.

I did think I’d learned to “be in touch with my feelings.” I guess I have, but in a such a circuitous way.

I’m hoping to be somewhat restored tomorrow.

caregiver spouse

Caregiver spouse

If not, maybe the patient can bring the caregiver spouse chicken soup.

Yours from the depths of my sofa,



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  • January 20, 2020 at 3:17 pm Reply

    Peggy, I am relieved to hear your good news about Bob’s surgery and only temporarily set back, I hope, by news of your deep submerge. May you be back to your energetic self soon! Also, belated Happy Birthday. I guess I was so wrapped up in my own birthday that day I forgot about you. Actually, I didn’t forget about you; I just didn’t speak up.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 3:36 pm Reply

      Thank you and a belated Happy Birthday to you, Moristotle!

  • Gail Waters
    January 20, 2020 at 3:18 pm Reply

    Oh Peggy, my heart reaches out to you today in empathic understanding of the journey you are on with Bob (I am therapist who’s worked with him at Holly Hill and glad he is doing well). My husband of 50 years has been having serious health problems since 2010 when he had quadruple bypass surgery after suffering 2 heart attacks in St Lucia——that is a story all it’s own. Anyway his kidneys have been failing for years and after having a pacemaker installed last summer because his heart was stopping, his kidneys went berserk and he started dialysis in Sept. last week they placed a graft into his arm to use for dialysis since chest port is not considered safest. All this to say that as his caregiver, every time he goes through one of these things, I usually fall apart about two days later, utterly exhausted and energy less. This aging thing is the constant acceptance of the new normal and I for one find that really hard because I hate being a blob on the sofa!!!! Sending you both wishes for peace.
    Gail Waters

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 3:35 pm Reply

      Bob sends warm regards, Gail, thanks you for your kindness, and supports your self-care and rest. Also, we’re so sorry about what you and your husband have been through and are going through, which is a whole lot. Dialysis on top of everything else!

  • Kenju
    January 20, 2020 at 4:37 pm Reply

    As a full-time caregiver since July 25, 2019, I can sympathize. I read this as I wait for Jim’s latest procedure to be over. He is having lithotripsy for a 3 centimeter bladder stone. Getting him ready this morning was hell and a half. If they keep him here overnight, the other half will descend. Glad Bob’s okay!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 5:09 pm Reply

      Writing this post, I thought of you, Kenju! My own wee taste of this experience gives me a mere clue what it’s like. I hope the lithotripsy goes well and that you both get to go home!

  • January 20, 2020 at 5:22 pm Reply

    This is not a “tiny example.” You’ve been dealing with Bob’s heart and the delays/complications in this particular surgery for weeks and months. No wonder you’re exhausted!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 5:48 pm Reply

      Thanks, Joe. Very thoughtful. It’s just that I know so many people dealing with so much more and I can imagine them reading this post and thinking, “Four days? Piffle!” Writing the post, BTW, was amazingly invigorating.

  • Andy Arnold
    January 20, 2020 at 5:55 pm Reply

    I was relieved to read of Bob’s success in surgery. I related to your travails as a caregiver, and wondered how my brother and sister-in-law were doing after ten days caring for me. My surgery was a bit complicated, but went well as far as I know. My recovery has been complicated by two opposing plans. Immobilizing my arm for the tendon repair versus aggressive range of motion to prevent re”freezing” of my shoulder. Physical Therapy has been scheduled through February 7th. Then there’s sleeping in a recliner…

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 5:58 pm Reply

      I think we just missed each other at Duke Hospital, Andy. I hope your shoulder has total recovery soon.And thanks!

  • Lee Grohse
    January 20, 2020 at 6:24 pm Reply

    Happy to hear all went well with surgery and that Bob is doing well. Total exhaustion is exactly what you should expect from this kind of thing. You’re doing massive unconscious work keeping yourself calm, reasonable, and supportive of Bob and others during what IS a highly intense situation. While the likelihood of a good outcome was very high and you rightly based your decision making, communications, and plans on that , it was all happening with the high stake things as the backdrop. What are higher stakes than major surgery, big medical center, heart/aorta, previous big scare, and the love of your life? You handled it well with composure and lack of drama, but what that part of you that is running things in the background was doing to keep you in that mode was damned important and hard work. Say thanks to that hard working part and give yourself all the rest you need. Good job, Bob and Peggy.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 6:47 pm Reply

      I like your description of the higher stakes, Lee, and the unconscious work. Beautifully put–and encouraging. Thanks.

  • Robert Braxton
    January 20, 2020 at 6:31 pm Reply

    twice, each after a hip replacement (spouse’s) – care giving is no picnic, my viewpoint.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 6:45 pm Reply

      For me, there have been nice aspects to it, Bob, but that’s only true after the surgery has gone well and the post-surg caregiver crash has passed.

  • Randee Bieler
    January 20, 2020 at 7:05 pm Reply

    So thrilled this is ok and sorry you had to live through it, but I find so much of the real truth and humor of being in love at the top of this long life. Congratulations to you (and me). But also, GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!! Thank you for this marvelous essay. Is there a way I can share it on Facebook. Wow, this is wonderful. Ox

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 7:15 pm Reply

      Yes, congratulations all round, Randee. And I like the idea that this is the top of life. I’m going to keep this in mind. And you can share the link on Facebook by clicking on the little F in the tiny box in the row of tiny boxes below the post just before the comments start. Thanks!

  • January 20, 2020 at 7:10 pm Reply

    Hello Gail, I remember you well and am so sad to hear all your husband and you have been thru – in a good partnership one partner often goes thru years of decline and caretaking of the otherr. I’m glad he has you and you have him for comfort and support thru it all, and I hope he’ll be of better health soon. I send you love and good wishes for self care. bob

  • Judy Lessler
    January 20, 2020 at 7:22 pm Reply

    Love to Bob. Spot on description. Your brief description of your brothers outside the conference room reveals so much about their love for you and family dynamics.
    Love, Judy

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2020 at 8:11 pm Reply

      Thanks, Judy. And Bob thanks you. I think you know a bit about caregiver experience yourself. I too was totally charmed by my brothers on the other side of the conference room door.

    • January 20, 2020 at 8:23 pm Reply

      Thanks Judy, We don’t cross paths much in many years, and I ofen think fondly of you.
      Love, bob

  • Kathy Roth
    January 21, 2020 at 6:53 am Reply

    So glad to hear that Bob’s surgery went well. And of course you are emotionally and physically drained! It’s time to give good care to the caregiver. Thinking of you both and wishing you speedy recoveries.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 21, 2020 at 2:31 pm Reply

      Many thanks, Kathy. See you soon.

  • George Wingate
    January 24, 2020 at 3:20 pm Reply

    I celebrate the health of Bob and of you. I celebrate the health of Bob and you! The elephant in the room is the stress on the care giver. ( love the photo!). That you can openly discuss the costs of love: good life.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 24, 2020 at 5:46 pm Reply

      Thanks for these celebrations, g! And nice thought about open discussion.

  • […] tried out saying the Mr. Rogers style reassurance I came up with recently for difficult days: “Day, I like you just the way you are.” It […]

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