His & Hers: Couple tries to heal injuries you see and insults you don't

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller use this space to offer their views on everyday issues.

My name is Bob.

And I'm a selfaholic.

I have not been a good husband this week. It's been a horrible week, one where my cute and talented wife could be neither cute nor talented. When she needed me to be a rock, all she got was a dirt clod, a useless chunk that crumbled under pressure.

Callie had shoulder surgery last week. And things have not been easy.

I think Callie and I both underestimated what the surgery would mean in terms of pain and the limits it would present. I overestimated my ability to deal with a difficult situation.

I knew the week would be tough, and we brought in reinforcements. Callie's mother stayed a few days and then my mom stayed a few. They were able to take care of Dawson and let me work and tend to Callie.

Still, it was a tough job taking care of my wife. I had to help her dress, inching the sleeve up her arm (careful, ooh, ah, ouch, not so fast), part of an hourlong process of getting her washed up and ready for bed. I had to help her wash her hair, with my fingertips, she said, and condition it -- "work from the ends inward toward the scalp." I had to help her straighten her hair in the morning, an inch strip at a time, careful not to burn her scalp or her ears. I helped her with her medication several times in the overnight hours. I'd like to say I did it all with a smile on my face. But she saw them -- those flashes of impatience when she was trying to get her brace on just so-so, and we had to take it off and on about three times to get it right. The time I rolled my eyes when she insisted I hold a plastic plate over her shoulder in the shower so the water wouldn't hit it. Then there was the treatment for the rash, which sent us to the emergency room Sunday. An allergic reaction created a red patch the size of a large washing sponge over her neck, shoulder and down her chest. She heard the shortness in my voice when I told her I'd have to take her to the emergency room -- again.

Tonight (which is Tuesday), while trying to write this column (which started out much differently a few hours ago), the pressure got to me.

My work has been my refuge, my link to sanity.

The first morning without a grandparent around was miserable. I got myself ready first. Fed Dawson. Did Callie's hair. Woke up my fifth-grader son, Drew. Then Dawson spit up on me. I changed into a wrinkled shirt; helped get Callie's clothes on; drove Drew to school; heard Dawson scream the last half of my commute. A 5-month-old, a 10-year-old and a one-armed wife. What a combo. My office has never looked sweeter.

The rest of the day wasn't much better. Callie could only work a couple of hours, trying valiantly to do some editing and typing before the pain got to be too much. After taking her home, she called a few hours later and her voice trembled, as it so often has in the last week. Pain seems to like my wife. It finds ways in like water finds cracks in a roof.

She does not deal well with pain, which complicates the problem. Callie has had three procedures done within the last handful of years for different issues. She's had one painful condition after another. She was on bed rest during pregnancy. She gets bad headaches when she exercises. She's had multiple miscarriages. She's had a kidney stone, and now this, a surgery long overdue after struggling with a barking shoulder for quite some time. I've heard about all of the various aches since we've been together, hoping and praying that each would be the last. It never is.

Tonight's boil-over moment was perhaps the culmination of years of trying to comfort Callie and a week's worth of trying, trying, trying to be patient. I erupted as I have not for some time, saying things I should not have said, pounding fists against the table in my moment of absurdity. I find human nature puzzling. I would never raise my voice to a co-worker, a friend, a check-out clerk, a customer or even a person I despise like I did to my wife tonight. The person whom I love more than any other sees the absolute worst of me.

I think Callie views our relationship differently than I do, but I'd like to think we are emotionally intertwined. We know and love things about each other that no one else would know or understand. But I think that kind of relationship works both ways. We see the angels and the beasts within each other's souls. We can almost complete each other's sentences. We can predict with uncanny certainty what the other will do in certain situations that will drive us both crazy. And when our predictions come true, it pokes the bear within. She gets snippy. I start growling.

My moment came tonight when Callie interrupted my work. I had finally, finally found a sane moment. Dawson was napping, Callie seemed to be mobile, moving about the house, taking care of some financial things.

Then she informed me I needed to help her pay the bills.

I told her I don't know why I bother trying to get work done at home. She raised her voice. I raised mine. The night before I was in the middle of the same column when she yelled downstairs for me. She said she was in pain and needed me to hold her hand. I did so, and fell asleep, but I silently protested, knowing there was so much else I needed to do.

There have been moments, snapshots within the last week, when I have felt closer to Callie than I can remember. When I humbled myself, put myself in her shoes, tried to understand her pain and frustration, thought about what it would be like to not be able to use my left arm, to be a mother who can't hold her baby, to totally rely on someone else to take care of you. I had a new appreciation for my wife, not a pity, but a fondness I hadn't felt since our wedding.

Other times I fought myself, that ugly beast within, the part of me that wanted to throw tenderness out the window, get the damn shirt over her shoulder, tell the woman to toughen up and stop feeling sorry for herself and make her understand that I had a million things to do around the house and that I didn't have time to deal with all of her stupid requests. Like I said, I was a dirt clod.

Callie is upstairs now, sleeping I presume, and will probably wake up still miffed at my reaction.

She'll get over it. She always does, somehow. The ongoing question, though, is will I find a way to get over myself?

My name is Bob.

And I'm a selfaholic.

Callie Clark Miller is the special publications managing editor for the Southeast Missourian. Bob Miller is the Southeast Missourian managing editor. Reach them at cmiller@semissourian.com and bmiller@semissourian.com.

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