Last night I stood in my kitchen and cried.
In fully subsidised accommodation, in a kitchen kindly furnished by ACT Health, with dulcet doo-wop tones pumping through the Bluetooth, in hideous-cute pyjamas, in front of my loving husband, I stood there, and cried.
It wasn’t because I couldn’t see all the positives around me – those pyjamas are ridiculously cute for being so hideous. It was because I was struggling to validate my feelings of uncertainty and loneliness when I was in such a fortuitous position. Please, indulge me an explanation:
Surgery has been my husband’s dream since med school; there has never been a moment in our relationship when I was unaware or busy reminding myself – or being reminded by others – that someone with that much passion and drive would achieve it. He tells me that he wouldn’t be able to do the things he does without my support, and I believe it. I always knew it would be hard but I was, and am, dedicated to supporting him.
When he and his best friend got onto the training program, he cried.
Just a smidge, but the face was moist.
I made a celebratory cake and ate most of it out of a sense of vicarious achievement. I knew that this was one thing he could tick off as being a stepping stone to achieving his dream. The next time I saw those glistening beads was when our son was born in 2018. Again, an achievement so affecting and so salient that I imagined his brain-checklist stamped with another big green tick. My husband is passionate, driven and a planner, whereas I am more flexible, whimsical, emotional – more akin to puppy dog, if you will. Overeager but easily driven to distraction, passionate about my work and thankful for the ability to work from home, but often finding myself frustrated and lonely.
Being the spouse of someone who works full-time, overtime and on-call is, as we all know, not without its challenges. People tell me ‘You’re so lucky to have married a doctor’ and when I mention the hours they work the follow-up is often, ‘Oh, but it’s nice to have time to yourself, too.’
But sometimes it’s too much: you are reminded by family, friends and acquaintances how lucky you are to have ‘fallen’ into a lifestyle of at-home medical advice and soon-to-be lavish holidays. You are told that it will all be worth it when they pass their exam, when they finish their fellowship, when they are bosses, when they retire. To many of my non-surgical-widow friends my life is an extension of my husband’s training program – a checklist of home and life administrative tasks that, while I enjoy, I find comparatively little sense of achievement in. My surgical-widow friends would see it a bit differently. They would say I am lucky to be able to work from home but I worked hard to be good enough at my job to ensure that clients stayed via Skype. They would say it’s nice to have time to ourselves if we weren’t so unsure about what time our spouses would finish work that night, if we could be bothered to cook anything other than toast, if they would be home in time to see our babies before bedtime. And this is where we circle back to the kitchen.
In our fully subsidised accommodation, in our kitchen kindly furnished by ACT Health, with dulcet doo-wop tones pumping through the Bluetooth, in my hideous-cute pyjamas, in front of my loving husband, I stood there, and cried. I cried because I knew that these conflicting emotions – being happy to support and be supported by someone so passionate, driven and dedicated to their job, while also feeling alone and uncertain – is something I have to deal with until he passes his exam. Maybe until his fellowship is finished or until he is a boss or until he retires. The important thing for me to remember is that I am not alone – there is an entire network dedicated to ensuring that we don’t feel alone. And I cannot wait to learn more from the patient, brave, incredible people within the Australian Doctor’s Spouse Network.