Thursday, January 3, 2013

This Relationship Corner: The Major Procedure

What's the difference between a minor and major surgical procedure? The major procedure is what happens to you. That's how I feel when I have to go to the doctor or when my wife has to endure anything medical at all. A while back she went in for an outpatient procedure at the hospital. She was in and out that day, but it was still pretty major in my book. Fortunately everything went as well as it could have, and she is feeling so much better now.

This is a moment that can be a proving ground for relationships. I've written before about caring for your significant when they are sick, but that's nothing compared to supporting them through a surgical procedure. If there is one big rule in relationships, one commandment that should be written in stone, it's that when surgery is involved, you first priority is your partner.

This is what relationships are built for, seeing each other through some of the scariest moments in our lives. You never know how you'll react when it happens to you, when you are signing paperwork acknowledging the risks of general anesthesia and releasing the hospital from all liability. That's why you need the emotional support of your significant other.

When you've never had to offer this kind of support, it can be hard to figure out what to do. Everyone is different and has different needs during these stressful times. I can't cover all possibilities, but what I can offer are some simple general guidelines that you can rely upon. Follow these rules and the rest will take care of itself.

The most important rule is this: it's not about you. Put your ego aside, because your one and only concern is your partner. Everything else is secondary, and everyone else will just have to take a backseat that day. Your partner has just one job, make it through the procedure. That means everything else is your job and nothing else in your life that day is nearly as important. Whether it's getting them there and back home, filling out paperwork, holding their hand before and after the procedure, you need to be there for anything they need.

You don't get to complain that day. There is no problem in your life that day that's at all relevant or important. You have to pause everything and focus on what matters. The last thing you want to do is constantly gripe about missing work, the game, or time with your friends. The worst thing you can do is make your partner feel bad for inconveniencing you by having to have surgery. If anyone gets to gripe about convenience, it's the person about to go under. Your job is to make their time easier.

One of the benefits of relationships is emotional health. Being a comforting presence can reduce stress and make people physically healthier, and this also applies to surgery. Whether it's making sure the patient is as relaxed as possible before the procedure, or ensuring a stress-free recovery, you being there can make all the difference in how well it goes.

You don't want them to be stressed out as they go through this, which is why you not only need to be there, you need to be strong for them. Inside you might be worried, scared out of your mind, and that's normal. Having to leave the room when they wheeled my wife into surgery was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, but I had to keep it to myself and be strong. I wasn't the one lying in the bed with an IV. I wasn't getting all the awesome anesthesia. (Which I'm kind of envious about because apparently it's good stuff.) My wife was facing this, not me, so I didn't get the luxury of freaking out.

That's your burden to bear when your partner is facing a procedure. It doesn't mean that you can't find someone to help you through it, reach out for emotional support if you need it. If you need some friends or family to be there for you as you wait, that's fine. You can lean on everyone else except your significant other. They need to be able to lean on you. You need to be the one to provide comfort and reassurance, even if you have to fake it on a cosmically epic scale.

Cancer patients often tell stories about having to comfort the people who visit them. The patient has come to terms with the cancer, it's the visitor who freaks out about it. It's an understandable reaction, but having a breakdown is not helping the person you visit. The same is true when you are there for your partner. It's going to be an emotional time for both of you, and you need to keep yours in check and focus on theirs.

When you have this attitude, making sure the other person is your priority, then everything else will come naturally. You'll know what to do, or at the very least you'll get enough of it right that your presence there is positive. There are times in a relationship when you have to step up and be there like never before, and this is one of those times.

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