Major Changes as Spouses Age
My second husband and I met while both of us worked in the sport fishing industry, he in a tackle shop only a couple years into the industry, and me working for a publisher of sport fishing magazines and books, a decade into the industry. Our first "date" was fishing together and watching steelhead attempt to leap over a waterfall. He became the second editor of the fly fishing magazine the publisher and I had started five years earlier. Although my job managing the publication of two magazines, a quarterly, an annual, and six books/year was demanding and meant working an average of 70 hours/week, I was paid well and loved it. Because he was a male, the publisher expected him to be off fishing at least a couple of days every week. We were able to fish at many luxury lodges because we made a great writing/photography team. I'm five years older, so expected that we would be able to age–and fish–together. After a few years, the publisher's children were old enough to be a big part of the business, so we started our own design and marketing business to serve the sport fishing industry. We shared an 18' driftboat we'd helped design…and market, of course! Lots of work, but lots of wonderful times spent together.
Eleven years ago, he ruptured a disc in his lower back, had surgery by a really bad fellow who sought out people with underlying health conditions so that he could claim repeated surgery (at his day surgery center, of course) was necessary. Three back surgeries in one year, the final one a fusion. He had persistent pain, was a brittle diabetic with less than 30% kidney function, but he worked full time for our boat mfg. client while I did all the nuts and bolts of design and marketing for all our clients. We still fished every few days, except in the worst of winter weather. He trailered stacks of boats to nine trade shows every winter, each show being a five-day event generally several hours distant. Eight years ago, he had to go on dialysis, so he couldn't travel to trade shows but continued to sell boats from the factory. Even though he was working full time and going to dialysis three nights a week, we still fished most weekends. I continued to do fish surveys in a wild little stream, a project we had started together in 1993, even though following back surgery he wasn't able to hike long distances over difficult terrain. The project is closing in on 30 years, and I'm still volunteering in the same wild watershed.
When he got the kidney transplant, I visualized great days ahead. At the same time, he had planned to retire, i.e., do absolutely nothing, not even the few chores he had been doing around the house, because he felt he had earned retirement. Hmmm…what about those years where I worked long hours while, because he was male, he was allowed to "work" onstream???? His recovery was ultra-smooth, perfect labs, virtually no fine-tuning necessary for the various meds. When he came home from the hospital, he began his retirement routine: he reclines in his recliner and expects me to fetch whatever he needs. He eats all his meals there, watches TV, reads…except for frequent breaks to lie on the couch. We moved to this acreage on the coast, which I had initially purchased when I was 19, and, as a retired person, he expected me to do the packing, haul everything out to the trailer and van, drive it here, and pack much of it upstairs to our new loft. After six months, he had lost most most of his muscle tone, and he had far worse pain. Since then, I've tried to get him to go to PT many times. He did go to a local person, who gave him a pass from doing anything even slightly difficult; that was relatively worthless and only lasted a few weeks. Later, I insisted that he return to the pain mgmt. clinic to which he'd been referred by the transplant team. They sent him to a PT who expected him to work, but she gave up on his lack of progress after 10 months. Since then, he rarely leaves the house other than for doc appts. I nagged him into joining the local fly fishing club, and he did agree to go on a very easy outing, the first time he'd fished at all in years. However, after 15 minutes of me rowing him around a lake, he announced he needed to lie down. I left him at the car and rowed around the lake for 45 minutes or so, got a great photo of a heron and test casted a new fly rod. it's too difficult for him to sit upright more than a short time, so lots of activities are not open to us. If I suggest dinner out, he insists on ordering takeout, which isn't the same at all. I never expected that marrying someone five years younger would work out this badly! Once a week, I escape by making the 110-mile drive to the Portland area to load 400-600 loaves of bread donated to our local Backpack program. That's an entire day away from watching him steadily lose balance function and strength. If he gets much worse, I'll need to use all the money we've saved to pay for care at the only decent facility in this small town. Meanwhile, I work every day to conquer my problems with lack of balance and hearing due to the reappearance almost a year ago of the Meniere's monster. I'm working hard to get a remission in order to lock him in the closet and nail it shut! No matter how bad I feel, I am not retired but must keep the household running, care for the pets, do all the yardwork that acreage requires. Bah, humbug!
I know I'm not the only woman in this situation. The founder of our local Backpack program has the same problem with her husband, only in his case it's following successful foot surgery, even though he refuses to do PT to regain his ability to walk. They also live on acreage, and we often laugh about our similar situations.