Ain’t no Florence Nightingale

When I took my husband to the hospital for hip-replacement surgery recently, I envisioned myself playing the part of Florence Nightingale during his post-operative convalescence at home: propping his pillows, retrieving fresh ice packs, delivering steaming bowls of soup and neatly quartered sandwiches, topping off his water with candy-striped bendy straws.

But instead, a few days after Francis’ release from the hospital, my inspiration to lovingly nurture began to degrade into the bitter resentment of an indentured servant.

Admittedly, we had both been naïve about what to expect, because Francis’ last surgery was a tonsillectomy at age nine. I had had several surgical procedures as an adult, but my husband had not gone under the knife in our entire 27-year marriage.

For years, Francis had always over-dramatized his cold symptoms, sneezes, coughs, aches and pains. And he developed a new tendency to talk too much about the tedious details of his upcoming hip procedure to anyone who would listen. But despite clear signs that Francis would “milk it,” I had believed that I would swell with nothing but nurturing feelings for him during his convalescence.

Uh, not so much. Annoyance had crept into my brain early on, like a slowly infecting virus.

“Achh…unnghf…shhhhoooo,” Francis groaned and huffed with the slightest movements. The first few days after hip replacement surgery, this was to be expected. But on day four, the noises became more frequent and dramatic, and were accompanied by more extreme facial expressions. In front of the young nurses in the hospital, Francis had been all smiles and bravery. But strangely, at home, his permanent grimace was only interrupted by face-contorting winces, angry purses, and theatrical flinches.

At home, I offered food, drinks, ice, medications and ambulatory assistance, but ironically, Francis’ needs multiplied as his mobility improved. A week after surgery, he started to demand that my daughter or I tuck him into bed nightly.  And although he had an entire set of medical assistance tools, elongated shoehorns, sock-aids, grabbers, and picker-uppers, every day he found new tasks to add to my responsibilities.

“Unghff… can…annnggg…you…fffwhooo… get …shhhhwhoo…the…unghfff … light?” Francis huffed at me, dramatically reaching a quivering hand toward his nightstand, his fingers mere inches from the lamp switch.

Initially, guilt forced me to push annoyance away and press on. But soon, the grunts, groans, grimaces and grievances became too much for even Florence Nightingale to bear. “Isn’t he supposed to be getting better?” I thought in secret frustration, dreaming of a tropical escape.

Then one night, the unfiltered observations of our 19-year-old daughter finally addressed the elephant in the room. Francis was emitting his usual cacophony of noises on our family room couch, and in the middle of it all, he belched.

“Ghfff, unngh, ahhhh, hhheee, whooo,” he went on like a one-man band, when there came a rumbling from deep in his gut, followed loudly by, “BUURRPP…. tsssseeeee,” as if the valve had been pressed on a pressure cooker full of cabbage.

“Wow, Dad,” Lilly piped up, “you’re actually good at beat boxing!” She proceeded to imitate the whole thing with uncanny accuracy and hand gestures. He tried to resist it, but Francis’ grimace melted into a chuckle, and I laughed, too.

Lilly, who had sensed the tension between us, offered to take “tuck in” duties for the night. She walked her grunting father up the stairs to our bedroom, while I melted into the couch, blissfully alone.

Soon, I heard creaking floorboards and music emanating from upstairs, followed by shouts and laughter. I walked up to find that Lilly had asked the Alexa on my bedroom dresser to “Play Eye of the Tiger by Survivor” to motivate Francis to remove his own socks and get himself into bed without assistance.

“C’mon Dad! You can do it!” she blared, punching and kickboxing at the air.

A few days and a few more doses of much-needed comic relief later, Francis began showing signs of improvement. Although he now claims to be developing a cough that could prolong our misery, we all know now that laughter truly is the best medicine.

Tagged: annoyance, caregiving, Florence Nightingale, hip replacement surgery, humor, marriage, Milking it, servitude, sympathy