Non-essential Spouse

Updated: Apr 13

Maybe it’s the evening shift that seems so threatening. It’s dark. I would have been in bed by now. But it’s 11:37 p.m. and I know he’s going to walk through the door any minute. It’s the thing I want most -and the thing I dread.

Will he have had a patient with COVID-19 that came in under another admit – like a drug overdose? Or maybe it’s the woman who doesn’t know she’s positive, the one who came with her husband who’s having a heart attack. Maybe she just asked him where the restroom was – but she stood a little too close? What about the door he pushed open when he was finally leaving his shift? Did they clean that door recently? Who was the last person to push it open?

I wait up because I love him – and because I’m more cautious than he is. I will wipe down the door handles, set the timer on the ultraviolet sanitizer where he has placed his stethoscope and his badges, along with his pens and pulse oximeter. I’ll wipe the banister he uses to haul himself up the stairs to the bathroom where he takes his shower. He’s seventy-one – seventy-two in June. Two knee replacements, a couple cardiac stents, some type 2 diabetes, overweight like a big Teddy bear. He’s the guy you would tell to stay in the house; too risky, let someone else get your groceries and pick up your prescriptions. He’s a retired respiratory therapist working front-line care with COVID-19 patients.

Mostly he’s assigned ICU, sometimes ‘the house,’ sometimes the emergency department. I ask him the same questions when he comes home from the hospital: Where were you working? How many positive patients did you have? How many were on vents? Were you careful? He’s no longer irritated by that last question. As many times as he’s assured me that after forty-nine years as a respiratory therapist he knows what he’s doing, he also knows the risk involved – to himself, and to his family.

Tonight he brought home two face shields – one that looks sturdy and machined by a professional, the other disposable. He wants me to add more elastic to the good one, make it more comfortable. I sew. I’ve been making masks, both the washable cotton kind for the family and friends, and some with Hepa filters that can be used by healthcare workers. I’ll make sure his face shield fits him perfect – snug so he won’t have to adjust it, but loose enough to not give him a headache. That's a joke; my husband has never had a headache in his life. He did have an unexplained four-hour-long seizure a few years ago, but not a headache. In the end, his neurologist decided it was some kind of virus that passed through the blood brain barrier since he was also treating a nurse from the same hospital who had a similar episode: same unexplained seizure, same findings on her MRI, same time frame for the seizure activity to settle down.

He wonders why I worry.

~ Kathy Aspden

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