After you finish medical school classes, the night before graduation, they take you to a dark, quiet room. There, among leather bound tomes 300-years-old, diseased skeleton trophies swinging behind glass, as you sip 50-year-old Port in ancient crystal, they tell you the secrets. This is the wisdom passed not in lectures, rounds or at the operating table; it is the hallowed legacy of thousands of healers over the millennia; the bedrock of medicine, the soul of the profession. And here, right now, I will give you a small peak, a tiny glimpse of that great light. The deep insight, that marvelous truth is; watch the wife.
Let us be honest, men lie. I mean of course, male patients. They do not mean to lie; they simply cannot help it. Whether it is a macho thing, a denial of reality or perhaps simply that their brains do not fully connect to the body, they often do not seem to have a clue about how they really feel. Have you been eating well? “Absolutely,” says the guy that lost six pounds in a week. Taking your meds? “Of course,” with a blood pressure of 190/112. “I’m ready to go back to work,” as he barely navigates the exam table. Clueless.
So, one of the great tricks, which doctors learn, is watch the wife. I am not saying, ask the wife whether he is telling the truth, check his answers. If she wants, she will tell you. Alternatively, she may feel the need to temper her words, in order to preserve domestic peace. I am saying watch her body language, gestures and especially her eyes.
If, when you come into the exam room, you note that the wife is tired, then he is not doing well; she has been up all night worrying. She has been cooking meal after meal that he says he wants, but does not eat. She may be exhausted fighting, trying to get him to take care of himself. If her cloths are a mess, makeup crooked, let alone eyes puffy from crying, he is in big trouble.
When he swears that he is having no pain, and her eyes widen, and she glances briefly at his face as if they have never been introduced, then he is in agony. When he describes brisk walks around the neighborhood and her mouth opens so wide you can see her tonsils, he is spending most of his time on the couch. If he says, “I quit smoking” and her hands clinch tight, you wasted that prescription for Chantix.
It is not just that a loving wife can be an excellent gauge of a man’s condition. The lesson, passed down from healer to healer over so many years, is that when a man, or a woman, gets a disease, they both get sick. Just as if that tumor is growing in both of them, the spouse suffers deeply in the mind and often in the body. It is the nature of people that love each other to connect, not only in joy, but also in pain, loss and disease. Soul mates mean more than walking the same path; it means walking in the same shoes, the same steps, driven by the same heart.
In general, women have better connection between body and mind, so that husbands are not as vital to measure their wife’s suffering. Even the most loving husband may not be a good measure of what is happening to his wife, but this is not because he is insensitive. The pain of the one he cares most about and is not able to protect, often overwhelms a man. Still, both men and women move through difficult times as one and suffer together.
One plus one equals one. To ignore that reality, to think you can treat one, without being aware of the one, is to risk confrontation, confusion and failure. We are each different, each strong, and each weak, but together we heal. When we remember the bond that makes two into one, we gain a powerful tool. This lesson, the power of love, the power of togetherness, can serve all of us, no matter on what side of the stethoscope we stand.