The Unsung Heroes

On the day I came home from hospital, Derek looked as though he’d been in a war zone and come out the other side shredded. This wasn’t the first health crisis he and I had faced. He’d been holding it together for three years of medical chaos.

There are 365 days in the year. It sounds a lot more intolerable when you break it down into days like that, and Derek had been through over a thousand of them.

Our relationship had become entirely about me: Me in the doctor’s office when he saw me convulse for the first time. Me in the emergency room getting my tongue stitched back together. Me in a Rosebank hospital on the drip to fix the seizure that wouldn’t stop. Me. Me. Me.

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Only it wasn’t me who was doing most of the suffering. Derek’s tears told me that. Sometimes, it’s easier to suffer from an illness than to watch someone you love suffer from an illness. Some people have too much empathy to cope with that kind of life, and Derek was one such person. Whatever I felt, he felt triple. When I was unconscious and fitting, he was crying. He was terrified. He was helpless.

Me? I wasn’t there at all. When I woke up, though, Derek was always there, telling me what had happened as many times as it took for me to understand. I had so much support, but after he dropped me off at the hospital, he went home alone. People rarely direct empathy towards the partner of a sick person. They’re not the ones who are really suffering… or so goes the myth.

I know it’s a myth because I saw it in Derek’s eyes: he had gone through the last piece of hell he could cope with and now he was fragmenting. He was utterly, utterly traumatised.

I left him that day, not because I didn’t love him, but because I did.

I’ve had two other serious relationships in the midst of my health crisis, but these men had some kind of magical ingredient that Derek did not. They were slightly less emotionally porous. They managed to compartmentalise their feelings a little better. They knew how to turn their emotions off when it got too hard.

I never forget that day when I came home from hospital because Derek’s experience is the norm, and not the exception. These are the unacknowledged heroes of a life like mine, and we hardly ever give them the compassion they need and deserve.


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