Dear Margo: For Better or for Worse — but Not for Hospitals?

When I have to stay in the hospital, my husband finds an excuse not to. Margo Howard’s advice

For Better or for Worse — but Not for Hospitals?

Dear Margo: I’ve been married for quite a number of years, and something has been bothering me recently. My husband comes up with all kinds of excuses not to be with me when I have any kind of surgery. It all started four years ago when I had rather serious surgery. He dropped me off at the front door of the hospital and went home to wait for the doctor’s call. He came to visit me once during my four-night stay. I admit that I didn’t make a fuss since it did seem OK, at the time, for him to simply wait at home and call me to keep in touch.

Since that time, I’ve had other surgeries that required either an overnight or a two-night stay. He never stayed in the hospital to see me post-surgery, nor did he come to visit. He did, however, keep in constant contact with me.

Lately, this has bothered me more, as I see the behavior of others. In his favor, his first wife died of cancer, so perhaps he became hospital phobic after that. But it does seem rather selfish, the more I allow myself to think about it. As more friends and family say he is getting away with murder, I, too, am beginning to wonder. Should I make more of a fuss or simply insist that he “be there for me” if hospitalization is necessary again? We are both retired, so a work schedule does not come into play. — Confused After a Lot of Years

Dear Con: You don’t say what the general nature of the relationship is, so I will just assume there is no underlying hostility floating around and that this is your major issue. To find out his reasons for basically saying you’re on your own in medical situations, have you tried asking him? If it’s simply that hospitals give him the willies, that would be a good thing to discuss. As things are now, he is definitely “not there for you.” The outlines of this problem make him sound selfish and self-centered. If he has a fear of hospitals, I suggest he get some help in overcoming his phobia, and also in understanding that you need support, not abandonment. — Margo, correctively

Brushing Off Difficult Questions

Dear Margo: I grew up in a small town, left for college and moved away 30 years ago. After living outside of the United States for several years, I have now returned to my home state, but several hundred miles away from my old hometown. I attended my high school class reunion, but that visit didn’t go well, and I need advice about whether I should visit again.

Several people at the reunion asked about my older brother, who still lives there. I was not sure how to deal with these inquiries because my brother sexually terrorized me as a child and I ended all contact with him years ago. Our mother keeps me informed about my sister-in-law’s and nieces’ activities, but we do not discuss him. Obviously, I am not going to discuss his behavior toward me, but I felt hypocritical smiling and telling them he is fine and happy, which is really all they wanted to hear. What can I say to end these inquiries and not give away our family secrets? — Childhood Trauma Survivor

Dear Child: How nice for your brother that the whole town doesn’t know. Should you find yourself in a similar situation, feel free to skip the hypocritical smile and just say you were never really close and don’t know anything of his life now. Over and out. I am not for playing yourself false, and I also don’t have a problem with cutting people off if they’re going where you do not want to go. — Margo, directly

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dear-margo.html. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

COPYRIGHT 2011 MARGO HOWARD
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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41 comments so far.

  1. avatar Rebecca Sava says:

    For LW2 I’d say something short and sweet just like Margo said – and if they push for more, tell them to ask him directly.

  2. avatar Constance Plank says:

    #1,

    I do hope it’s a phobia, and getting treatment would be great. My two experiences with being hospitalized was for normal childbirth. In both cases my then husband preferred to be visiting neighbors, telling them how great it was to be a father and husband, rather than being a father and husband. I felt quite abandoned at the time.

    Talk to your husband. You deserve better!

    #2,

    If he sexually terrorized you, what has he been doing to other smaller younger children? Maybe his? There’s a lot of shiny facade to ugly interiors. Does your mother know what he did to you? I’d stop hiding stuff; what he did to you was NOT your fault! See if you can help your nieces and nephews. Sexual molestation is unfortunately common. I don’t know if you are male or female, but if you can open up, you might be able to help other people who are dealing with that same reality.

    Best wishes,

    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

  3. avatar bamabob says:

    my problem was the opposite of LW1. When I had bypass surgery I made it clear to friends and family that I wanted NO visitors at all. I am a private person and didn’t want to be seen in such a helpless state, not even by family. No one heeded my wishes. A constant parade of well wishes were in and out of my hospital room despite my frequent polite comments that I was tired and needed rest and my not so polite requests that I thought I was clear that I had a “no visitor” policy. I sympathize with LW1 and hope her husband can overcome his phobia, but I can’t empathize with her, as hard as I’m trying to.

    LW2, Margo is dead on.

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      bamabob:

      Are you married? If so, I would think you would want your wife with you – she could go a long way to run interference with other well-meaning visitors…just saying.

      Like you I don’t want visitors when in hospital, but I did kinda sorta think my husband would be there for me. He was when our son was born, but any other time I was on my own. He would drop me off, then pick me up when it was time for my release. Fortunately, my hospital stays were short in duration and very few. And yes, I made my wishes known that I wanted/needed him around.

      ONE of the reasons he is no longer my husband is after a medical procedure that required an overnight stay and several days bed rest at home. He picked me up, brought me home and left me with a 3 y/o to go to the Gulf for a 4 day fishing trip. Fortunately my mother was able to take off work and come stay with us. My surgery was planned; his fishing trip was impromptu (we owned the boat and the condo that he and his buddies would be using).

      Yes, he claimed to have a phobia about hospitals, but he had a fear of heights and was able to work thru that with therapy. He simply wasn’t willing to take me “in sickness”.

      Am AU fan, but congrats on Iron bowl win!

      • avatar Lila says:

        Deeliteful,

        There are a couple of other beneficial facets to having someone “run interference for you.”

        First, as a supplement to the hospital staff. They are busy and have emergencies that pull them away, so it is helpful to have a responsible person around to help keep track of medication times (letting painkillers wear off is never a good thing!), adjust your pillows or sheets, refill your beverages, fetch things for you, etc. etc. The more “out of it” you are, the more you actually benefit from having someone like this to help you out.

        Second, as an advocate for you in case you need it. Patients are often in a sort of helpless position, where others are deciding what you “need” or are “allowed” and sometimes that can be arbitrary… or even harmful. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a psychological divide between the staff and the patients, and the staff has all the power. They may try to bend the patient’s “needs” into the staff’s schedule or policies; never mind when YOU feel the need to pee or would like to clean up (and a gripe of mine, it seems like they prefer to automatically catheterize all patients rather than allow the lucid ones to request urinals… in some cases I am familiar with, it seemed like this was a convenience to the staff, at the expense, discomfort and risk of the patient). Anyway, it has been shown repeatedly that patients who have visitors get better care, especially in LTC situations.

      • avatar Deeliteful says:

        Lila:

        You are so correct. Thank you for pointing out the importance of having an advocate when in hospital.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      Next time, inform the nurses & admitting staff of your wishes. Visitors are not allowed if the patient does not desire them. You can even be specific about you can and cannot visit. This is nationwide.

  4. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: I get the feeling that you didn’t make your wishes known. If you’re finding yourself faced with a hospital stay in the future, communicate clearly that you would like to be visited by him while you’re in the hospital, and that you miss and need his companionship. He may need some reassurance that you’re not going to end up like his first wife, which could be a reason why he’s maintaining a sort of distance.

    LW2: You’re taking the easiest part of a difficult problem and making it into yet another difficult part. So you encountered several people who knew your brother, and it places you in an awkward position because you’re estranged. “I’m afraid we don’t have any contact anymore” followed by a quick “so, what do you do now?” will usually remedy the problem. And did the visit really go that badly, or was there simply one or two awkward moments where you weren’t quite sure what to say? If you didn’t have a good time, then don’t go to the next event. If you did—then concentrate on those aspects and see if you can’t turn the situation around to your favor. Otherwise you’re always going to be in edit mode, which is both unfortunate and unfair to you.

  5. avatar Amanda ECW says:

    Seconding Constance for letter 2~if he was never held accountable for what he did to you, the chances that he did it to other kids, and quite possibly his own, are high. Sexual predators don’t stop until something MAKES them stop. For their sake and your own, please speak up. I’m not saying to respond to “how’s your brother?” with “well, after sexually abusing me when we were young, he grew up to get married and have kids of his own”. But within your family this needs to be discussed so that other victims and potential targets can be protected from him.

    Letter 1, I’m assuming that after the death of is first wife, hospitals are just too much for him. Maybe they were too much for him back then, too; I don’t know. But I know that MANY people have a fear of hospitals-either they fear death and disease, they’ve had to watch a loved one die, they’ve had bad hospital experiences of their own, etc. If he can’t bring himself to be in the hospital with you physically, the fact that he’s staying in constant contact (as you put it) shows he IS concerned and is making an effort. Before letting him know how abandoned you feel when he doesn’t stay, ask him why he’s so uncomfortable and why he avoids visiting you there. Let him talk that aspect through with you before you let him know how it makes you feel when he stays home while you’re there.

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      Who hasn’t had a loved die in a hospital or had a bad experience? My mother nearly died from negligent following a surgery 40 years ago. My father died in a hospital. 

      I’m not a hospital groupie, but will offer to do what I can for family members and close friends. If they don’t won’t visitors I offer to help out in other ways. IMO, a spouse should do more than make hone calls, unless the spouse is also in ill health which doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      honestly who cares if his first wife died in hospital? Isn’t that where most people die in 2011? And how is that LW1′s problem? she needs to tell him what she expects (it’s not clear she’s done so, I’d likely behave similarly as it wouldn’t occur to me in a million years someone would want me there so much, even my husband) and he needs to comply.

  6. avatar mayma says:

    Sorry, but I am confused by LW1. Why is it seemingly a last resort to talk to your husband about it?!? You’re talking to your friends and family, to Margo… I admit I am baffled. Why triangulate like that? “Hey, why don’t you ever come visit me in the hospital?” See? Easy-peasy. I mean, this can be said without rancor. You can even say, “I say this without anger, but with curiosity…. ”

    Seriously, it’s amazing the number of problems that could be solved if people would just read their own letters back to the person they need to talk to. There is very, very little in her letter that is inflammatory toward her husband. A few tweaks and there you go.

    • avatar Amy says:

      This bugged me, too. if after “years and years” of marriage she can’t even TALK to him, then she’s a daft one.

  7. avatar French Heart says:

    Ltr #1 She said her husband does keep in constant contact….so it’s not selfishness or not caring…my guess is a traumatic reaction to what he went through with his first wife. I can understand this reaction on his part, and also hers. It’s comforting to have your husband around…but I would bet the poor man can hardly stand to even look at a hospital. And the smell, sound, look of everything about it probably feels akin to him like a dog who has been repeatedly beaten by a newspaper and thereafter can’t stand to be within a mile of one even when the poor thing has a kind new home.

    I hope she can try to see it from his perspective. Probably freaks him out.

    • avatar Carrie A says:

      Who really likes hospitals? I vividly remember when I was about 8 visiting my sister in the hospital after a bad car accident. She was in a coma in intensive care and my grandma took me to see her. They wouldn’t let my grandma go in so I went in all alone as she laid there with a huge bandage around her head, hooked up to all sorts of machines. It traumatized me and hospitals still bother me, but if someone I loved was sick and needed me I’d be there in a second. Sometimes you have to stop thinking about yourself.

  8. avatar blue tooth says:

    To Confused,

    It may be that your husband has sufficiently bad memories of the hospital that it may be next to impossible for him to enter one. You say his first wife died of cancer. Did he tell you how that was? Did he accompany her to the hospital? Were those stays progressively worse and worse until she finally died?

    I remember a little boy I knew who fought cancer for years before he finally died. In the end, he was literally bleeding from his nose, mouth, and ears, and screaming and crying from the pain. He was 17 years old, but when he died, he weighed about 80 pounds.

    My own brother died in the hospital over 20 years ago. He was in intensive care when he passed, but it was still pretty horrific. Tubes and wires everywhere, machines beeping, beeping slower, until they stop. Since then, I have to steel myself every time I have to enter a hospital.

    Also, how did your husband handle his loss? Was it devastating? Did it take him a long time to get over her, to try to start over? Might he be a little bit afraid of that, when he comes to visit you?

    You say your husband keeps in constant contact with you, and speaks with the doctor. So you do know he’s concerned for you and wants to be there for you. It’s only the hospital that he avoids. Maybe the hospital brings all those things back up for him, and instead of him being there for you in the hospital, he’ll be overwhelmed with a head full of bad memories and grief and fear. It’s possible. Why don’t you ask him about it? The answer may be very simple.

  9. avatar Deborah Key says:

    When I drive past the hospital where my father was diagnosed with cancer, I get nauseous. 

    Oddly enough, I am okay with the hospital where he actually died.   

  10. avatar E4rthmoth3r says:

    L1: I work in a hospital and see both sides. Patients who have no loved ones visit and those who’s families spend the night and are 24/7 in attendance and those somewhere in between.

    If her husband is attentive every other way, why does he have to spend time at the hospital? It sounds like the writer has a chronic problem requiring frequent surgeries and hospitalizations…they should really have a conversation, this can cause permanent damage to their relationship. I’ll bet his 1st wife had frequent hospitalizations as well…and he remains traumatized. However! This wife is not her! Maybe he could breeze in and out for 15 minutes, just to let her know he loves her.

    And she could respect the effort he made and that he can’t linger in hospitals very long.

    L2: She should absolutely tell the family. This kind of behavior doesn’t end with one person. You can bet he terrorized the cousins as well. And he has his own family…ugh.

  11. avatar reeledge says:

    Letter No. Two – I am living in PA and all I read about is the PennState Scandal.  I have to ask why we as women protect sexual predators??  Does your mother or father know what your brother did?  I just don’t understand why we continue to protect them years later? 

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      There’s a lot unsaid in this letter about the details of the abuse—how old LW and her brother were, what therapy or punishment has been involved (if any), and whether or not the mother knows and acted appropriately. Since it appears to be one of those cases of “don’t forgive and don’t forget,” but also “don’t enjoy,” I would suggest that LW either try some additional counseling to learn how to cope with encounters such as these—or completely remove all traces of her brother from her life. This may end up including her mother.

      • avatar martina says:

        That’s what I thought – there’s alot missing.  How could her Mom still have a relationship with the son if she knew about it unless there had been some kind of treatment or recourse unless she didn’t tell her Mom.  But, if they don’t speak about the son then Mom must know something is happened.  If it were me and my mother knew about it and there had been no recourse and my mother still had a relationship with my brother – I wouldn’t have anything to do with her.

      • avatar wendykh says:

        Interesting, I assumed LW2 was male… there is no indication of gender.

  12. avatar martina says:

    LW#1 -She was fine with it until she saw the behavior of others and other people were telling her he was getting away with murder.  Sounds like peer pressure to me.  He’s keeping in touch with her and the doctors just not actually visiting her.  My husband is also the type to avoid hospitals, they are just too depressing for him.  I personally would not want someone hovering over me when I am trying to heal. Phone calls from my husband would be fine as long as he used the time he saved not visiting me to keep the house clean and I wouldn’t have to come home to a sink full of dishes.

    My father is in the hospital now and I do struggle with this.  We feel that my parents need to see each other as often as possible as it looks like he is slowly coming to the end of his life. But my mother is in a wheelchair because of her stroke and was recently placed in a home so, getting her there is difficult because only I and my sister can transport her to the hospital.  My sister lives an hour away and can come only two times a week.  I live close by and can swing by to pick up my mother to see my father but it takes a bit of effort getting her out of the chair and into the car.  How often do I need to do this?  My husband was yelling at me last night to stop taking her so often because he sees how wearing it is on me.  They can’t just speak on the phone either because she has lost her ability to speak.  All they really do when they see each other is hold hands and gaze lovingly at each other – you can’t do that on the phone. 

  13. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Aah, Curious that the answer to both these letter writers is to be “Authentic” and honest.

    Letter #1 - Margo is spot on, you have to talk to your husband. It’s not about making a fuss, its about simply sitting down and having a heart to heart.  If his former wife did die from cancer, that could very well be the reason he is hospital shy. If you had said he drops you off and doesn’t even call to check up on you, then I would say you’d better give him a piece of your mind! :-)    But given that is not the case, he clearly has some internal issue he is struggling with as it relates to hospitals. So strong he can’t even set it aside for your sake. A conversation is needed in this case, and an open mind and heart on your part. ♥

    Letter #2 – Please know (as Margo pointed out) you should not lie. You should stand in your truth and speak the truth. No need to share the ugly details of your childhood. You need only respond when asked how he is doing “Truthfully I have no idea. However, I have heard his wife and the kids are doing well.” No more, no less.  And if they press you, as some probably will, simply say “What can I say, I haven’t seen nor spoken with him.”     

  14. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – For starters he is not “getting away with murder”. He is getting away with not seeing you in the hospital. Keep some perspective here. Then, as others have mentioned you seem to be discussing this with everyone except the one person who can help here; your husband. Ask him. Tell him. Talk to him then decide how big an issue it needs to be.

    LW2 – Because of your history with your brother any mention of him is a loaded statement to you. It’s not to the person asking. A simple honest response is all that’s needed. Nothing more or less.

  15. avatar Koka Miri says:

    LW1: I bet your husband is terrified you’ll die, too. And while it might be selfish not to help you through your procedures, I bet it is because seeing you in a hospital bed fills him with fear. Just a guess. I would say he needs to get over that, but you don’t sound overly traumatized by going through those procedures without him. So like everyone else is saying, just ask him, and maybe you can help each other.

  16. avatar Sadie BB says:

    Lw2- crimes are not ‘family secrets’. Uncle Edgar slipping into your Louboutins after a few drinks – that’s a family secret!
    To answer your question – a bright snappy “oh we dont talk much, and how’s your mom?” should do it. See how easy that was? Because that was not your real question, was it.
    Your real question was probably something like “after the State Penn thing I can see that child molestation is the gift that keeps on giving, unless the abuser is outed in a very public way. Even going quietly to the authorities with my suspicions will probably not stop what I think is happening. But if I speak up everyone will call me psycho. And if it turns out I am right everyone will say ‘she must have known all along! Why did she allow it to continue?’ Should I really put myself thru this?”
    Yes lw2 I’m afraid you should. But we will all understand if you don’t.
    Either way, get some professional advice.

  17. avatar Daniele says:

    LW2: If nothing else, have a very frank talk with the sister-in-law. Come armed with symptoms of sexual abuse and ways she can help her children. People who sexually abuse children don’t stop just because their victims grows up and move on. People who sexually abuse children just find new children to abuse.

    If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your family about your brother’s criminal history, talk to a social worker in the area about it. A social worker can help you as well as step in to help your neices and perhaps even your sister-in-law. While it is your right keep silent and move on with your life, it is everyone’s duty to take care of the vulnerable in our population. Just ask the kids who were not helped by Joe Paterno.

  18. avatar snail says:

    LW1: My long-time significant other, who I love very much, is hospitalized frequently: he is severely diabetic, has gone through dialysis and had a kidney transplant, has Crohn’s Disease, was exposed to Hepatitis C through a transfusion years ago and it is now active, and has a host of other problems, many of them due to the fact that his immune system is now practically nil (see, transplant medications). He was hospitalized four times between mid-September and the end of October, for a total of around two weeks combined.

    I took him in each time – through the ER – and picked him up. I spoke to him several times a day, spoke to the nursing staff as often, and spoke to his doctors. I did not visit him, except for necessary trips to take things he’d forgotten, or new reading material. (Granted, I work full-time, and we have dogs who have to be tended to when I get off.) It doesn’t mean that I love him any less, and I’m there to take care of him when he comes home and every time he feels bad (which is, frankly, most of the time). That’s enough stress to drive me up the wall, because I’m pretty much always worried about his health – in fact, when he’s in the hospital is just about the only time I’m not completely focused on how he is, and am actually able to relax, and sleep.

    There are all kinds of possibilities for why he doesn’t come down to see you. Like so many people have said, talk to him. If it’s really important to you – and by that I mean to you, not to the friends who think he’s “getting away with murder” – let him know. In our case, I probably would go down if I thought it would really make my SO feel any better – I happen to know it wouldn’t, but it would certainly make me feel worse!

  19. avatar D C says:

    LW#1 — We are from different planets.  I cannot imagine something like that happening and not just coming out and asking why.  But then, my husband and I have always had great communication.  But then, we were also each other’s first marriage.  I don’t know if I would be hesitant to question a future husband, should mine die or leave, so I haven’t walked in your shoes.  It just seems very strange to me to wonder about something so basic, without saying a word — except to other people. 

    How strange. 

    LW#2 — I have 3 brothers.  I keep up with exactly none of them.  I grew up in a home where men ruled and women were for cooking and cleaning and sex.  My brothers learned well from their father.  He died when I was 18, and I saw no point in continuing on subjecting myself to the family insanity.  I do keep up occasionally with the wife of one brother.  We went to high school together, so every few months there will be a facebook post or a Holiday card. 

    I recently had a facebook request from a guy who my closest-in-age brother went to high school with, to tell him about the school reunion.  I told him I didn’t keep in touch with my brother, but his wife was on facebook and I gave him her name.  True, it’s easier to do that than answer that question in person, but it HAS come up from time to time over the years, and I have answered in person — “I have no idea how he is — we don’t keep in touch.”  Most people are so taken aback by that answer they don’t fish for more information. 

  20. avatar A R says:

    LW1: You husband might not realize that you would prefer his presence. After all, it appears you haven’t told him what your preferences are. It’s surprising that he didn’t ask if you wanted him to stay, but who knows what had been the norm between him and his first wife. Candid conversation is in order.

  21. avatar Jon T says:

    I really feel for the second LW. I can also understand the desire to not mention that she(?) doesn’t want to acknowledge that she doesn’t speak to him for fear that it will open up more prying questions. As has been evidenced by other letter writers, some people aren’t very good at spotting social cues. I would go with Margo’s good advice, but add that only if you’re comfortable with politely but firmly shutting down the more nosy folks who don’t let it drop. If not, I’m inclined to go with the “he’s fine” path of least persistence.

  22. avatar MissK says:

    LW2 -

    Nothing nearly so traumatic happened between my brother and myself and yet we are still estranged. When people ask, I merely say something like “oh, we don’t talk much so I really have no idea.” and leave it at that. You are not obligated to give anyone a reason why. If they ask, say you prefer not to talk about it and change the subject. And that, my dear, is that.

  23. avatar Ghostwheel says:

    LW1-It might depend on the hospital. I remember one hospital where I visited a friend and the nurses all but threw me out of the room, even though they weren’t working with her. They had to put the chairs in the right place and pick up her cups and wipe off the nightstand tops-yes, right then! It could not wait. It was also a very small double room. By the same token, another place where I visited a friend brought IN chairs for visitors, made a place for the husband to sleep in the room, asked if we wanted anything, etc. While I do not understand the husband not walking her in, it is possible the staff made it clear they did not want him around.

    And true, if you don’t tell him he won’t know. He might be doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. I hate visitors when I am sick. If someone didn’t specifically tell me, I would have no idea of their preferences.

  24. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I would definitely ask your husband about it. You have EVERY right to be put off and hurt by his behaviors. If he’s phobic about hospitals (how often does he even have to be at one?), he should be able to “suck it up” and deal with it for your sake. What a jerk he’s been to you!

    L #2: I agree with Margo.

  25. avatar Mike in Asheville says:

    LW1: Hospital “willies” as Margo called it grossly understates the ill feelings some can suffer. I have visited friends/family in hospitals, and it has been excruciatingly painful. I can hardly stay more than a few brief moments before a get violently nauseous, throwing up and even fainting.

    Stop beating yourself up over this and simply ask your husband. You are entitled to know and entitled to his support; but the same is true for him too. My answer was just being honest; tell the hospital bound I can only stay a minute but I wanted them to know I was there, as best I could, to support and help them.