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Colorado State Flag
Tuesday, August 11, 2020  

Diminishing ReturnsPublished 7/18/2007

Dear Readers,

This week my long-suffering husband offers his perspective on being the spouse of a nurse. Somehow, I would have thought it seemed a little more glamorous to him, but . . .

"Oh yeah baby, I know just how you feel." Well, that’s what I always say when my wife, a nurse, has been telling me about the hard time she had at work. But sometimes it’s tough to relate to how it feels to go from patting someone on the shoulder and saying, "Hello, Mr. Felding," one minute, to pounding his chest and saying, "Breath dammit, I haven’t had a break since 7:30 this morning and you’re not going to mess it up!" later during that same shift.

It’s been about 16 years now since I met my fireball, and I gotta say it’s been a ride. "E" ticket all the way. Nothing has ever been exactly what you might call normal and sometimes I don’t understand half of our conversations. Not her half, anyway. But I just offer a hug and say, "Oh yeah baby, I know".

So anyway, we planned this little weekend plus two day "micro-vacation," you know for the two of us! All the time forgetting the fact that we not only have four kids, two cats, several of the kids friends (or the cat’s friends, it’s hard to tell sometimes), a now water logged house (we live in Oklahoma City, New Washington State) that’s in a state of ever increasing disrepair, and a deep nagging that we forgot to do something at work. So, our "micro-vacation" is fast becoming a "pico-vacation."

Why is it that only a few people seem to get the benefit of a real vacation; you know, two weeks at the beach lounging with a planters punch or having the president of the Russian Republic over to Dad’s summer house for a chit-chat? Why is it that we have gotten to the point that we’re on the cell answering questions or putting out fires when we should be finishing that book or smooching in the back yard.

I am the antithesis of my spouse, I work in an office, isolated from anything real or fleshy, dissecting numbers, trying to get one more "unit per some damn thing" out of somebody. On the other hand, my spouse is so vested in curing every ill and pain in the universe that it consumes even a night’s dream time. At 2:45 this morning someone was "Greeted, Treated and Discharged" from my bedroom and the cat didn’t even wake up; it’s really almost out of hand.

"What do you want to do while we are off this weekend?" Okay, I can run with this one! Let me see, watch TV? Mow the yard? Go visit your Mom? How’s about...YEAH! Let’s be more like France, you know, a three month vacation per year and a government pension (the only thing the French don’t have going for them is central air!) I want some of that French Culture! Americans, it seems, have been downsized to such an extent that we cannot take more than 48 hours off work without an overwhelming sort of guilt building in us and we feel compelled to go running back to our workplaces begging forgiveness and getting instead one more chore for an already full slate. When in fact what we need to do is spend a little quality time with our loved ones.

Those of us who have a nurse for a spouse know that they suffer from diminishing returns from home. The kids are getting older and more self-reliant, there are fewer and fewer crises at home. They fill these new blank spaces in their schedules with the overflow from their jobs, until they begin to feel that all they are is a time card being punched in and out and putting all their strength and energy into the job. They are biding their time, hoping to get out in 10 years or so without suffering the fate of their patients.

We mere mortals, the non-nurse spouses, suffer diminishing returns from our jobs trying to keep up with the hero, being carried along in the slip-stream behind them. The really dumb thing is they think we are the ones who are too passionate about our work. I’m going to take the same track that I’m on trying to kick the tobacco habit, I’m going to taper off until it’s only an overwhelming addiction. So here’s what I have planned for our itty-bitty vacation...a whole lotta nothing. How’s that sound?

Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal and Michael Sowdal have been married 14 years and have six children together. She is a practicing RN and freelance writer. As well, Elizabeth directly credits Michael with her nursing career because she would not have made it through chemistry without him.


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