My husband has been in and out of the hospital since before we were married in 2004. But the hospitalizations have become more frequent since April 2012. We walk this journey of health challenges in a pretty public manner, so many people know when Thomas is in the hospital or when he’s at home experiencing a health crisis. We have legions of people following our journey and praying for us. Most people comment on a post on social media, with words of encouragement or a prayer. Others send encouraging text messages. But every now and then I get a person who says “I know exactly how you feel.” Really? So your husband has been in the hospital 100+ times over the past six years? Your husband has a tube down his throat and is on a ventilator to help him breathe? You haven’t heard your husband’s voice in 6 weeks because he has a breathing tube down his throat, so he can’t speak? Your husband has a feeding tube up his nose? Your husband’s kidneys don’t work so he’s on dialysis? When your husband is not in the hospital and he’s home you have to lift him off of the couch place him in a wheelchair, wheel him to the bathroom, lift him out of the wheelchair, pull his pants down, and place him on the toilet, and then when he’s done clean him up? Oh wait. . .or maybe you have to drive him to 6+ doctor appointments every month and when you get to the appointment and park your car, you have to get the wheelchair out of the trunk of the car and wheel it around to the passenger side and lift your husband out of the passenger’s seat and place him in the wheelchair and push him into the doctor’s office. Or maybe you haven’t held your husband’s hand in 5+ years because the lupus, scleroderma, and nephrogenic systemic fibrosis have so ravaged his hands that he can’t bend them and the skin is so broken down that the mere touch of a cotton ball gliding over his hands causes excruciating pain. Or maybe you haven’t felt your husband’s embrace because he’s unable to stand and lift his arms to hug you. Or maybe you haven’t been a passenger in your vehicle in over 2 years, because your husband is no longer able to drive.
Sorry, but unless your spouse has CHRONIC health challenges you really don’t understand. A few years back, my Dad was notorious for saying the forbidden sentence to me. I’d tell him something I was going through with Thomas’ health and he’d say “I know exactly how you feel.” I just let it slide because it was my Dad. However, he made the same remark in future conversations. Finally, one day he said “I know exactly how you feel”, and I exploded. I said, “Dad, have you ever had to wipe Mom’s butt after she went #2? No. Have you ever had to feed Mom because she couldn’t bend her fingers to hold a fork, to feed herself. No. Have you ever had to wheel Mom around in a wheelchair indefinitely. No. In your 51 years of marriage you’ve never had to be Mom’s caregiver, so stop saying you know exactly how I feel. I hope when your best friend’s daughter died you didn’t say to him I know how you feel. You couldn’t possibly know how he feels when all of your kids are alive and well!” My Dad listened to me and when I was finished he said “I won’t say that again.” And he hasn’t.
When a friend or family member is walking a path you have never been on the best thing to do is to let them know you are there for them, praying for them and thinking of them. Be compassionate. Uplift them. But unless you are walking the path they are on or have walked the path they are on, please don’t say I know exactly how you feel. Uh. . .no you don’t.