Despite the title of this blog, I rarely talk about the specifics of being a doctor’s wife anymore. But I thought this might be interesting not only for doctors’ spouses but for the spouses of others who have not-a-regular-9-to-5-career, too.
One of the most common questions I get is whether being a doctor’s wife is lonely. Sure. Being the spouse of a physician can be lonely at times. It really can. No different from being the spouse of a fire fighter or an accountant during tax season or many other professions. It’s less lonely, I imagine, than being the spouse of someone who’s gone for many days at a time – like a pilot or a member of the armed forces or a long-haul trucker or a consultant or many other professions.
It has its ups and downs, like being married to anybody with any job. And it has times where you will be alone, and/or in charge of the bulk of the housework/child-rearing, just like being married to anybody with a not-strictly-9-to-5 job.
Now that my husband is a practicing physician, the loneliest times are call weeks. So I thought I would tell you, today, what it’s like when my husband is on call. I’d be fascinated to know what YOU do when your spouse is gone.
We’re going into a call week this Saturday, which means that I may not see much of my husband for the next seven days. He goes into the hospital early. Depending on the patient load, he may come home really late. Or he may come home and then have to go back to the hospital, or come home and then have to spend several hours in his office, on the phone with the hospital staff or returning patient calls. There’s no guarantee he’ll see our daughter on any given day. There’s no guarantee he’ll be free to help with washing the dishes or the child, that he’ll be home to eat meals, that he’ll be free to talk through our separate days, that he’ll be next to me as I fall asleep.
To deal with call weeks, I do several things:
- I prep Carla by talking enthusiastically about our special Girls’ Week. I use lots of exclamation points. Sometimes we’ll go out for a special lunch date together. We’ll paint our toenails. We’ll eat snacky dinners. We’ll watch movies. We’ll be a little loosey goosey with the “no screens on school days” rules. If Carla feels sad about not seeing her father, we’ll make him a special art project. We may not bathe as frequently as normal.
- I go easy on myself with meal planning. Instead of focusing on healthy food, which I try to do most days, I make easy and comforting food the priority (note: “healthy” and “easy and comforting” are not necessarily mutually exclusive). For me, that’s things like tacos and chicken paprikas and pizza and grilled shrimp from the prepared foods counter at the grocery store. Bonus points for things that are easy to prepare and leave abundant leftovers. I may buy a special treat for myself, and possibly for Carla. I don’t limit myself to one piece of leftover Easter candy. I make sure I have a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge.
- I try to schedule fun things for myself during the week. Usually, my writing time is sacred. I try to treat my day like a real work day – albeit shorter than the typical 9-to-5. So I reserve coffees and lunch dates for call weeks. This week, I have a coffee, a lunch date, and a play date for me and Carla. At night, after Carla’s in bed, I curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine and/or some ice cream/rapidly dwindling Easter candy and watch Candy TV: Real Housewives, sitcoms my husband isn’t interested in, reruns of Seinfeld or Gilmore Girls or Friends or Family Feud.
- I try to maintain a (barf) Positive Attitude. I say cheerleadery things to myself and to Carla: We are so proud of Daddy. He is making people feel better. He works so hard, to take care of other people and to take care of us. We’ll be back to normal in just X days! We can do it! And anyway, missing Daddy helps us to appreciate him more when he’s here! I try to think cheering thoughts: I get to watch only what I want to watch this week! I can go to bed whenever I want! I am so glad I’m not a doctor! Hey, I didn’t say they were cheering to anyone but ME.
One of the things that’s most difficult for me during call weeks is to not unload on my husband when he’s around. Call is extremely stressful for him. He’s seeing super sick patients. He may have 11 patients to see or he may have 25. He may have really difficult procedures. He may be extra tired from being paged or getting called into the hospital overnight.
It’s not unstressful for me: suddenly, I’m solely responsible for house and child and self. Which can be easy breezy or exhausting on any given day. But I try really really hard to remember that I shouldn’t just throw the toddler and the dishes at my husband when he manages to show up at a reasonable hour. And I shouldn’t complain too loudly or vigorously about how stressful my day was.
The best part about call weeks is that they END. For us, call takes place roughly every seven weeks. This differs from practice to practice, and we’re very lucky. So even though they are lonely weeks, they aren’t very frequent. And they don’t last terribly long.
I’m sure life can be lonely for MANY spouses out there, for all kinds of professions. And, in fact, I would be really interested in what it’s like for you, when your spouse isn’t there. How often is s/he gone? What’s the schedule like then, and how does it deviate from normal? How do you deal with the loneliness, and with the stress of being In Charge By Yourself?