A sick and whining husband is enough to make you sick

February 21, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

Nobody gets sick like a man gets sick.

And nobody gets sick in the peculiar way a man gets sick. You know, the kind of illness that rarely keeps them from their paying jobs, but renders them comatose at home. The kind of illness that allows them to have a perfect attendance record at work, but sends them to the sick bed on weekends or when you need them to watch the kids.

My husband once covered a Cincinnati Bengals game with a temperature of 104 degrees -- from an open-air press box in arctic conditions. He didn't even know where he was. But if he has a headache at home, I can't so much as get a light bulb changed.

I know I sound unsympathetic. But that is because I am.

I view the raising of children as a kind of guerrilla warfare. I am not so much in a marriage as I am in a foxhole. And you don't get to call in sick during a war. If you can't count on your buddy, then you have to be twice as vigilant. So signs of weakness, or illness, are not well-received in my house. By either party, I might add.

When the children were toddlers, I sprained my ankle badly enough that it looked as if it might require surgery. "Stay off your feet for three days," the emergency room physician demanded. I laughed so hard I nearly swallowed my gum. "Then you will have to admit me," I said.

My husband sighed heavily and volunteered to stay home. For a day. He meant well. I know he did. But by 10 the next morning, he had his necktie on and his briefcase in his hand and he was pacing at the foot of my bed saying: "Well. How do you feel? Are you feeling OK?"

"Go," I said.

Ask any of your friends, and they will tell you similar stories. There is this terrible antipathy mothers have for fathers who think they can take a sick day during parenthood.

The friend of a friend can barely restrain herself when her husband appears in the flannel shirt that has come to signal that he is ill. "I just can't stand the sight of it," she says.

Another couple I know battled the horrible flu that is this winter's contagion. He got three days of bed rest. She got one hot bath. It was expected that she must carry on.

Mothers aren't supposed to get sick. If they do, they are not supposed to miss a beat. You can't cancel your children's busy lives while you take to your bed for a cure. And each of us has our own near-death experiences to relate. That while battling some plague or recovering from emergency surgery, we still baked the cookies for the kindergarten party, shoveled the walk or did flash cards.

How many women do you know who have directed their children's day from the living room floor, where they lay wretched with nausea or fever? Do you see why it is so hard for us to accept a man who says: "Honey, I better not do anything with the kids today. I have a little bit of a sore throat, and I don't want to give it to them"?

Men are just, I don't know, so irritating when they are sick. They are weak and sniveling, stubborn and irritable. And sort of, well, gross. Not at all the men who once seduced us with a look.

A friend's husband fell off the roof while painting the house. He undoubtedly broke a bone in his ankle, but we will never know for sure because he couldn't be bothered to go to the doctor. But when he got the flu, he didn't come out of the bedroom for five days, and then only so he could go feed the birds on his hunting farm.

Another woman describes a husband who finally emerges from the sick room in boxers and a T-shirt, tugging at his shorts, smacking his lips and saying, "I wonder what would taste good right now."

For heaven's sake, that is an absolutely disgusting picture.

Children are better at being sick than any man I know. They sleep or stare motionless at cartoons until it passes. A sick man will give his all at the office but want room service at home.

I am too harsh, I know. Should some grave illness befall me, my husband would be my strength and my courage. Somehow, he would find a way to turn in an honest day's work and still care for me and the children. And I know I would do the same for him.

But I would probably still slam the kitchen cabinet doors and mutter under my breath.

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