If He’s Not Well, She’s There. If She’s Not Well, Who’s There?

Posted: January 2, 2015

Our society reinforces women’s role as caregivers, time and again. It’s time this changed to help women focus on their own health, says this post.

Think about the time when your grandfather/father(-in-law)/husband/son(-in-law) was sick/unwell/indisposed.

It could be something major, like an operation, or something minor, like a fever. Can you recall who was there with him? Who nursed him back to health? Who fussed over him? Who ensured he had healthy food? Who gave him timely medicine? Who bore his mood-swings and tantrums? Who stuck through the bad and the ugly along with him?

I can’t say for sure what your answer is. But I can guess with a great degree of confidence that it was a woman in his life. It could be the grandmother/mother(-in-law)/wife/daughter(-in-law).

Now think about the time when your grandmother/mother(-in-law)/wife/daughter(-in-law) was sick /unwell/ indisposed. It could be something major, like an operation, or something minor, like a fever. Can you recall who was there with her? Who nursed her back to health? Who fussed on her? Who ensured she had healthy food? Who gave her timely medicine? Who bore her mood-swings and tantrums? Who stuck through the bad and the ugly along with her?

I can’t say for sure what your answer is. But I can guess with a great degree of confidence that it was a woman in her life. And more often than not that woman is herself.

For the past several years, personal circumstances have put me in the middle of many such situations. I’ve seen this as a recurring pattern in a vast majority of the cases (Note: I don’t mean to generalize here, and agree that there could be several exceptions).

…even when women are in the hospital for any kind of medical treatment, they are usually on their own – to take care, recover, rest, recuperate, and get to their feet. Of course, the medical staff / help does their bit, but the onus of “fuss-free” recovery  is on the woman.

I brought this up with many friends in my personal network and there is general consensus. I followed this with a discussion with a very close doctor friend, and she confirmed this from her medical experiences too. She said that many times, even when women are in the hospital for any kind of medical treatment, they are usually on their own – to take care, recover, rest, recuperate, and get to their feet. Of course, the medical staff / help does their bit, but the onus of “fuss-free” recovery is on the woman.

In many cases, she said that if a man is the patient, some woman will accompany him – even for a consultation. But if the woman is the patient, many times she comes alone or with some other woman. One instance that she narrated to me was of an aunty admitted in the hospital. Her husband refused to visit her because he was ’emotionally unable to see his wife in distress’. The aunty was mostly alone through her surgery and recovery. A few years later, her husband underwent a surgery in the same hospital. She did not leave his bed-side even for a minute and nursed him back to his feet in record time.

Something does not add up, right?

Looking back at all the women in my own life – be it my grandmother, mother(-in-law), sister(-in-law), aunts, cousin sisters, friends, etc.- I really cannot remember a time when they fussed about their health or when they were nursed back to recovery by anyone. Self-care/treatment with a silent “no-fuss” recovery was what it was. And it suited everyone just fine, I guess – including the men!

I look around me today, and almost all my mummy friends acknowledge, recognize, and realize that they cannot afford to fall sick. They are the anchors around which their house functions. Hence, if they are unwell, it affects the entire house. So they try their best to do everything in their human capacity to make sure that the house functions as normal – despite their ailments. So again self-care/treatment with a silent “no-fuss” recovery is what it is. And it suits everyone just fine I guess – including the men!

This pattern bothers me.

Is it so hard for men to care for the women in their life when she is unwell? (When she cares for him everyday!)

Is it so hard for men to be around her when she is unwell? (When she is with him if he is unwell or well!)

Is it so hard for the men to nurse her back to health? (When she nurses him back to the pink of health!)

Is it so hard for the men to fuss over her? (When she bears all the fuss he does – even if he is sick / healthy!)

Is it unfair to expect that he will ensure she has healthy food? (When she takes extra care to ensure he has nutritious food to aid in recovery and even, otherwise!)

Is it unrealistic to expect that he will give her timely medicine? (When she ensures he takes his medicines on time!)

Is it so hard for him to bear her mood-swings and tantrums? (When she bears his mood-swings and tantrums every single day!)

Is it so hard for him to stick through the bad and the ugly along with her? (When she sticks with him through the bad and ugly!)

Something still does not add up in my mind. Does the Math make sense in your mind? in your heart?

So, can you answer my question, honestly: If he’s not well, she’s there. When she’s not well, who’s there?

As I sign-off this post and we start 2015, I end with just two points:

One, if you are a woman – Invest in your own health and well-being this year. In the long run, this will be the best gift for you and your family. It is really about regular exercise, sensible eating habits, and a positive outlook to life – which make all the difference. And yes, get the men in your life to read this piece. It may just get them to think and open their eyes and minds!

Two, if you are a man – Thanks for reading this. May be the next time a woman you know is unwell, it would be great if you do more than channel surfing in front of that Idiot box  or be glued to your smartphone.

On that note, here’s wishing you a very happy new year! May it be filled with good health, happiness and doctor-free days!

Pic credit: Concept image for women’s role as caregivers via Shutterstock.

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  1. Happy New Year Nischala and all the other readers.
    Very well written and thought provoking one. It is high time, the women of the previous generation and the current generation stop conditioning the future generations by asking the girl/woman to take care of the boys/men of the family, and make everyone responsible for their own health and others’ health as well. (this also holds good while we talk about value systems which seem to be separate for men and women)

  2. A very well written article Nischala !

    This subject is very less often discussed. I got a chance to see this problem, when I took my mother to south India for Ayurvedic treatment. There were men of very age who had come there for treatment- teen, young, middle aged, old and really old, and each one of them were accompanied by a caring female. However there were almost nil number of women, who have came there primarily seeking treatment for themselves (most of them were seeking treatment just because they just happened to be there as they were accompanying their significant halves who were seeking treatment for themselves. (Except for one single working middle aged lady, who had come alone). It made me wonder, are only males in our society who are ill?

    I think the root of the problem is that from teen years girls are programmed and trained to take care of sick, and as they grow up and have their own families, they start to own this as ‘their’ responsibility. On the other hand, men they not only don’t see it (lack of programming), don’t recieve the training to do it well and many of the times they just don’t want to it.

    Solution? Besides taking good care of ourselves and maintaining a strong support system in your life (mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues), we should stop reciprocating the care and nurturing to those who don’t reciprocate when its our turn. I guess this is the only way.

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