Why did you not tell me about medical appt?
January 21, 2014 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Just received a voicemail from a breast surgeon's office confirming my wife's appointment tomorrow. Problem? My wife has told me nothing of this. I'm kind of pissed. My first reaction is to pick up phone and be angry about her hiding this from me, but then I took a deep breath and tried to figure out why I don't know. I don't want to cause a huge fight if she has something serious medical going on, but WTF? FWIW, my wife has a history of abnormal mammos and was biopsied once before and everything was benign. I'm going to call her shortly, but don't want to bring anger to table...how do I do that? Signed, Concerned but angered
posted by teg4rvn to Human Relations (48 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe she's pretty sure that it will be benign again and so it's therefore not a big thing to worry about, so she didn't tell you because she didn't want you to freak out.

And going by your reaction, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the conclusion she came to. Seriously, dude - "her body, her choice" also applies to what she tells other people about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on January 21, 2014 [47 favorites]

My wife doesn't tell me about every appointment she makes. I assume if there was anything going on she'd bring me up to speed.

I'm going to call her shortly, but don't want to bring anger to table...how do I do that?

"Hey, your doc left a message about your appointment. Anything I need to be concerned about?"

Assuming you've given us all the information in this situation, I don't see any need at all for anger.
posted by bondcliff at 1:07 PM on January 21, 2014 [81 favorites]

Seriously, dude - "her body, her choice" also applies to what she tells other people about it.
That's not true in every marriage and we certainly don't know that it's the case for the asker's. People in relationships have long lists of explicit and implicit commitments to each other.

teg4rvn, just wait some more until you're not feeling frustrated anymore, man. There's nothing you could have done by being told about it. If it's something serious (god forbid) you are never going to forgive yourself for being short with her at this time in her life. And remind yourself that you're probably just misplacing fear for anger.
posted by ftm at 1:07 PM on January 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

She doesn't want it to be a big deal if it's really nothing. She doesn't want to worry you needlessly.
posted by Aranquis at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

If anger is the thing you would bring to the table, ask yourself what is underneath the anger, and bring *that* to the table.

Like are you frightened that she's having a medical problem? Bring that to her. "Honey, I just got a voicemail from the surgeon about your appointment and I realize I'm so scared about how you're doing! Is there anything I can do to help?"

Or are you worried that you're not in control of what happens next? Bring that. "Honey I just got a voicemail from the surgeon about your appointment and I'm feeling out of control. I want to help - is there anything I can do?"
posted by jasper411 at 1:09 PM on January 21, 2014 [67 favorites]

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten a lot calmer by following this advice from MetaFilter: Anger is a choice. I'll also add to this: So is fear and sadness.

This has helped me not get through some tough current events similar to what you are going through right now.

Bondcliff has an appropriate, non-invasive response that will get you much further than being either overly worried or aggressive.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

Anger is very often an emotion that rushes in when our real gut reaction is a different emotion that seems too upsetting to sit with. So try to peel back the anger a little. For example, are you afraid that she's sick? Does not knowing what's going on with her feel humiliating or confusing in some way?

Whatever the issues are, they are yours to sit with and deal with, not hers. Maybe she's afraid, too. Maybe she wanted to spare you the anxiety. Whatever her motive, it was almost certainly not to anger you -- it was likely coming from a place of love, and even the worst case scenario is that she just forgot to tell you.

You guys are on the same side. Don't let this distract you from that fact.
posted by scody at 1:11 PM on January 21, 2014 [18 favorites]

I don't want to cause a huge fight if she has something serious medical going on, but WTF?

Calm the fuck down.

All you know is that she has a doctor's appointment. Maybe she's just getting a regular mammogram. She might not have thought that a routine test that she gets regularly was worth mentioning. Not worth your anger.

OR, it is in fact something serious (or she thinks it might be), and she is very, very scared. So scared that she can't bear to think or talk about it. Even to you. In which case she needs your love and support, and not your irrational anger.

Just stop and think about the possibilities for a second. Then do what bondcliff said.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:11 PM on January 21, 2014 [40 favorites]

Maybe she doesn't want to go through a dramatic scene until she knows what's what. If you're frightened or freaked out, you might want to put that aside--she doesn't need to take care of you, as well. You can bring it up to her, but calm down and let her tell you in her own way, in her own time.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:11 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Deep breath, relax. You are turning your worry/fear into anger for no reason.

She didn't HIDE it from you, she just hadn't given you a heads up that she made an appointment. If she were really trying to hide it, she would have told them not to call the home phone and given them her cell phone as the number to call her. Not telling you something does NOT equal "hiding."

Sometimes when I am worried or stressed about something, I just don't want to talk about it. She may be freaked out and just wants it to not be a big deal (in hopes that it's benign).

Be supportive and loving, not angry.
posted by amaire at 1:12 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is what we're here for. Empty out all the pissed-offedness into this thread and then you can approach her from a place of loving concern.

I think it's to be expected that you'll be irritated, because if it's something serious, it deeply concerns you and your life with her, not just her.

But emotions are terrible advisors. Remember how much you love her, and THEN call.
posted by janey47 at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

It seems possible that this is a 6-month or 12-month follow-up appointment that she forgot about. I often schedule those in-office and then forget to note them in my calendar, so I don't remember them until I get the reminder phone call.
posted by muddgirl at 1:17 PM on January 21, 2014 [25 favorites]

Once when I got laid off my wife got so upset that I had to spend the rest of the day taking care of her rather than thinking about and taking care of myself.

Don't be that person.

If your wife has a serious health concern going on, you should be supportive.

If this is something so inconsequential that she needn't have mentioned, you should be thankful.

In no case you should be selfish and angry.

I mean, really dude. If she's dealing with seeing a breast surgeon can't you get over yourself and be supportive of your life partner?
posted by alms at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2014 [40 favorites]

Its okay to be angry. Its human. Trying not to be angry is useless. But you can acknowledge that anger without bringing it to the conversation with your wife. So allow yourself the anger and then call her.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This could be totally inconsequential. Remember, if the doctor left a message on your shared voicemail, and not on her personal mobile device or work phone, then she probably wasn't making any big effort to hide the appointment from you.
posted by lalex at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2014

Your wife may want to come to you after this appointment with a fuller picture of what's going on if it's something. "I have a thing in my breast and there are indications it's cancer and I'm going for a 2nd opinion from a surgeon" does very little besides trigger fear, the need for reassurance and almost endless questioning from a partner: "what kind of cancer what stage what are the survival rates what kind of treatment options are there will you get sick are you going to die how are we going to cope what do you want to tell the kids will our insurance cover this" etc. There are no answers at that point and everyone just ends up sobbing all over each other and basically lying for comfort in the absence of real information. It would be better for me to go to my spouse with a clear picture of diagnosis and outcomes rather than writhing in worry with him beforehand.

On the other hand, if it's an annual followup, those really get so trivial they're genuinely forgettable.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't want to cause a huge fight if she has something serious medical going on, but WTF?

Either it's an appointment about something not serious, or it's an appointment about something serious.

If it's not serious, unless you have an agreement that she discuss all medical appointments of any sort with you, there's no reason to be upset. She might have even considered a biopsy to be in that category, especially having had one before, as it's a very low impact procedure that may well return a result that nothing serious is going on.

If you have gotten upset in the past about her mammogram results or biopsy, she might have figured there was no point in getting you upset over nothing and be planning to tell you if she has bad news.

The other possibility is that it's something serious, and you've already said that you don't want to cause a fight in that case. So don't cause a fight.

Just talk to her and find out what's going on. If you want to be informed of any and all medical appointments she might have, you need to talk with her about that and see if that's something she would be willing to do.
posted by yohko at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding muddgirl. I have a 6-month followup after my abnormal mammogram, and I couldn't tell you when that appointment will be without rummaging through a stack of junk on my desk. It is most likely that this is a routine follow-up and she just forgot about it. But still, examine why you are angry about this. Is it because you're afraid she's sick? Imagine that she is actually sick. Do you want the first emotion you aim at her to be anger? Wait until you are calmed down, then call her and say what bondcliff said.
posted by bedhead at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing the anger is hiding your fear that there is something wrong with your wife and that's why she is not telling you. Do what you have to do to let the anger go, if there is nothing wrong it's misplaced, and if there is it will in no way be helpful for either of you, though as others have said I imagine there is no reason for you to be worried or she would have told you.

Does she tell you about every dental cleaning or errand she runs? I imagine she has given it no more thought than that and it's for something routine, heck it might just be for a mammogram.
posted by wwax at 1:38 PM on January 21, 2014

I sometimes hide things from people if I'm very scared or very sad, because their commiseration sometimes confirms that it's right to be scared and sad, when what I really need is to not think about it until I know what I'm dealing with.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:39 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband did something similar to this last summer. He had a doctor's appointment for an issue, and a subsequent CT scan to get more information, all without telling me. I'm not sure he would have told me at all, except I overheard him taking the phone call where they told him there wasn't anything serious on the CT. First I was furious with him ("when were you intending on telling me this??") and it has subsequently sort of led to me having some issues trusting that he's telling me the full story on other things.


His explanation did make perfect sense. His doctor ordered the test, but only to "rule out anything serious". The doctor was doing due diligence and nothing more. The doctor thought the odds were "almost zero" that there was a serious issue, and my husband (knowing me) knew that I'd just worry and fuss over him in the weeks (!) prior to the CT. He didn't tell me because he didn't want to upset me without any real information. So, we talked about it, and he now understands why I was super upset and I understand why it's his impulse to keep these things private until he needs to share them.

You are getting a lot of good advice here. For me, what worked best was really examining why I was so upset and where that feeling was coming from.
posted by anastasiav at 1:41 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I got mad at my mom once for not telling me about an appointment she was having. Basically a routine test showed abnormality and it needed to be examined further. I was mad she didn't tell me about it or do something about it sooner, but she thought it was just nothing and wasn't worth mentioning. She got the follow-up done and it was indeed nothing. I'd chill out. I doubt she's hiding something serious. My guess is it's just another biopsy or something and she was going to tell you only if she needed/it warranted further action.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:42 PM on January 21, 2014

how do I do that?

First, take a lot of deep breaths. That will slow your heart rate down and lessen the amount of adrenaline pumping through your system. Try to self soothe.

Then, when you've done that, try to take a more objective view of the situation. It's unlikely she did this to spite you. Ask yourself what it is, exactly, that you're angry about. Perhaps try the 5 Why's technique.

Your wife may have forgotten about this appointment entirely and didn't tell you because of that. It might be for something completely routine, and she didn't tell you because of that. She might be going to get the results of a mammogram, yet knowing that she has a history of abnormal results that don't actually turn out to be anything, she suspects that it's nothing serious and so there's nothing to tell.

Also, if it is something serious, you are not the person who gets to be angry. You are the person who gets to be supportive of the person who has the health problem. Your wife doesn't need you to be angry at her.
posted by Solomon at 1:46 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

OP here. Thanks for all the insight. Now I'm flummoxed as to whether I should say nothing at all (even supportively) as it might trigger add'l anxiety on her part with her knowing that I know she has this appt., or to go the route of bondcliff and just casually mention the voicemail.
posted by teg4rvn at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2014

I think you have to mention the voicemail. You can't rule out that she didn't mention it because it was scheduled, as a follow up, months ago, and she's actually forgotten about it.
posted by anastasiav at 1:55 PM on January 21, 2014 [20 favorites]

Either she gave the doctor's office permission to leave a message on shared voicemail (in which case it's no big deal, but she may have forgotten it, and you should mention it), or her doctor's office is violating privacy regulations. In which case she may want to know that. I would.

I think mentioning it is the way to go, but the tone I'd aim for would be a non-angry "Hey, you got this reminder, figured you'd want to know. Is everything okay?" Best case, everything's fine. Worst case, you do have something you need to talk about but you can have a reasonable conversation because you haven't started out at the angry "WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?" place with nowhere to escalate to.
posted by Stacey at 2:03 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just relay the message. She may use that as an opening to tell you what it's about. Hopefully it's just a follow up.
posted by cecic at 2:04 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think bondcliff gave you the best script of acknowledging the voicemail, which I do think you should do. Not to be trite, but you would do the same if it was a voicemail about a tooth cleaning or something similar, right? All you have to do is pass along the message. Let her be your guide as to whether this is a Thing that needs discussion and support or not.
posted by sm1tten at 2:07 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm very torn here. I can completely understand your wife being scared and not telling you because she doesn't want to delve into her emotions until she knows there's a reason to worry. On the other hand, as a spouse, I would want to know. My dad went in for a routine procedure, a cardiac stress test, and collapsed while on the treadmill and needed emergency surgery. My mom and I definitely appreciated knowing in advance he was going in for a test, so that we could make sure to be available and near a phone if something happened.

I think you should discuss this issue with your wife, but don't come at it in anger. Tell her you would like to know when she is going in for a test and it would make you feel better. Then, don't freak out when she says she's going in for a test in the future. Tell her you will give her emotional support if she wants it or you will keep quiet if she want you to keep quiet. Don't heap your worry and concern onto her. Part of not telling you I suspect has to do with her needing to deal with your reaction rather than having the space to deal with her own emotions.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:10 PM on January 21, 2014

Just tell her about the phone call without assuming the worst. There's no need to either get angry or tiptoe around this unnecessarily. You're a team.
posted by something something at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My current / final wife leaves her diary open sometimes and her email and computer open and if i had nothing else to do with my life, was bored to death or ready to kill her from anger I would no sooner peek than I would kill a kitten. She could be plotting my death with her boyfriend.

She can keep any goddamned secret she wants and I trust her judgment to bring me in on things that matter. Frankly, her judgment is better than mine in 99% of matters. If I were married to an idiot, maybe I'd worry, but in this regard, anyway, I chose well and so did she.

Not to say she's perfect, nor am I, but I am NOT PART OF HER, and she deserves whatever space she needs to make it to the grave. So do I. As an adult, I have secret places in my brain and life and when I want you in here, I'll hold the door open.

Marriage isn't ownership. You are looking for advice. Mine is to mind your own business. Getting angry over this is not a hill to die on.

(I hope it all works out for her, as I know you do. Good luck to both of you.)
posted by FauxScot at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2014 [34 favorites]

I did this to my now-husband (then live-in fiancé) about some cancer-y stuff last year; I was upset but could hold it together when I needed to and I was kind of tired of being upset and didn't want him to be scared, too. And I knew he would deal with it his way- which is not at all the way I handle things- and I just needed a week to process things my way without having to deal with his feelings and questions on top of my anxiety and questions.

I did one follow-up appointment, asked my doctor all my zillions of questions and once the results were confirmed and I knew I was looking at at least minor surgery OF COURSE I told him. We had to have a conversation about why I didn't tell him, then, but he was understanding and supportive and it seems like you're in that place now, too. Good for you.

I like bondcliff's script for a phone call; she might actually need the reminder.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you don't want to get angry with your wife before she's going in for a medical appointment, don't. If you react by going straight to anger and need to be talked down from calling her up in anger, could that be a reason she didn't tell you? I mean - serious or not serious, if she's had abnormal test results in the past, it sounds like this must be rather stressful and unpleasant for her.

I sometimes hide things from people who get pissed at me and make it about themselves when I need support and understanding
posted by citron at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

Bondcliff's suggestion for a phone call seems best.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:54 PM on January 21, 2014

Figure out what you hope to achieve by bringing it up to her in the mood you want to present. Do you want to leave her? Or do you simply want her to be up front with you about her appointments?
posted by theraflu at 2:55 PM on January 21, 2014

If you're scared about something, once you let someone else in on it they can either help (by reassuring you and making you less scared about the thing), or hurt (by freaking out and piling on a lot of additional 'what if' questions that mean you now have to manage their anxiety too). If you have even the slightest tendency toward the latter, it's not surprising that she might not tell you yet when, at the moment, nothing is actually wrong. She might also be thinking, like many of the posters above mentioned, "eh, this is no big deal. Million to one shot that it's anything to get worked up about. Why mention it to hubs unless the doc is wrong and it IS serious."
posted by MsMolly at 2:55 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is an opportunity here (when everyone is calm, maybe even after this particular appointment is passed) to talk about what the norms should be in your marriage about sharing medical information. In the past year I have conversations with both my own adult children and my aging in-laws about who wants to know what, how quickly and to reach some rough understanding about sharing this stuff. In both cases, the ones having the problem didn't want to worry the others and the others really wanted to be allowed to share the worry if something was going on.

In your situation, I would really want to know if she was waiting to tell me (waiting for what?) and why she thought waiting was a good idea (protect me from worry, keep my worry from upsetting her). Then I could talk about what I wanted (don't protect me from worry) and how I could be more supportive (maybe I need to be really careful not to over react. Or if that seems unlikely, maybe I need accept that it is OK for her to wait until there is something serious before I need to know)

But yes, have that talk.
posted by metahawk at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I apologize, actually - you deserve a bit more of a charitable answer. I think I was reacting to your saying that you were "angry" that she hadn't told you, and I was making an assumption about the source of that anger, and that wasn't fair.

But what I say about how maybe the reason she didn't tell you was because she either didn't want to worry you, or wanted to wait until she knew all the facts about what TO tell, still holds. Some people handle medical stuff like that - my mother didn't tell me that my father had been admitted to the hospital for a perforated colon until after he was already home two days later, because she "didn't want me to worry". (It was SUPER minor - just a teeny nick from a colonoscopy, but his arthritis medication just made it slow to heal and he felt funky for a couple days.) It's possible your wife felt the same.

In terms of your reaction and how to quell it - a lot of people here have suggested thinking about what the source of that anger may be. Is it fear? Is it confusion that she didn't tell you about it? Is it something else? You know - dig down to why you are reacting so strongly, and think about the source of that reaction, and dig further back, and....and that act of self-analysis can maybe calm you down enough to know how to broach this.

But yeah, you are probably scared, and I was snarky at you when you were scared, and that wasn't cool and I'm sorry. I wish you both well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:17 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

[Folks, do not get into a side argument in here.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:31 PM on January 21, 2014

Here's another thought.

People of all ages and marital status deserve the dignity of a private emotional and intellectual life that they don't have to share with anyone, even their spouse. If this is potentially serious, she may want to sort it out and reckon with it on her own before sharing it with you. As long as she doesn't keep it a secret indefinitely, I think that even a married person should be able to grapple with something as serious and existential as cancer risk in her own way and timeline. Trust her judgement, respect her privacy; she'll tell you when it's right. This is first and foremost her crisis/trauma/life event, and yours secondarily (as obviously important and life-changing as it could be to you, she's the one with the potential illness).
posted by amaire at 3:51 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Counterpoint, amaire: A friend's wife of 20-some years became severely debilitated. She explained away every symptom to him - Difficulty: She was a well-respected pathologist. He finally got her to go to another doctor, who accepted her well-crafted explanations.

The second second opinion he forced her to seek ignored her explanations, and stated firmly, "You quite clearly have late-stage breast cancer." She died 26 days later.

She'd always handled the family finances, and had cancelled her own life insurance the year before (before the symptoms were first noticed).

Clearly, she was fighting the obvious diagnosis with firm denial. And, of course, she wasn't technically hiding anything from her spouse that she wasn't also hiding from herself.

But her decisions left her grieving widower in debt, her children prematurely motherless, and just generally sucked.

It's not a perfectly analogous example, but it adds weight to my belief that, once you are married, your future is tied up with your spouse's, and you have a certain obligation to keep them in the loop.

I'm not sure that means "You must immediately tell them if you make a doctor's appointment", but it certainly means far more than "Meh, I can do what I want; your concerns have no bearing here."
posted by IAmBroom at 4:00 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Here's a thought.

There is the possibility that this is a non-major appointment and that she did mention it to you, in passing, and you weren't listening/ forgot.
Just relay the message and let it go.
posted by windykites at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had odd mammogram results and a biopsy before, and I wouldn't tell Mr Corpse about my next appointment any more than I would tell him about my next dental appointment. It wouldn't cross my mind, as we don't keep track of each other's appointments unless one of us needs a ride or to take care of the kids. Maybe your wife is like me, not at all scared, and didn't tell you because it just wasn't a big deal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:49 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I go to that type of dr for a mammogram every six months. I'm there about 15-20 minutes tops. I never even think to tell my SO about it. It really could be just a follow-up.
posted by tamitang at 7:51 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If this voicemail worried you or scared you, that's a completely appropriate thing to share with your wife.

Being angry at your wife due to this voicemail is way out of line in my opinion. Angry. At what? That she has a doctor's appointment? That she's being proactive about breast health after having had an abnormal biopsy? Mammography results are often ambiguous in the best of circumstances. It's stressful enough to put a cancer scare behind you, and leaping into crisis mode for every follow-up is no way to live.

If your first reaction is to leap to distrust and then get angry at her based on those assumptions, that says to me that you've got some misdirected or unresolved stuff in your head to work out.
posted by desuetude at 8:12 PM on January 21, 2014

OP here. Here's the resolution:

When I finally saw my wife a couple of hours later, she literally was telling our teenage daughter that she could not pick her up from school early tomorrow because she has a doctor's appointment. At that point I took the earlier advice to point out that the doc's office called to remind her to bring paperwork with her and since it was a breast surgeon, is there anything I need to know or worry about. She responded by saying that it must be obvious how not worried she is about the appointment since she would have forgotten to go if the reminder call didn't come. Moreover, she indicated her primary care doc who ordered a mammo and reported back to her about a small abnormality "was totally not worried" but figured it couldn't hurt to have a breast surgeon have a second look. "I probably should have told you earlier this week, but I totally was not thinking about it," she said.

Thanks for all thoughtful advice.
posted by teg4rvn at 9:44 PM on January 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

All's well that ends well then! :)

But I would like to say a couple of quick points in case a similar situation comes up in the future:

- Anger pretty much always has fear at its root. Address and confront your fear, and the anger will recede.

- Don't have conversations about this sort of the thing on the phone. If it had been serious (And thank His Noodliness that it doesn't seem to be, seriously), that's the sort of thing you want to discuss face to face, with ample opportunity for hugs and stuff if needed.

- I know it's hard (oh my god do I know how hard it is, and I usually fail, so what I am saying here is don't be me), but don't make these phone calls/have these discussions when anger is the primary or even secondary emotion you are feeling. Back off. Walk away. Wait until you are more calm before discussing things.

- I'm really glad it's nothing :)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:31 AM on January 22, 2014

Thanks for letting us know. I've been sending lots of good thoughts your way.

The good news is that she's on top of the abnormalities so if a problem ever does arise, she'll catch it early. (I say this as someone who had breast cancer a few years ago -- Caught at stage 1b, I have a great prognosis!)
posted by janey47 at 9:20 AM on January 22, 2014

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