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Living with a GUCH

By Steven Parker

His day job may be in accountancy, but when it comes to his wife's heart condition Steven Parker has served his medical apprenticeship. He even considered asking a cardiologist's permission before he and Judith got married!

When I was asked recently what it was like to live with a GUCH, it suddenly dawned on me that I had done so for the past 15 years and taken it for granted.

Now while this may be seen as positive there is also a negative: complacency. Partners and friends treat GUCHs normally, which is great for their self-esteem but we may not always be aware of their limitations or needs.

I am a keen walker and introduced my wife, Judith, to walking early on in our relationship. Initially I think she surprised herself by how much she was able to achieve because it just did not occur to her that she would be able to undergo this sort of activity.

We used to have short breaks in the Lake District and Snowdonia. I tried to plan walks that I thought Judith would be able to undertake and ensured we had quite a few rest stops. This did not always go to plan because it was while we were in the Lake District that I became obsessed with a walk which we could do straight from our hotel without the need of the car. I had the route all planned so, armed with guide, map and all the essentials, we set off.

The initial climb was harder than I expected but Judith kept up. About five hours later we returned to the hotel exhausted and I was beginning to question the grading of the walk in the guide. It was only when I was back in the hotel that I realised I had chosen a walk in the 'challenging' section rather than in the 'easy' section. In my obsession to walk directly from the hotel I had become blind to the severity of the walk. This certainly became a 'lesson learned' when planning future walks.

Over the years I have learnt a lot about Judith's condition and can confidently discuss it with all members of the medical profession. I feel this is an important aspect of living with a GUCH for a number of reasons:

  1. You never know when you may be asked to recall this knowledge (e.g. in an emergency situation when the GUCH is unconscious).
  2. It helps you to understand what their condition is about
  3. It enables you to form an opinion when talking to doctors
  4. It shows you care
I have known Judith for 26 years and we started going out in 1987. I have served my medical apprenticeship and passed my finals, which was a grilling by GUCH Cardiologist Professor Jane Somerville who apparently told Judith, 'He's passed'. I almost felt I needed to ask her permission before Judith and I could marry!

Through Judith and the GUCH Patients Association (the former name of The Somerville Foundation) I have met a number of GUCHs and I am amazed at how they just get on with life and live it to the full. Through my work I have come across a number of people with minor ailments who just seem to spend their time complaining. What lessons could they learn from GUCHs?

There have been some amusing moments over the years, which are too numerous to mention. However, one incident is worth recalling. Judith was taken ill during the night so we phoned the local GP surgery and a doctor promptly turned up during the early hours. As he was the on-call doctor he had no prior knowledge of Judith or of her condition. I was asked, 'What medication is Judith taking.' Rather than list all the different drugs I went to the cupboard where they were stored and collected all the different bottles. These I presented to the doctor who examined them one by one. He then presented me with one bottle and said, 'I don't think she can be taking this.' In my haste to collect all the bottles I had included one that was for our cat!

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