I take thee in sickness and health
Decades ago, I made some promises to my husband. One was to love and cherish him forever. One was to take him for richer or poorer.
Buried somewhere in the text of those vows and lost somewhere between the nerves of a jittery bride and the anticipation of the great party that would follow our wedding, was a promise that had something to do with sickness. I was only half-listening to that one. Of course, he would be healthy. He took pretty good care of himself. His relatives were all healthy. He had no stress in his life. Why wouldn't he be healthy?
Twenty-some years later, I get it.
Although my children have had their share of minor injuries and childhood diseases, and despite the fact that some of my friends have dealt with disease or injury of a spouse, my naivete had barred me from entertaining the notion that anything could happen to my husband. He was active and fit. And besides, bad things don't happen to good guys.
I had occasionally discussed the topic of caregiving with my sister, a nurse, whose compassion is larger than life and who, in recent years, tended to each of her in-laws in their final days. I marveled at her patience and devoted attention to their every comfort. I lamented the fact that I didn't possess the mettle it took to bestow such devotion.
Many of my friends knew I was resistant to the idea of providing such intensive and personal care. I had shared with them that I couldn't fathom nursing someone back to health. Maybe I would be able to draw upon my instinctual maternal skills to nurse my children back to health, if needed, but playing the role of nurse to anyone else just wasn't within my realm of capabilities. I quipped that the plan for my husband's care, should the need arise, included hiring a private nurse for him and arranging long, extended trips away from home for myself.
About a month ago, I received word that a bad thing had happened to my good guy.
He was standing behind his SUV when, suddenly, he was hit from behind by a careless driver. His lower legs crushed, he underwent immediate surgery.
Just as immediately, all of my old perceptions vanished. Along with the regimented schedule we kept, and along with the list of fast-paced daily activities I now recognize as superficial, the belief that I was not a caregiver became a thing of the past.
Something instantaneously happened when I got the horrific news; something unplanned and surprising. Without conscious thought or reason surfaced an intense desire to help and heal my husband. Suddenly, tending to his health was as involuntary to me as breathing.
Thankfully, I can report the prognosis is good. Although we get tired of hearing it, we know that he is, indeed, lucky.
Seventy meals, 26 bandage changes and as many sponge baths later, we often catch the eye of the other as we transfer from bed to wheelchair and shake our heads in disbelief at our plight.
The road to recovery is long. But I have taken him in sickness and in health. And he has taken me for better or for worse, mostly for worse in recent days. So here we are together, in our 50s, with a new understanding of those promises we made so many years ago.
And without speaking a word, our vows have been renewed.