When my husband, Mighty Marc, signed on for a relationship with me, neither of us had any idea how often he would be called upon to face the worse part of For Better and For Worse and In Sickness and in Health. We were only married a short while when a back problem that had mildly plagued me during our courtship began to interfere with our lifestyle. The doctor's diagnosis was B.B.B: medical jargon for Badly Beat-up Back.
The bad news was that I had painful arthritis, stenosis, herniated discs and slight scoliosis. The good news was my family now knew I was not a hypochondriac.
Then I tore my Achilles heel (seriously), had respiratory problems and had two bouts each with sciatica and diverticulitis. In January of 2009, my right knee was replaced and two years later my left knee was replaced.
Through all of this Mighty Marc never complained about his self-imposed role as nursemaid. But I felt terrible; He had been the caregiver to his former wife for nearly ten years before she succumbed to Alzheimer's. Surely, he had earned the right to an easy second time around.
Every time I'm out of commission he does laundry, washes floors, vacuums, polishes furniture and prepares gourmet meals that frequently include printed menus with colorful scenes of foreign countries. He brings me hot tea, surprises me with chocolate, rubs my feet, kisses me and tells me I'm beautiful. (One thing good about being part of a senior-aged couple is his eyesight and my looks are fading at about the same pace.)
He never noticed that during each illness, my unruly hair might best have been described as homeless-chic, with roots so long I looked like I was wearing a gray yarmulka. I could easily have used barrettes to hold back my untweezed brows.
Mighty Marc chauffeured me to physical therapy and post-surgical blood work five days a week and said he was happy to do it for me.
I have always made a point of showing him my appreciation.
Unfortunately, though, I am not as nice to my husband when he is sick. I have tried to be. Honest. But all good intentions disappeared when I discovered what a monstrous patient he is. When he's not feeling well his sweetness and goodness are replaced with irritability, impatience, whining and a short temper. This normally angelic, selfless man wants instant relief and hates that he is unable to control the speed of his recovery. He rejects every nice thing I attempt to do for him so I've learned to avoid him as much as possible when he's ill. No foot rubs. No hot cups of coffee. No special meals. Next time he's sick I'm not going to subject myself to his crankiness. I'm going to slip my arm through his slightly opened door, toss in a slab of raw meat and slam the door shut.
Friends tell me their husbands are also contentious brats when they're ill. It seems that their blister, their splinter, their paper cut, their hangnail, their cold, their mosquito bite, is far worse than anyone else has ever experienced.
Mighty Marc was driving 75 miles an hour on a highway when he leaned toward me and pointed to his neck.
"What do you see there?" he asked.
I moved close and squinted. "Nothing."
"It can't be nothing. Put on your glasses."
"I'm telling you, I don't see anything."
"Look harder. I'm sure there's a sizeable lump, and I'm sure it's bleeding."
"Nope. Nothing's there."
"When we get home I'll need Neosporin and a bandage."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there."
My friend, Patty, says when her good-natured husband is sick he goes from Hero to Zero in no time flat. I think the Jekyll/Hyde syndrome has to do with men's belief that they're required to be macho and they only feel justified in showing weakness when they're sick. Another theory is that men act like babies because they want to be coddled like their mothers used to do. I don't buy that. My mother showered love and attention on me when I was sick, and I didn't turn into Cruella Deville.
Women are accustomed to pain and discomfort, starting with menstruation and on through labor and childbirth. When a woman feels sick, it rarely interferes with her lifestyle. She prepares dinner, does laundry, takes a few minutes to throw up, then car pools. It's what her mother and grandmother did.
I think poet Maya Angelou had a man in mind when she wrote "I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one."
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