When bad things happen
By Leslie J. Barner
We were away on a beach trip for our anniversary, enjoying great romance, good seafood, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.
It was amidst the sweet sounds of seagulls cawing and gentle waves washing ashore that my husband got seriously ill.
After a misdiagnosis and two weeks in the hospital, he was diagnosed with polyarteritis nodosa, which causes inflammation in the small and medium arteries.
But that was only the beginning.
Within a few years, the disease affected his heart, causing it to fail.
I watched my husband―the one who played college football and loved playing basketball―struggle with dizziness, shortness of breath, difficulty doing everyday chores. This man who’d advanced up the corporate ladder and swung my girls up on his shoulders now found putting on his shoes physically taxing.
A year later, he suffered a life-threatening heart attack. After lengthy hospitalizations for advanced heart failure, we were told his heart muscle had become dangerously weak.
We had to make a choice. Either he would have to have a mechanical heart pump implanted into his chest to help his heart beat normally until he can get a new heart, or take an intravenous medication that would practically be to the heart what a jockey’s whip is to a horse. It might help keep him alive for up to a year.
We opted for a mechanical heart pump. He went on the heart transplant list six months later.
We’re still waiting for a new heart.
Our new normal involves hospital stays, endless doctor visits, maintaining the sterile dressing for the driveline protruding from his abdomen, and the maintenance of a lot of equipment that must go where we go.
I routinely pack, unpack, and set up equipment and supplies so he doesn’t have to think about it. We still do the things and go to the places we love, just without straying outside of the distance allowed for those on the heart transplant list.
My man is still a hopeless romantic. He constantly tells me how beautiful and desirable I am; still flirts with me, surprises me with gifts “just because,” and is still very passionate in the bedroom.
While I know I have to be careful of the driveline and cord during lovemaking, I’m just as careful to make those necessary nuances a non-issue.I want him to know and to feel that my love, respect, and desire for him has not declined with his health.
I am stricken. He is my love, my lover, my brave and courageous best friend who still makes me feel safe, protected, and deeply loved.
Is it scary at times? Very. Especially when concerning symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, or numbness in his right arm occurs. What if I lose him? I feel the fear constricting my own chest.
Is there uncertainty at times? Absolutely. Sometimes I wonder if he will ever get a new heart, or how long he can safely live on a mechanical heart pump. What if it malfunctions? What if a blood clot or internal bleeding occurs?
What if I took him to the hospital and he never came home? Who would walk our youngest daughter down the aisle? Who would hold me at night, and give me advice on things no one else understands?
But together, we’ve learned to trust God like never before, and cling to the words of Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
The good stuff: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
Action points: Discuss together some things that you can do now to be prepared for a day when one of you may have to take care of the other because of a serious illness. For instance:
What might that look like?
How can you strengthen your relationship now to keep your marriage strong and protected when bad things happen?
What are some ways in which you can make a practice of “living in the moment” and make the best of the here and now, while you both are healthy?
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