My husband is having a ‘bad’ day. He suffers from an auto-immune disease and takes a variety of medication. On bad days, he takes even more. On good days his symptoms are manageable and a mere annoyance. Today he feels weak, fatigued, hasn’t slept well and is in continuous pain. Thankfully it’s a Saturday and he has fewer commitments and can fall asleep in front of the television and sleep off and on all day if he chooses.
Life isn’t always like this. Life hasn’t always been like this. We’ve been married for almost four years. We’d been married for a little over a year when he first got sick. His symptoms seemed to increase every few days and ended up incorporating his feet, ankles, knees, back, neck, head, shoulders, wrists and hands. He was in a huge amount of pain, had no energy and over a matter of days, he seemed to lose all his strength. It got to the point where he couldn’t dress or feed himself, couldn’t get to the bathroom and couldn’t even get himself out of bed – he didn’t have enough strength in his hands or arms to propel himself up off the bed to be able to sit instead of lying down, let alone actually get out of bed.
It was a horrible period, and took a some time to get an accurate diagnosis. As soon as he began a course of steroids, he started improving rapidly and the change was immense. After a week or so, any time the doctor reduced the steroids, the pain and weakness would return with avengence. As you can imagine, it was horrendous watching the man I love go through such a debilitating illness and to see him in so much pain.
Early one morning on my way to work I stopped to get petrol and as I waited for the petrol tank to fill, I started crying and couldn’t stop. I rang my boss who could tell I was obviously in significant distress. Then I drove to my husband’s doctor and spoke to the receptionists there. With tears streaming down my face I told them I called an ambulance during the night because my husband was in so much pain. Because it wasn’t life threatening or a significant enough emergency, the ambulance service wouldn’t come. “I’ve come here because I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to stop his pain.” The receptionists were both nurses, and they were very kind. They booked me in to see my husband’s doctor and I would be his first appointment. They brought me a cup of tea and gave me tissues and a newspaper to read while I waited the forty-five minutes for the doctor to arrive. The doctor was lovely, he saw me as soon as he arrived. He was surprised my husband had gone downhill so quickly as he had seen him only a few days earlier. He rang the specialist my husband was due to see in a few weeks, explained the situation and was able to arrange an earlier referral and to alter my husband’s medication. I took the prescription directly to our local pharmacist, and within a matter of maybe an hour, my husband’s pain had decreased and he was resting more comfortably.
In the weeks and months that followed, he saw the specialist and while it took time, his health improved and he was able to return to work. That was two and a half years ago and since then there have been ups and downs, good days and bad. In general there are many more good days than there are bad days – and for that we are grateful. We are also both aware that many other people experience greater ongoing pain than we have known, and that life could be a whole lot worse than it is.
My husband’s illness highlighted to me something I hadn’t known and hadn’t needed to learn until that point: that I was prepared to fight for the man that I loved when he wasn’t able to fight for himself. And as his wife, that seemed to be my role at the time, to intercede on his behalf. Because if I hadn’t, who would have?
I have a degree of understanding of how wives and mothers can morph into warriors and/or avenging angels to protect their loved ones when the need arises. What was amazing to me was the strength and determination that I possessed, that until that time, I hadn’t known was there.
That I had strength and determination: this is what I learnt from my husband’s pain.