Flu tests ‘in sickness and in health’ clausePublished 9:57am Friday, January 11, 2013
Column: Notes from Home, by David Rask Behling
Oh my dear wife, come to my arms, you look so … ravishing swaddled in quilts and muffled up to the chin in your robe. The red, chapped nose, watery eyes and the hot water bottle strapped to your chest is so … alluring. Surely the irresistible aroma of Vicks Vaporub I’ve smeared all over my heaving chest must be filling you with desire. Let me bring this body (with its 101-degree fever) over to you on the sofa, where we can snuggle.
Not even the most amorous man (or woman) indulges in a fantasy like this, I suspect. The last thing on the minds of anyone who is ill with fever, aches and congestion are hopes for romantic encounters. During cold and influenza season, if we make it through the day without our whining and snarling causing either abandonment or violence, we usually feel like it was a good day.
It was a complicated end of the year for both of us, but more so for me. I fell down some stairs in October, which didn’t help, but what really hurt was catching the Iowa version of the coughing, sneezing horribles at the end of that month. This body (comforted by medications and many boxes of tissues, reeking of Vaporub) coughed so vigorously that muscles in the torso protested; I ended up with either an extended case of bronchitis or a double-whammy version. An epic chest cold, it finally released me from coughing up nasty looking slime just before Christmas, almost two full months later.
She-who-must-be-obeyed came down with a variation of the same ailment a month after me, but her afflictions went to the sinuses instead of the lungs. She managed to sneeze and cough her way through the obligatory parties and Christmas Eve services, but avoided the traditional pastoral handshakes by the exit after the services.
So there we sat each evening on sofas in the family room for much of November and December, or swaddled in blankets in bed, propped up by pillows, coughing, blowing noses, taking yet more medications and avoiding all but the most impersonal contact with each other.
Experience and observation have actually taught me that marriages are tested more by the relative “inconveniences” of diseases like influenza and the common cold than they are by so-called “life-altering” conditions like cancer or heart disease. The whining and the whimpering are deadly. Even worse are the piles of tissues left behind on end tables or wadded into pockets, only to be discovered in shreds that fill the lint trap in the dryer each week.
We actually made it through serious bouts of illness relatively unscathed (in the relationship). The first fall after our wedding, she-who-must-be-obeyed turned into she-who-needs-constant-attention because she had developed a severe case of non-infectious mononucleosis, stuck in bed with a swollen spleen. I had little trouble making time for the extra chores or for being there when she needed me.
Our friends (OK, mostly her friends) and families were all polite concern as they asked how she was doing, but I’m sure what they were thinking was much more blunt: “So this is what marriage to him leads to! I knew it was a mistake.”
Much later, it was my turn, with syncopated cardiac rhythms that required surgery and bed rest of my own. Those weeks of syncopation and then recovery, it was my turn to be waited on, worried about, prayed about. She was there for everything.
Each time, we emerged on the other side of serious illness with a stronger relationship. This fall and winter, however, amid coughing, sneezing and with apparently unlimited quantities of mucus (in a variety of colors) oozing or dripping — but no fear of serious complications — we may not have been quite as kind and helpful, but that marriage vow we made over 25 years ago held true again … perhaps marriage vows involve more than just legal papers filed with the state.
David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.