Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You Will Not Do This

I’m a little late this week because I was a little sick last week. Let me rephrase that…I was a lot sick last week. I lost three days of my life to that nasty stomach virus that’s been sweeping across the United States, leaving millions of people gripping their stomachs and running for the bathroom. And at the risk of giving you much more information than you really wanted, not only was this the first time I’d thrown up in over 35 years, but Cheryl also said that when I did, I exploded.

Cheryl did yeoman’s work taking care of me and cleaning up after me. Many of you may figure that that’s no big deal, since she’s a nurse, but there are a few other things to consider. The first is that she had called in sick herself, with a head cold, when I suddenly came down with this thing, and she ended up taking care of me rather than me taking care of her. The other is that it brought back to mind an incident that happened in church many years ago.
Our pastor was telling the story of the president of a Christian college whose wife had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. When he got the diagnosis, he decided to resign immediately, and spend the rest of his time taking care of the woman he loved full-time. His associates thought he was making a terrible mistake. Surely he could hire someone to take care of his wife while he continued to run the college. Surely he could put her in a nursing home. But he was adamant – he had made a commitment when they got married, and he was sticking to it. 
As I listened from the bass section of the choir, I thought about the many patients Cheryl had to deal with at the hospital, and that she “only” has to deal with them for eight hours before she gets to come home to rest, and I decided that there was no way I wanted her trying to do that 24/7 for me. So I tore off a part of my church bulletin, and sent a note up to her in the alto section that said, “You will not do this.” 
At the same time my note was going forward, she was sending one back to me. Hers said, “Beautiful story – but just find me a nice nursing home.”
She’s right. It was a beautiful story, but it didn’t begin to even deal with reality. It didn’t deal with the reality that she knew as a nurse and that I knew as the husband of one; and neither one of us wanted the other to feel that they had to try to do by themselves what there are entire staffs available to do…to do well, and to do while getting a little time off from before you have to face it again.

For three days I lay in bed, watching as Cheryl cleaned up after me, as she brought me what little food and drink I felt like dealing with at a time, taking care of all of the household chores that I usually attend to, and I was reminded of that day in church when we both passed notes to each other. And my resolve became stronger, so if you didn’t get it when it came around the first few times, I’m telling you once again now:

When I become old and infirm, unable to take care of myself, leaking from every bodily orifice, and unable to recognize anyone, Cheryl is to put me into a nursing home. I love her too much to want her to try to put in 36-hour days taking care of me.

And if any of you try to guilt her into doing it herself, I will briefly find the strength to rise up out of my bed and smack you upside the head with my IV pole.


  1. Replies
    1. Well said, Keith, and I agree with everything you say here. Now let me give three variations relevant to my current situation that I don't think are so easy to deal with.

      First, you and Cheryl have the advantage of loving each other greatly. Good for you; I am blessed with such a marriage as well, and I endorse your hidden point that that's the kind of love one wants to have in a marriage. Fact is, however, not everyone has it. Dealing with a spouse, or other loved one, whose love does not extend as far as willingness to go into a facility so that one's loved one(s) can have a life ... well, that ain't so easy.

      Second, you are blessed at the moment with self-awareness of your situation. So is Cheryl. But when one of you really gets sufficiently infirm that this painful decision must be taken, there is an excellent chance that that one won't be. That changes the dynamic considerably.

      Third, and most unfortunately, how about if you were already used to being waited on hand and foot, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse? You obviously aren't; your marriage is healthier than that. But for marriages that suffer from that dynamic ^h^h^h^h take the classically approved view of gender dynamics, there may be a fifty-year-high hill to climb to get to the outlook that you and Cheryl (and Emily and I) can see clearly.

      None of this invalidates your key points. On the contrary, it makes it clear how wise you are, not just in holding your position but also in making sure the two of you understand each other about them long before they are timely. But it ain't always so. I wish my FIL had read this before getting into the shape he's now in -- but even if he had, with fifty years of issue #3 under his belt by then, I'm not sure it would have mattered much.