Many wedding vows include the promise to “love, honor and cherish … in sickness and in health.” I know ours did. I also know that at the time you’re saying those words, it’s one of the happiest, craziest days of your life, and the farthest thing from your minds is being sick — or taking care of an ailing partner. Nevertheless, sickness seems to find all of us sooner or later.
It’s only when one of you is really under the weather somewhere down the road, that we need to remind ourselves of that long-ago vow. Sometimes we don’t make good patients. And sometimes we have reason to think we weren’t cut out for playing the role of Florence Nightingale to a grumpy patient. If you throw being farmers into the mix, even a short-term illness takes on a whole new dynamic.
Just as there’s “no crying in baseball,” there’s also no “sick leave” in farming. We can’t pick up the phone, call the human resources department and report that we won’t be coming into work today. Life on the farm goes on and we need to play the role of patient or caregiver accordingly.
Recently, Dennis became ill with a mystery malady. It started as a sore throat, which was dealt with and worked around easily enough, but other symptoms started piling on and soon headache, ringing ears, congested sinuses, cough, fever and extreme fatigue along with watering, swollen eyes added to his misery. On the third day of this, I persuaded him to go to the doctor — which he did very reluctantly. He returned home with the good news that he had tested negative for COVID-19. His doctor was off and the on-call doctor told him it was “just some virus going around” and advised him to go home, drink plenty of water, rest and get back in touch if things got worse.
Things did get worse. Dennis felt awful and isolated himself in a spare bedroom. However, his coughing became so severe that he would have to go downstairs and try sleeping on the recliner for half the night. He was barely up to leaving the house once a day for a hasty trip to the pasture to put feed in the cattle trough. I was able to take care of other chores, but it seemed obvious it was time for more medical care. Unfortunately, by then it was a Saturday and his doctor’s office was closed, so he went to an urgent care clinic.
I hoped for better news when he returned home. If there was any good news, it was that he’d tested negative for COVID-19, seasonal flu, strep throat and RSV. The bad news is that the doctor said, “It’s just some virus going around. Go home, stay hydrated and rest.” That doctor also shared that he’d “had the same thing” and it lasted 18 days, but he started feeling a little better by day 10. That certainly wasn’t what we wanted to hear. By now, poor Dennis was pretty much incapable of doing anything but rest.
We had planned to move our cattle from the pasture into the barn that weekend, but the task obviously needed to be postponed. In addition to rest and drinking plenty of water, Dennis also tried a number of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, but nothing made a difference.
Monday morning, I urged (he would say “nagged”) him to call and request an appointment with his own physician. Fortunately, she was able to see him that evening at 7:30. The receptionist told Dennis they were swamped with calls from other people who had symptoms like his and, indeed, we knew at least three or four other friends and family members who had this same mysterious malady.
By the time he needed to head to the doctor’s office about 15 miles away, Dennis’ eyes were so inflamed and watering that he couldn’t see well enough to drive. I’d been planning to go along to the appointment anyway, so I became his chauffeur. He was one miserable man.
The doctor took one look at him and immediately knew that this was no longer “just a virus going around.” He was ultimately diagnosed with bronchitis and conjunctivitis, and sent to the drugstore for three medications, which we raced to pick up before the drugstore closed for the night.
I’m happy to report that those medicines helped Dennis turn the corner to feeling human again after a week of increasing illness. I was relieved to see his quick improvement, which allowed him to start doing more of his duties around the farm, albeit at a slower pace as he regained his strength. No wonder he felt weak, since he’d lost over 10 pounds in as many days.
Even though he might not always have acted like it at the time, Dennis was grateful for my caregiving during his illness, and I was happy to be able to live up to my vow in that regard. Alas, Dennis has now gotten his turn as caregiver, too, since I developed some of the same symptoms he had and needed some TLC myself. It certainly is a blessing to know that love, honor and cherish in sickness and in health is a two-way street.