Bill and I got married in August of 1993 and vowed to stay together “from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live.”
What we didn’t foresee was that I’d be diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1997. That diagnosis would launch our journey through a series of medical events that have affected every aspect of our lives.
Finn was sixteen months old at the time, and Bill and I were told to finish our family so that I could start treatment as soon as possible.
As we look back at the last ten years of our marriage, we can see how each medical hurdle we faced prepared us for the next, more challenging one. We worked hard at completing our family, and Porter and Drew arrived six weeks early, in August of 1998. Bill’s experience watching me undergo an emergency C-section was his first alarming hospital experience. It wasn’t his last.
The duo spent several weeks in the NICU, and Drew was readmitted a week later after he stopped breathing. He was hospitalized another eleven days. I resigned myself to the fact that he was going to die, but Bill visited him faithfully each day.
Once the twins started sleeping through the night, I returned to work part-time. I began my interferon and ribaviron treatment for the Hepatitis C in February 1999. Each month I’d receive a cooler full of pre-loaded syringes with interferon, which had to be stored in the refrigerator. The first time I signed for the box and unloaded the shots, I cried for hours.
Three times a week Bill would give me a shot, and each day I’d take a number of pills. Although I was the one who was sick, we were all affected. The treatment was rough. I had to quit working, but I made it through the year-long treatment. I’m about to celebrate my seventh year of remission.
Once the liver adventure was behind me, I noticed that I was having trouble standing up straight and that my back was hurting more than usual. I spent a couple of years trying to get relief through physical therapy, a chiropractor, and pain killers, but by 2003 it was evident that the original rods and screws that had been placed in my back were now pulling it forward so that my natural swayback was disappearing and my vertebrae were lining up on top of each other like dominoes, a condition called “flatback“. (If you click the link, I could only stand up like the lady in Figure 2!)(And that’s my lovely surgeon!)
After a lot of research and interviewing several surgeons, I had spine surgery in January 2004 and that adventure is described here. Again, I was the patient, but Bill was there at each doctor visit, in the hospital, and after I was discharged.
It took a full year for me to recover enough to go to Jazzercise, and the first half of 2005 was marvelous. I felt better than I had in years, the boys were independent, and in July my mom took the entire family, including my sisters and their husbands and kids, out west to a ranch. It had been her dream for years, and she’d saved up her money and waited until the children were old enough to go and appreciate it.
We had a supernaturally wonderful time. We celebrated my mother’s birthday out there. I think she and Drew had the best time of anyone.
A couple of months later, I found out I’d been in remission from Hep C for five years, which meant I was officially cured. I specifically remember calling my mom and hearing her say, “Praise the Lord!”
We were busy with school and fall activities when my mom called to say she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and five days later she was gone.
Emotionally that loss and the way it has changed my family has been much harder than any of the other challenges we’ve faced. Just last week I dreamed I called my mom’s house and she answered. In the dream, I told her not to move, I’d be right there, because I had a whole lot to tell her about everything that’s happened in the last year and a half and even more questions to ask.
When I got to the house she wasn’t there. I felt dizzy for several hours after I woke up. Her voice had seemed so real.
Throughout it all, Bill has been there for me and for our boys. Our medical mishaps have been hard on him. It’s one thing to be in your fifties or sixties and taking significant time off work to care for a sick wife. People expect sickness at that age. It’s a different thing entirely to be thirty-one and handling a career, three kids, and a nauseated wife. It’s asking even more to go through the same exercise four years later, accumulating vacation time to hang out in your wife’s hospital room in New York and make medical decisions– should we transfuse or not?– while fielding calls from the health room back in Alabama to give permission for the administration of calamine lotion for a bug bite.
I haven’t even had the chance to care for him much. He had a vasectomy in 2001, and I planned my whole weekend around his balls, but the twins ended up getting croup just as I had put him on the couch in front of the TV and his Valium started to wear off. I spent the next two days sticking the boys’ faces in the freezer and the hot shower and throwing Bill a couple of pain pills and a new bag of frozen peas when I had a free hand.
August is a time of reflection for me. We celebrate Bill’s birthday, the twins’ birthday and our anniversary this month, and every year I look back at our marriage (fourteen years now) and think of all we’ve been through, good and bad.
There’s an anniversary card I found that sums it up perfectly. The cover says: “You’re the man my mother warned me about…”
And on the inside it says,”THANK GOD I found you!”