You know how it is: You get up in the morning and grumble because there’s too much to do. The dog wants a walk. You have to crowbar the kids off to school despite their whining. The breakfast dishes need to be washed and there’s traffic to fight on your way to work.
Another day goes by, and another and another, with occasional bright spots: that weekend hike, dinner with friends, accomplishments at work.
“How are you?” people ask.
“Fine,” you answer. Or, maybe if it’s a good friend: “Busy and overwhelmed, but OK.”
And everything really is fine, until it’s not.
Recently, my husband was trying to buy a toilet at Home Depot when the credit card machines crashed. He had the toilet, some lumber and some tools. When it became clear that the machines weren’t going to work any time soon, he put everything back — even the toilet, although that meant lifting it up onto a shelf.
Dan banged his elbow in the process. “That really hurts,” he said when he came home.
“You should have let someone help you,” I scolded.
His elbow got bigger. And then redder. Two days later, his elbow looked like a clown’s nose attached to his arm. He started to run a fever. Fortunately, Dan had a doctor’s appointment on Monday because his knee was bothering him. The doctor took one look at the elbow and put him on oral antibiotics.
Things didn’t improve. His fever persisted and his arm continued swelling. The redness spread from his wrist to his underarm. Last Wednesday, Dan ended up being hospitalized with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, the sort of bacteria that can go systemic and kill you pretty quickly.
We were lucky. We live near doctors and hospitals. Laboratories can do magical things like culture bacteria from your body and determine which drugs will kill it. Dan stayed in the hospital for five days, having IV-antibiotic treatments, and came home with a tube through his veins connected to an infusion pump that dispenses antibiotics every four hours.
He’ll have that pump for a few more weeks, and wears it in an oversize black fanny pack. “I look like a tourist,” he complains.
I tell him he looks like a rock climber. “Just clip some carabiners on the outside,” I suggest, “and chalk your hands.”
My husband made it through this. Others don’t. And who knows what’s around the corner for us? Life always has surprises in store.
We keep joking about the pack, which he has to take to bed with him. He hangs it on the bed while he sleeps. The pump makes whirring and beeping noises like the Roomba vacuum we used to have that committed kamikaze on the scarves dangling in my closet. We’ve named it “Robert.”
We joke, but every time I hear the pump whir, I look at my husband and remind myself that everything is fine in life, until one day it isn’t. My husband made it through this. Others don’t. And who knows what’s around the corner for us? Life always has surprises in store.
“Pray for boring days,” my grandmother used to say.
I never really knew what she meant. Now, I think I do. As I lean my head against Dan’s shoulder, I am reminded that what really matters aren’t how many tasks you cross off your list, or even your accomplishments, but the beating of your loved one’s heart.
Editor's note: This piece was first published by WBUR in April 2016. It's being republished as part of Cog's 10th anniversary celebration.