I went to a wedding last weekend. I’m a stereotypical man. I don’t like weddings and I only go to make my wife happy. This time something happened that made me reflect on my own marriage. Instead of zoning out during the ceremony, I actually listened. When they got to the vows, which included the standard “in sickness and in health,” it reminded me of the depth of those vows. I’ll share why by relaying a personal anecdote.
About six or seven years ago, I decided to undergo a rather unpleasant, six month, medical therapy. I had been diagnosed with hepatitis C many years ago. And long before that, I was diagnosed with something referred to as non-A, non-B hepatitis. I was the unfortunate victim of an ill-advised method of inoculation method when I joined the Air Force in 1975. Back then, they used air guns, which turned out to be quite unsanitary and often transferred blood borne diseases to the next guy in line.
Anyhow, after having the disease since my early twenties, I was beginning to endure symptoms and a risk of liver failure or liver cancer. At the time, the therapy was often referred to as triple therapy. It includes three daily medications: a protease inhibitor (oral), an antiviral (oral), and interferon (injection). I did a lot of research on side effects. They ranged from mild to severe. I was unlucky and had severe side effects which meant I was in for six months of what I refer to as “living hell”.
One of the oral medications was not water soluble, so they had to be taken with a high-fat food intake. This sounds like fun, until you get up at 6:00 a.m. and choke down so much fat your gag reflex kicks in. It was disgusting and I had to do that twice per day. The pills were so large I nearly had to coat them with glycerin to get them down my throat. That wasn’t the worst part. This drug had two significant side effects for me: 1) Extreme, constant nausea, and 2) frequent diarrhea with the added benefit of it being very caustic. In other words, going to the bathroom felt like sitting on a blazing blow torch (sorry for the graphic description).
The antiviral had an effect of playing havoc with my blood count. My white count got so low at times the doctors considered blood transfusions. I was so weak, I couldn’t shower by myself. My wife had to put a metal chair in the shower and stand by to make sure I didn’t collapse while in there. A trip down the hallway was nearly impossible at times without having to stop and lean on the wall to rest. Surprisingly, the injections of interferon were the least of my problems. As far as I know, they didn’t cause any side effects.
I’ve always had a weak constitution to nausea and this was by far the most challenging for me. If I wasn’t puking, I was close to it and fighting it off. It usually got worse right after taking my oral meds and stuffing fat down my throat. And if I threw it up, I’d have to take it again along with more fat. I slept in another room to keep from waking her up with my sweats, untimely trips to the bathroom, and quite frankly, my moaning. Most days, I had to talk myself out of quitting. It was a constant psychological battle along with the physical demands.
I made a decision to not tell anyone I was going through the therapy. I only told one of my brothers, my wife and kids, and two friends. I asked that they not tell anyone. Toward the end, I finally gave in and gave my permission when my wife came to me one day and said, “you know, I’m getting sick of lying to people at church when they ask where you are.” I just didn’t want any visitors and I don’t like that kind of attention. We were members of a Baptist church, and if you know anything about Baptists, if you’re sick, you will get visitors, whether you want them or not.
My wife worked during this time, so I stayed home with only my trusty and always loyal pup for comfort during the day. But my wife turned out to be the real superhero of this story. Like most other men, I’m a wimp when I’m sick. Especially when I’m really, really sick. I was irritable most of the time. I was a burden because I often couldn’t fix my own food, dress myself, or bathe myself. Fortunately for her, I drew the line at going to the bathroom.
Throughout all this experience, my wife was there for me, either by my side or willing to come home at any time. And all she got was a grumpy and sickly husband often in bad need of some personal hygiene.
So, how does this story relate to vows? I recall toward the end of my therapy one night, I sent her a text from my bed. I thanked her for sticking it out with me and putting up with my nasty and sometimes ungrateful attitude. I’ll never forget her short reply:
“…in sickness and in health.”
That’s all she said. I was already an emotional mess, but that brought tears to my eyes. It made me realize the true meaning of those vows. I’m sure there were times she wanted to clock me, or at least leave for a few days to catch her breath. But she didn’t.
It took another three to four months for most of the side effects to subside, but the good news is, the therapy worked. I was actually cured. I went back for a follow up about a year later and learned they had a new therapy. It is one pill per day for only six weeks to two months, with virtually no side effects. All I could do was sigh and be happy for the others that wouldn’t have to endure what I endured. But the experience was enough to test the boundaries of our wedding vows and for that I’m thankful. So, the next time you’re at a wedding, think about those vows and what they really mean. They’re not just words. They are a promise before God and all who witness it.