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In Sickness and in Health
A commitment made in harmony with unimaginable importance

By Marvin Wiebener  

(Page 1 of 2)

The word caregiver has many meanings, with definitions that run the gamut of tasks on a broad continuum, from simple household chores to end-stage palliative care and everything in between. It’s something many of us never give a second thought. Caregiving—we believe—is for children, the elderly and those who are ill, but not for us, those who are healthy. We have jobs to do, schools to attend, families to raise, and finally a retirement to enjoy.

I know, because I was one of those—fifty-six years old and healthy as the proverbial horse. Didn’t smoke, ate healthy and exercised, but nevertheless, a physical anomaly occurred that sidetracked not only my life but my wife’s as well.

First came the stumbling, then the cane. Then came the diagnosis—a cousin to Lou Gehrig’s disease—primary lateral sclerosis. Major symptoms include loss of balance, weakening of legs and arms, swallowing and speech difficulties. The loss of bladder control is but one of many minor symptoms, all irreversible.

After many hard falls, I was ordered to use a walker. I resisted, even denied the progression of the disease; but for the sake of others, I eventually acquiesced. Now, some years later, a motorized wheelchair gets me around and a breathing machine helps inflate my lungs at night. You might say my life has changed for the worse, and from a bystander’s point of view, that could be so.

But wait. Before you stop reading, thinking I’m looking for sympathy—some poor creature riddled with self-pity—read on.

In her career, my wife rose to executive leadership positions within two state agencies. She is one of those rare people who interacts remarkably well with people and leads by example—a true class act. If she had chosen to do so, Peggy could have aspired to even greater things, but duty called. Everything was put on hold, moved to the back burner, to use an overworked metaphor. After thirty years of hard work, some life plans were simply scrapped in favor of crafting an environment of physical and emotional independence for me.

I recall the exchange of vows. “Do you take this man…to love and cherish…in sickness and in health?” Her answer was yes; her teary eyes and warm smile confirmed it.

My disease cannot be overlooked or ignored. It’s there no matter where we are, what we are doing, or what time of day it is; but the focus is never on the malady. The focus is always on what can be done despite the malady.

 

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