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 furthest thing from your mind is being sick – or caring for a sick partner . However, the disease seems to find us all sooner or later.
Only when one of you is really under the weather somewhere down the road do we have to remind ourselves of that long ago pledge. Sometimes we don’t make good patients. And sometimes we have reason to think we weren’t cut out to play Florence Nightingale to a sullen patient. If you throw being farmers into the mix, even a short-term illness takes on a whole new dynamic.
Just as there is no “crying in baseball,” there is no “sick leave” in farming. We can’t pick up the phone, call HR and report that we’re not coming into work today. Farm life goes on and we must play the role of patient or caregiver accordingly.
Recently, Denis fell ill with a mysterious illness. It started as a sore throat, which was treated and treated fairly easily, but other symptoms began to pile up and soon headaches, ringing in the ears, congested sinuses, cough, fever and extreme fatigue along with watery eyes, bloated added to the misery. On the third day of this, I convinced 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 out and the caring doctor told him it was “just a virus running around” and advised him to go home, drink plenty of water, rest and get back in touch if things got worse.
Things got worse. Denise felt terrible and secluded herself in a spare bedroom. However, his coughing became so severe that he would have to go downstairs and try to sleep in bed for half the night. He barely left the house once a day for a hurried trip to the pasture to drop feed into the cattle trough. I was able to take care of other jobs, but it was clearly time for more medical attention. Unfortunately, by then it was a Saturday and his doctor’s office was closed, so he went to an urgent care clinic.
I was hoping for better news when he got home. If there was any good news, it was that he would have tested negative for COVID-19, seasonal flu, strep throat and RSV. The bad news is that the doctor said, “It’s just a virus that’s going around. Go home, stay hydrated and rest.” That doctor also said he would “have the same thing” and it lasted 18 days, but he started to feel a little better on the 10th day. That certainly wasn’t what we wanted to hear. By now, poor Dennis was almost unable to do anything but rest.
We had planned to move our cattle from the pasture to the barn that weekend, but the task obviously had to be postponed. In addition to resting and drinking plenty of water, Dennis tried a number of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, but nothing made a difference.
Monday morning, I urged him (he would say “upset”) to call and ask for an appointment with his doctor. Fortunately, she was able to see him that evening at 7:30. The receptionist told Dennis that they were inundated 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 the same mysterious illness.
By the time he had to get to the doctor’s office about 15 miles away, Dennis’ eyes were so inflamed and watery that he couldn’t see well enough to drive. Anyway, I had planned to go on the date, so I became his driver. He was a miserable man.
The doctor took one look at it and immediately knew that this was no longer “just a virus going around”. He was eventually diagnosed with bronchitis and conjunctivitis and was sent to the pharmacy for three medications, which we tried to get before the pharmacy closed for the night.
I’m happy to report that those drugs helped Dennis feel human again after a week of escalating illness. I was relieved to see his rapid improvement, which allowed him to begin performing more of his duties around the farm, albeit at a slower pace as he regained his strength. No wonder he felt weak, having lost over 10 kilos in as many days.
Although he may not have always acted this way at the time, Dennis was grateful for my care during his illness and I was happy to be able to fulfill my commitment in this regard. Sadly, Dennis has now taken his turn as caretaker as I developed some of the same symptoms he had and needed some TLC myself. It is certainly a blessing to know that love, respect and affection in sickness and in health is a two-way street.