Four months after my wedding, I found myself curled up on a hospital bed with my new husband sitting anxiously beside me. I had started experiencing pain in my back and side the night before and had finally caved and asked him to drive me the 45 minutes to the ER after a long day of pain. It was a miserable evening to be at the hospital. The waiting room—which was really just a hallway—was full of sick people, and when they finally brought us back into the exam area, I was placed next to a woman who had just been in a car crash and a man with a skin infection that was spreading up his arm.
I remember crying a lot that night out of sheer exhaustion, pain, and fear. I’ve always hated being in hospitals, and our setting that night, plus having no idea what was wrong with me, was making it all seem that much worse. I was incredibly grateful that Thomas could be with me in the emergency room that night. However, I was also aware of how completely exposed I felt to him. In those painful hours, I had no strength left to shield him from the full weight of my emotions or weaknesses, so what he saw was the raw deal. As he helped me change out of my hospital gown that night I remember thinking in that moment, this was the least sexy I had ever felt being undressed.
I was eventually diagnosed with a mild case of kidney stones and fortunately recovered quickly from the initial incident. Thomas and I, however, soon became experienced at sitting in hospitals and doctor’s offices together as I suffered recurrent infections and the kidney stone took months to fully pass. Immediately after that was over, I broke my wrist in a fall from rollerblading and had to go through surgery to have it repaired. Through it all, Thomas took excellent care of me and stuck by my side. He was there when I woke up panicking from the anesthesia after my surgery. He held a bucket for me several nights in a row when the pain and medication caused me to throw up in our bed. These weren’t at all the images that I wanted my husband to have of me from our first year of marriage, but there was nevertheless a great deal of love and sweetness wrapped up in all those moments.
I reflected on those past times a couple weeks ago as I tried to fall asleep in a recliner next to Thomas’s hospital bed during a recent overnight stay. An early morning trip to the ER had taken an unexpected turn when the sharp pain near Thomas’s stomach turned out to be from his appendix. The surgery to remove it was relatively simple in the scope of medical procedures, but it still required him to undergo anesthesia and be laid up for several days.
It was hard for me to watch my usually strong husband suddenly become so weak. I am used to him being the one who takes care of me when the going gets tough, so our sudden role reversal meant that I needed to dig deep into my own inner strength to keep things together. Even though I too felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the whole ordeal, I had to keep myself calm and positive throughout our two days in the hospital for his sake. My husband was sick and in need of support, and it was my privilege as his wife to put everything else aside to be there for him.
It was only after we got home from the hospital and he was safely settled on the couch that I could finally take a few minutes for myself. As all the adrenaline from the past two days started to wear off, tears started flowing and I couldn’t stop them. I tried to hide it from Thomas, but, despite my best efforts, it was obvious to him that I was sad. As I curled up later that night in bed, crying silently from the intensity of everything that had occurred, I was shocked when Thomas made his way over to me and gently ran his hand across my head. Despite his own pain and continued need for my assistance, he still had strength to comfort me in my weakness too. In that moment, I realized, with gratitude, that neither of us had to be strong enough to deal with the situation all on our own.
These periods of being sick and in the hospital have forced Thomas and I to become vulnerable to each other in ways that I wasn’t expecting in our first couple years of marriage. As hard as it is to have our weaknesses so exposed to our spouse, I believe it is exactly these weaknesses that have ultimately strengthened our partnership. Becoming each other’s “hospital buddies” has been a defining point in our relationship. I’m so glad I have such a strong person to be with me when things get hard, and I know that I can be strong for him too when he needs me.