In Sickness and in Health

Written by Chris Gersten


I broke my foot eight weeks ago. Not something you want to do when you are having trouble recovering from hip replacement.   At first I thought it was a sprain. My physical therapist was certain it was a sprain. A physician I spoke to on the phone thought is was a sprain. So, like an imbecile, I treated it like a sprain. Only it didn’t heal. After three weeks, with the ankle not healing, the person I should have consulted first said: “It is a fracture—a stress fracture and you need to get it X-rayed.”

That person was not a medical professional. It was my wife. I ignored her advice because my physical therapist continued to insist it was not a fracture. But five weeks later I finally had it X-rayed and it was indeed a stress fracture that precisely imitates a sprain.

I required immediate surgery, having a 2.5 inch titanium screw inserted into my foot. Had I acted earlier, the surgery would have been much easier with a smaller screw and smaller incision.

After the surgery, my wife ran up and down the stairs from our living area to the bedroom to bring me ice packs, coffee, meals, meds, and extra pillows so I could rest comfortably. She brought me reading material, got my laptop, and made sure the dogs were quiet so I could sleep. She drove down the mountain side to the pharmacy several times to get me the correct medications. On top of her full time work, she was a full-time nurse for over a week and has continued to drive and carry the load for three additional weeks as I have been healing. This effort has been extremely stressful for her but she has never complained

She did it, and would do it over and over again.

I ask myself: “Why does she sacrifice so much for me?” And I have arrived at a more complicated answer than simply that she loves me. Love is indeed a powerful force which compels people to make huge sacrifices for others.

But my wife’s nursing of my injury goes beyond love. It has to do with the fact that a good marriage is a partnership and a team. For our team to function effectively, I must be close to an equal partner. I must be healthy. I must not need to be treated as an invalid for very long.   I must be able to shop for groceries, go to the hardware store, move furniture that is too heavy for her. I must be able to jump up and answer the phone that never seems to stop ringing. I must be able to carry my own weight and help her.

For a team of two to function, both partners need to be able to contribute.

My wife has been sacrificing for me not just because she cares about me, but because she needs me healthy for her life to get back to normal.

Married men in America live an average of eight years longer than single men precisely because of the nurturing we get from our wives. And they work so hard to keep us going not just out of love, but also because of the need that every couple has for both partners to be healthy, or at least as healthy as we can possibly be.

As I slowly heal, I feel a very deep sense of gratitude to my wife for the tireless effort she has made to get me back on my feet.

As I finish writing this piece, my wife has herniated a disc in her lower back, ironically because she was lifting a heavy box that I would normally lift. Now it is my turn to help her recover. I am 70% better and am able to drive and shop, help with the laundry and take out the garbage, walk the dogs, get the mail and help out with the hundreds of small tasks that make up our daily lives.

Every married couple has a unique division of labor. When one of the partners cannot fulfill his or her responsibility, the work load increases dramatically for the healthy partner. Each partner has a huge unspoken stake in the health and ability of his/her spouse. That is why we go beyond love in helping our spouses recover from injury and illness.

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