After twenty-five years of marriage we were recently reduced to a date at the doctor’s office to obtain medicine for our respective illnesses.  This unprecedented display of efficiency, with back-to-back appointments and only one car ride, was somehow less satisfying due to the dismal nature of our mission.

It was not always thus.  Our first dinner date was thrilling.  We talked for hours and lingered over drinks to prolong the evening.  We moved in together in a matter of weeks with engagement and marriage soon following.  We have had a terrific quarter-century by most measures and foresee continuing in that vein for a like period.

Illness has not been a major factor in our lives.  That is a good thing, or the longevity noted above would have been threatened.  There is no use in equivocating; I am not good at illness.  I am an impatient and exasperated nurse and an angry and disconsolate patient.  I rage against sickness.  I hate it.  I despise it, even when I know I have no one, and no place, to blame.  Is it just my impression, or are women usually better at dealing with illness?

My Achilles Heel, figuratively-speaking, are my sinuses.  I cannot recall an illness since childhood that did not involve the proverbial elephant on the bridge of the nose.  The inevitable course is, as follows:  a chill, then a sore throat, then a stuffed nose, then a clogged head that Roto-Rooter could not penetrate.  The resulting sleeplessness, peculiarly baritone voice echoing in my head, and runny nose render my life miserable.

As anyone who has been ill lately is aware, the present preference among doctors is to avoid prescribing antibiotics.  Many illnesses appear to run their course regardless.  Therefore, one spends several days using a dizzying array of over-the-counter sprays, washes, and emollients.

In New Jersey, pharmacists had distinct favorites.  The patient would describe their symptoms and the pharmacist would imperiously dispense several boxes without hesitation.  It was as though they embodied the authority of God and Nature.  In North Carolina, the pharmacists are friendly and approachable but less confident.  They come out from behind the counter to read the backs of packages aloud to the patient until, with eyes glazed over, the patient finally says:  “That one sounds good.”  A patient will do anything to escape hearing another list of ingredients.

Sickness in our household is primarily an issue of territory.  The sick spouse claims a bed or a couch and effectively bars the other from being there with an array of sniffs, snorts, wheezes, coughs, etc.  When both of us are sick at the same time, by virtue of there being only so many negative emotions that a person can harbor, my impatience, anger and disgust are diluted.  We move around the house like two planets in opposing orbits with powerful magnetic shields preventing proximity.  The only drama concerns which spouse can outlast the other during the night-time struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Eventually, the less determined of us grabs a pillow and a sheet and heads for the living room couch or spare bedroom.  The evicted person always makes certain to create enough of a disturbance so that the spouse remaining in bed is aware of their victory but, unfortunately, gains that knowledge by being awakened.

When one is sick, it seems that illness is “the new normal,” to borrow a recently popular phrase.  Eventually, however, whether due to medicine or the mere passage of time, the symptoms slip away and health reappears.  At that point, one can hardly remember what the sickness was like, unless a sympathetic listener makes a catastrophic error, and asks.  At that point, the former patient can recount the struggle in miraculous detail.  The now formerly sympathetic listener looks longingly for an exit.