The stairs looked impossible. Here we were, one of us marginally better than the other, both of us with some sort of bronchitis, at the bottom of the outdoor steps leading to our doctor’s office. Maybe we both moaned. I don’t know. I did. I was annoyed that I had to climb steps with compromised lung function.
So, after a two-hour-and-twenty-minute wait [“I guess it’s busy out there,” the doctor says ingenuously] he comes in. My sweetie pie has acute bronchitis. I am somehow less sick. He gets antibiotics. I decide to take Chinese herbs. A kind of race-you-to-the-finish-line deal.
We only went because he was so sick I made an executive decision to take us both for some expert advice. This was after two days of active moping, errands when I probably shouldn’t have been driving, and a lot of bad-movie watching. And moaning and complaining to each other about how terrible we felt. And drugged 11-hour nights of heavy sleeping aided by Nyquil. Which of course we had to go out and find because who keeps that crap in the house?
I had anxiously watched my husband for signs of something worse. My brother had just died of lung cancer which was misdiagnosed for two months back in the beginning of the awful odyssey as being a ‘hard’ pneumonia. Because he didn’t smoke. Hadn’t really been sick as an adult. Had he been a smoker, lung cancer would have been suspected and a tissue test forthcoming. Only when my brother begged for one did he find out what was really going on. So as I am watching my guy struggle with congestion, etc. I immediately go for the worst case scenario. When the doctor listened and said “I don’t hear any pneumonia” I breathed a sigh of relief. Twenty-four hours later, he is better and I can put that scary scenario away for now. I know he is better, because:
His yang energy is stronger. And how do I know that? Oh. Little things. Here are some of them:
“Are you going to be done with your email soon? I’d like to check mine.” Said in a peremptory tone of voice. Not the soft, sick tone he has been using.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but could we do something with the stuff on that chair so I can read later?” The stuff is cardboard and decorative papers and photos left over from my brother’s memorial service. My sister and I made up two large boards of pictures of the various aspects of my brother’s life. It was very hard to do, and a very good thing to do. I realize I don’t want to move it in order to hold onto my brother. There will be a lot more of this, I am sure. Okay. One thing at a time . . . I move it and it isn’t terrible. And I can always sit in the chair, too.
“Are there any clean clothes?” Uh, yeah. I’ve been quietly sneaking away from our nest in front of the TV to put clothes in the washer. They are not folded. [PLEASE.] But they are clean.
“I have to call some patients.” And he finds their numbers with no problem - definitely a ‘tell.’
“Do you think I can work Saturday?” Why don’t you ask if I think you are an idiot?
And best of all? “I’m hungry.”
And me. How do I know I’m getting better? What does yin do? I washed my hair, cleaned the kitchen, finished all the laundry [which is still not folded; but it is sorted], and heated up some soup. If I can manage it, I will change the sheets.
Afternoon arrives and our energies flag. He starts telling me that I better take it easy. He doesn't ask how I feel. It’s so perfectly yang protecting yin. He makes a place for me to sit down and draws me to him. I am cold and definitely overdid it. He is not moving, back in that place where he has definitely used up his energy. But I saw some blue sky and know tomorrow he will be better. Especially if we each take care of the other in the way we both do: I will watch him carefully and read him for signs he needs something; food, tea, water, vitamins; and he will let me go only so far before he demands I sit down . . . you’ve done enough, you must be tired. You have to rest, now, and so on. Maternal watch and offer, versus boundary setting. Yin and yang. Both are necessary.
I will have to be careful. Grief injures the lungs, according to Chinese medicine. My surviving brother is also sick with something very similar. The winter after my father died, all of us came down with bronchitis. So we need to take care of ourselves and balance crying and looking back with taking joy, again, from life, and looking ahead.