Visiting a dying patient is nothing new to me. Seeing someone sick isn't either. Exposure to both over the past two years has slowly changed my perspective on life and love. I've been to more than a few weddings over the years, and at most of them the traditional vows are exchanged, almost a magic formula, the significance of which few, if any of those parties truly understand. I doubt many of those parties envision Mrs. Walmswood.
This woman is dying, but she has not been given a swift departure from the world. She is suffering from a very slowly progressive form of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. And as her body's functions have been slowly taken from her, she has lost along the way the ability to inflect her voice, or speak at more than about 30 words per minute. Walking into her room for the first time, I was set on edge almost immediately. I tend to size up a person quickly, and my initial impression of this woman was that she was a bit mentally slow, and in general the typical obese diabetic with two or three psychiatric issues. As I got her history, I found that she has been suffering from her disease for over ten years.
What struck me was the fact that her husband was in the room, and he was smiling and upbeat. Actually, more striking even than his presence and attitude was the discovery that this woman had been a teacher in a nursing school, a very highly functioning individual. And as I tried to get past the irritation I felt waiting for her to finish sentences, I discovered that preserved within her was a wry sense of humor and a still-facile mind.
I guess what awed me was the fact that this man had made a commitment to this woman, and even as sickness has taken most of what, to an outsider, is attractive, he has stayed with her, and I imagine most days manages to see within the decaying mortal remnants that soul he married not so many years ago. But I must wonder if he ever regrets his choices.
In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote.
I don't doubt the ability of humans to make and keep promises. But the single guy in me questions the utility, marvels at the commitment, and ponders the components of those promises. Just as I wouldn't want to end up a patient on a medicine ward, I especially wouldn't want to have my wife (should I ever have one) end up a patient on one. It almost seems that it would be more worthwhile to live singly than live with that pain. I respect the strength I see in my patient's families, but I wonder if I even possess the ability to have that kind of commitment. Judging from success rate of marriage in this country, I think many of my fellow citizens suffer from the same weakness.
On me can Time no happier state bestow
Than to be left unconscious of the woe.
Ah then, lest you awaken me, speak low.