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What I Learned From the Older Couple Laughing Together in the Waiting Room

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Regardless if I’m at another appointment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for my heart, my lungs, my SVC or other issues caused by fibrosing mediastinitis, the rare disease I was diagnosed with, it’s always an emotional time for me. A constant reminder that I’m sick…something I try to deny daily as I struggle to walk up the stairs, or as I stop and wait for my heart rate to go down after playing with the kids for only a few minutes. These times in the waiting room, especially when I am by myself, are the moments where everything sinks in…the severity of this illness that continues to take a little more of my body each day.

Today was a day I was by myself so I figured, why not blog? I sat quietly, observing the others around me, smiling at the little kids that scrambled throughout the chairs and sending sincere glances to the moms trying to control them. But one couple definitely caught my immediate attention. And even though I had no idea who they were or why they were in the same waiting room as me, I was instantly inspired by them.

It was a man and a woman, probably in their 80s, and what I loved best about them was that the man had his arm around his wife and she had turned her body to sink into his chest with her hand on his knee. I was within earshot so I was also able to listen to them visit with each other. He would crack jokes, mostly about the current politicians, and his wife would turn her head to look up at him and laugh, which then made him smile back down at her.

Two younger ladies then approached them and referred to the older couple as “mom” and “dad.” The four of them just sat and visited, laughing at whatever dad had to say – apparently he is quite the character. I took from their demeanor that this was not their first time in a waiting room. They looked too comfortable – something us lifelong patients tend to be!

As the wife was called back to meet with the doctor, she struggled getting out of her chair and her husband said quite loudly, “Do you need me to goose you?” which of course sent the entire waiting room into laughter. It was adorable, but something struck me after she was gone.

Once the wife and daughters were out of sight, the man’s smile disappeared. I watched from the corner of my eye as he sat quietly in his chair. Shortly after, he got up and moved to another chair. He appeared fidgety and let off several loud sighs as he sat waiting. Again, I am a very emotional person these days, so I fought back some tears as I watched this man, who could be my sweet old grandpa, obviously sitting there with concern, waiting for his wife to return. Of course my thoughts then turned to my own husband.

I couldn’t help but think, is this how my husband is once I am wheeled off to my routine procedures or never-ending surgeries? The one thing I love most about my hubby is his amazing sense of humor. He makes me laugh! He knows when I’m angry and frustrated, sad and scared…so he makes me laugh. He has never failed me when it comes to this. But just like the man across from me, does his smile fade to worry once I am out of sight? Most likely, I know it does, and for that I hate this illness even more.

As I continued to steal glances at this man, he passed the time by staring off at the floor, tapping his fingers on the chair, chomping his gum and drinking his can of pop. Whenever the door opened, he would lift up his head with a look of anticipation on his face, but when it was not his wife, his focus went back down to the floor.

These types of moments are the most difficult for me. I see through other spouses the affects and feelings my own husband probably has towards me. The love is apparent when they are together but when the “sick” spouse is out of sight, the worry and fear and even frustration is splashed across the other spouse’s face!

My husband must experience the same range of emotions about me. Chronic illnesses, which I have several of now, are straining on relationships due to ongoing appointments, finances, insecurities and so many other factors. But, chronic illnesses are not harder on one spouse over the other – the struggles are just different!

People continue to tell me how “lucky” I am that my husband is still with me. I was just told this again earlier in the week, and yes, he is the one who gets stuck dealing with kids while I’m either at an appointment or recovering from a procedure or when I’m fighting a bad day of symptoms, and one of these scenarios occurs almost weekly! So yes, he has a lot on his plate all while managing our cattle operation, which is more than enough for one man!

I truly get that, and I don’t want sympathy or attention – that is not my intention at all – but before you mention how “lucky” I am that he stays with me, please stop and consider what that one statement is really implying! I mean, it’s not like one day I just said, “Hey, let this illness overtake my body to see how miserable it can make me and all of my loved ones.” I really do not like that this illness comes with so many challenges.

Because procedures, pain, exhaustion, hospitals, hospital bills, maximum days of anxiety and fear over all of the what ifs are not exactly what I wanted our marriage to be – neither of us did!

But I didn’t do anything wrong. I am sick, I have an illness.

This is something I couldn’t and cannot control. It could happen to him just the way it happened to me. (Which is why I pray countless times throughout the day that he and the kids continue to stay healthy!)

But my husband and I have grown in our faith which has made our marriage stronger, so I am not “lucky.” We are both blessed to have each other, making the challenges and obstacles worth it.

husband and wife wearing t-shirts that say 'stay strong, battle on' and 'life is tough, but I am tougher'

I didn’t see the couple after I was done, but what an impression they made on me. And I really do hope my husband and I are still laughing years from now when we are that couple’s age, regardless of the challenges and the concerned looks that will appear on our faces over the upcoming years!

Follow this journey on Faith, Family, Cows, Fibrosing Mediastinitis.

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Originally published: May 22, 2017
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