It’s a contest, a test, a test of endurance.
Chronic illness is the supreme test of what a human can stand, what they can endure and still live a satisfactory life. There is nothing fancy about it, nothing heroic about it; it’s persevering through the awful, hanging in through the grim, being dogged in living, and ultimately enduring what life brings.
Years ago one of our good friends father contracted cancer. Our friend, as he watched his father endure chemotherapy, said that it was a contest between which would kill him sooner, the disease or the cure. It was a matter of enduring, out lasting the healing poison.
I watch Marty, I see how she quietly endures with dignity all of the pain and the indignities that come as a result of the strokes. I watch and see how she fights against the disease and the disability, I see how much she wants to be something else, I see her resigned to endure.
I see Marty, I see Marty who once thrived and reveled in autonomy, independence and privacy. I see Marty, I see Marty who was controlling, who was intellectually curious, who strived to know more and do more. I see her tirelessly endure the loss of those things she so loved about herself. Losing the best part of ourselves is always the worst.
Marty endures. She endures the invasion of her privacy, she endures the fear of losing herself, she endures the pain in her head and in her hand, she endures the poking, prodding, pushing, rolling and doctoring, she simply, quietly, resolutely endures.
She puts up with, she endures, my incessant nagging to cough, to sit straight, to swallow, to look at this, to look at that, to respond. She endures me, my impatience, my micro managing, my controlling nature, my short comings. She endures her own self-consciousness and the eyes of those outside our sphere; she endures her self-doubt, her fear and her sorrow.
We both endure the restrictions, the monotony punctuated with the occasional crises. We both endure the loss of what once was, what might have been, what should have been. We endure, we endure together.
You don’t survive; you don’t endure because that’s what you choose. You survive because there are no other choices. Some things, some events leave you no other choice but to put your head down and take one more step. That’s the way it is at our house, there are no other choices, we are not capable of quitting, so enduring is the only other option.
I know the disease or caring for those with the illness can eventually wear you down, I know there are times Marty feels she cannot continue this marathon. I know when one more thing breaks or one more infection comes, or one more rash appears both of us want to throw our hands in the air and scream “I’m crying Uncle, I’m not running the race anymore; I quit.”
Quitting, giving up, crying uncle, it’s not our nature, it’s not human nature, it’s not what we as humans do. We endure; we take another step in a long line of steps.
Enduring, hanging in there, can, slowly, inexorably, over time, grind on you to the point you simply want the point of pain to go away, however it can. The constancy, the every day, every week always there nature of a chronic illness can quietly invade and conquer any resolve you might have and start to infect you like a disease. The repetition of the pain and angst can wear you down and make you someone you don’t recognize and don’t want to be.
You have to resort to the whole concept of eating the elephant one bite at a time. All you can do is one more hour, then one more day. Endurance is not about seeing the end of the race; it’s about taking the next step, running to the next curve, topping the next hill.
I am amazed by Marty, I am amazed by her capacity to live and smile and endure, every day. Her life is not what she planned, she would not have wanted to be in an endurance contest…..but she is and she endures with grace.