The truest test of whether someone will stick by you ‘in sickness and in health’ comes from the ordinary ills — the soggy discomfort of the common cold or the excess body fluids that accompany the flu. You’d have to be a complete troll to abandon the loved one who had cancer or needed one of your kidneys, but it takes a strong commitment to pass the Kleenex to someone who just sneezed on you. Show me someone who can listen as you complain about an ingrown toenail, and I’ll show you someone who loves you.
I am not a good patient, I don’t like to rest when I’m ill and I resent having to use up a day off just to stay home in bed. Because I have a hard time remembering to take prescribed medications, I’ve resorted to one of those plastic boxes with compartments for each day of the week. The box is the size of a wooden ruler, like one I used in elementary school. It’s filled with vitamins. I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever get stricken with a serious illness.
Last year I gave in and scheduled the dental implant surgery I’d been avoiding for twenty years. The first step would involve a bone graft. I opted for sedation after my periodontist, a sincere young man who resembled Ron Howard and who might have just stepped off the set of Mayberry RFD himself, described the surgery involved. I volunteered my husband, Andrew, to accompany me.
Every time I visit the dentist my mind replays that scene from the movie Marathon Man where they torture the hero by drilling into his teeth without anesthetic. I had my surgery at the dental college. Not only did they remember the anesthetic, they gave me two little blue Halcion beforehand. The last thing I remember of the surgery is resting my head on Andrew’s shoulder while we sat in the waiting room.
When I came around, I sat in our living room while Andrew steeped a tea bag for me to place on my gums. My mouth was numb, a dark purple bruise bloomed on my cheek, and there was a trail of blood and drool in the corner of my lips. I looked like an extra from The Walking Dead. Over the next few days my diet comprised blended food, an antibiotic pill the size of a small grape, a steroid, and pain relievers. For dessert I enjoyed a prescription mouthwash with a name I couldn’t pronounce and a taste like something used to exterminate wasps. I spent most of my time reclined in a chair in front of the television, with an ice pack made from frozen peas pressed to my jaw.
To prepare for the surgery, we stocked up on soup and ice cream, but by day three I was glaring at Andrew every time he tried to open a bag of crunchy chips. He hopped up and down so many times fetching my ice pack he wore a trail in the carpet. If only I could have unhinged my jaw like a snake and swallowed a fried chicken wing.
I developed a craving for mashed potatoes with cream gravy and convinced Andrew I was well enough to go out to dinner. After applying a layer of concealer I considered the purple and green bruise hidden, and we headed over to a diner near our home. On the way I imagined how wonderful the mashed potatoes would taste. Hopefully they would be made with a generous amount of artery clogging butter and drowned with cream gravy so thick with dairy products they resembled pudding.
When we got there Andrew ordered the all-day breakfast special with scrambled eggs and biscuits, and I had a bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy. When our food arrived I was dismayed to see the potatoes came, not with the delicious smooth cream gravy I had been dreaming of, but a watery, lumpy brown gravy. I noticed that Andrew’s eggs were runny, which he hates, but he ate them anyway.
“How are your potatoes?” he asked.
“Fine,” I replied. I didn’t mention brown gravy on potatoes should only be served north of the Mason Dixon line.
As soon as we returned from dinner, I took a pain pill, and hoped the throbbing in my jaw would ease. It hurt too much to talk, so I tried my best to send an “I love you” telepathically as I gave Andrew’s shoulder a little pat. He sighed and got up from the couch to go into the kitchen. He came back with my bag of frozen peas, which I accepted, certain he understood.