What is the hardest thing you have ever done?

Andrea Pargel, Like three lifetimes in a 30- something body

‘Staying married after my husband became totally and severely disabled.’

When my husband was admitted to the hospital back in January 2013, I thought that this was something that would take just a couple of days to cure. I was so wrong. What I thought would require a day or two of hospitalization, turned out to be 19 days of ICU care, followed by four months of surgeries, debridements and amputations. It was absolutely horrible.

While he was in the hospital, I had a purpose: to ensure that all bills got paid, that he had food available for the few times that he was in the mood to eat, to document what I was sure was a blatant case of medical malpractice; made sure that he followed the rehabilitation routine that the hospital failed to do, and to make sure that his doctors and nurses washed their damn hands every time they dared touch my husband’s open wounds. It was exhausting- but at least I got to rest and sleep at 11 PM every night. Then the routine of work, hospital and home would resume, all over again.

That changed when my husband was finally discharged.

Here I was, alone with a man that had changed well beyond belief. At 130 lb, his 6′1″ frame met the clinical diagnosis of malnutrition. Instead of his long limbs, stumps where where his leg and arm used to be. His body unable to move a single finger of his mangled hand, after becoming fully paralyzed from the neck down, thanks to the massive nerve damaged cause by the infection. My husband had become a different man, and I did not know what to do.

We were both terribly depressed, and beyond angry both at ourselves and others. In our frustration we lashed at each other, only to feel terrible regret a few minutes later. We mourned the life that we had lost, full of travel and adventure, one that we had built with tons of hard work and sacrifice. Yet even in the depths of our despair, I remember the promise that I made to my husband when he was in the hospital: “Live, and I will do my best to make sure that your life will be happy and worth living”. And if I wanted to fulfill that promise, I needed to change.

I went to therapy, and that helped greatly with my depression and anger issues. I realized that remaining married was not a punishment, but a choice that I would do over and over again for this man that I loved so much, My husband -an athlete after all- became so focused on his rehabilitation that he was able to make astounding progress. From being a man that was unable to dangle from a bed, he now helps me with racking the leaves in front of our house with his power wheelchair and is able to do about two laps around the block with his special trike. He may never walk again, but the progress that he has made has helped him gain a purpose that was difficult to even fathom in his darkest hours, when he was alone in the hospital and looked at his mangled limbs and wondered “what will become of me?”.

Every gain that we have made required inmense patience, putting the needs of the other before our own, and gaining a lot of empathy for the travails that he or I may be going through. We had to change, to leave our selfishness and self-centeredness behind – and eventually “the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” – Anais Nin.

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