Marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment. But a lifetime has many challenges. That’s why the older marriage vows included the phrase “for better or worse.”
This poignant story tells how a couple handles their challenges.
For Better or Worse
Lynette M. Burrows
They came in together. Gray-haired, bent, similar in size and shape, they held hands. She laughed at his lame jokes. Her laughter lit his face with a sun-bright smile. They shuffled up to the emergency room’s front desk.
The ER nurse put him in a wheelchair and rolled him back to the triage room. She listened to their concerns, then checked his blood pressure and listened to his heart and lungs. She told them there were no rooms right now but there would be soon.
They returned to the waiting room and sat in hard plastic chairs near the interior doors marked staff only. And they waited.
His jokes slowed and her laughter grew strained. The nurses at the desk seemed to pay them no mind as they dealt with the people coming into the ER in ones and twos, and whole families.
And after a while, the nurse called his name. She took the old man in his wheelchair through the staff only doors and the old woman trotted after them. She helped the old man into a patient gown that tied in the back, then helped him onto a narrow bed she called a cart. The nurse in charge of this room will be here soon, she said. She pulled the curtain, closing them in. The old woman sat in the lone plastic chair against the wall. And they waited in the cold, bright room.
Outside the room, urgent voices spoke, radios squawked, and equipment rumbled past. Children shouted and got reprimanded. A man screamed for help. The old man’s smile grew uncertain. The old woman pulled her chair closer, held his hand, and murmured meaningless, soothing sounds.
A doctor whisked into the room. “What brought you to the emergency room today,” he asked.
The old man opened his mouth and his eyes grew clouded then alarmed.
The old woman patted his hand. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll tell him. You interrupt if I get anything wrong.”
She related his long health history that was shorter than their marriage, but still very long.
The doctor listened and nodded and said they’d run some tests.
The old woman smiled and thanked him. So did the old man.
A nurse came into the room and drew blood and started an IV and asked the man if he knew where he was. He answered every question, then gave a nervous laugh and glanced at the old woman. She smiled and nodded reassuringly.
The nurse closed the curtain again and hurried about her duties. Outside their room, drawers opened and closed, phones rang, and heavy things trolled past. And the old man and the old woman waited. They spoke of their dogs, their plans, and their new grand baby—number eight.
A kind woman with a thick brown bun came and rolled him in his bed out of the room and down the hall for some tests. The old woman waited with her hands in her lap.
After a time, they wheeled him back into the room. He smiled a worn, pale smile upon seeing the old woman and mumbled unintelligible. She reached for him. He wrapped his cold fingers around her warm ones. She told him everything was all right and that he could rest now. He closed his eyes. In moments, he snored softly but he didn’t let go of her hand. She didn’t either.
Doors opened and closed, people moved up and down the hall chatting about this and that. And the old woman waited with the old man.
A long time later the doctor came in, a hand gripped each end of the stethoscope that hung around his neck. He said the results had come in. The old man’s damaged heart was doing okay and his scarred lungs were no worse. His blood tests were normal for a man of his age. But the scan of his brain showed increased damage. Blood vessels had shrunk and the white matter had thinned. His brain is slowly dying, confusing his words and his body. We can admit him until we can find a place to take him, the doctor suggested.
“Oh no,” said the old woman. “I said “for better or worse” and this isn’t so bad.”
They woke the old man who blinked and blinked and asked, “Am I dreaming?”
“We’re ready to go home,” she said.
He smiled a sun-bright smile, and they left together.