In Sickness and Health

Back when Scott and I exchanged our vows in the presence of God and our family and friends, we promised to walk through the rest of our lives together, deeply committed to taking care of each other and having faith that once we were on board the marriage train everything would go smoothly.

My idea of everything going smoothly in a marriage is (a) that we devote a lifetime of love and faithfulness to one another and (b) that Scott never gets sick.

Later, when I became pregnant with Rainey and our relationship evolved from husband and wife to mom and dad, I amended this second expectation with the clause that if and when our baby fell ill, he had to be the one to take care of the mess. I very logically explained to him that this was his obligation as a husband, father, and registered nurse. I mean, it’s notĀ my fault that he doesn’t loseĀ his lunch at the sight or stench of human waste. I, on the other hand, would rather be drug five miles on a pebble-covered road by a hundred wild horses than clean up someone else’s vomit.

As with most of the unreasonable requests I have made of him throughout our six years of wedded bliss, Scott has humbly obliged. Until last week.

After waking up from her afternoon nap, Rainey was comfortably nursing in my arms when she rather abruptly sat up, let out a tiny whine, and barfed all over my lap, the rocking chair where we were sitting, and the rug underneath our feet. Had I seen this coming, I certainly would have conveniently scheduled to be out of the house getting my eyebrows waxed or my teeth cleaned. But the flu rarely comes with a warning, so I was puked on instead.

Now, to be honest, this was not the first time Rainey has emptied the contents of her stomach on me. In her early weeks as a colicky baby with an adult-sized indigestion problem, Rainey was notorious for upchucking her meals. And just a couple months ago, she was bitten by the flu bug going around the neighborhood. So I had already been baptized into the family of barfed-on mommies, and remarkably, I had lived to tell about it.

But this time, it was different. Before, the sour stomach incidences were nothing a little cloth diaper couldn’t wipe up. Now, however, Rainey threw up every fifteen minutes with so much vigor that Scott and I cancelled the dinner plans we made with friends and took up residence on the living room floor. We cleared the carpet of all her books and toys and sprawled out three layers of sheets, towels and pillows. Scott stacked the stereo with lullabies while I dimmed the lights in hopes that the serene surroundings would help comfort our miserable baby.

We spent the entire evening stroking her cheeks and kissing her forehead as she wretched and wriggled on top of us until finally, around two o’clock in the morning, Rainey’s belly gave her a break. The three of us fell sound asleep, snuggled together underneath all our blankets for the rest of the night.

When she woke us up at dawn, she seemed incredibly upbeat for the kind of night she had just had. Despite being a little weak and her refusal to eat anything that resembled solid food, Rainey was back to her usual, playful and feisty self. Assured that his girls were going to be just fine, Scott left for work a few blocks away, a little bleary-eyed but relieved to see Rainey in better spirits.

Later that day, while Rainey was deeply engrossed in the rigorous task of shredding the newspaper, I looked out the window and saw Scott staggering down the street like a zombie. Rainey and I met him at the front door, pale-faced and muttering something akin to Conrad’s “the horror, the horror.”

Immediately, an alarm went off in my head.

“The day has finally come,” I thought to myself as I followed him into the bathroom, “Scott’s going to be sick.”

Not knowing if I should stay by his side like a good wife, or run and hide, I decided to run. Actually, darted is more like it. When Scott dropped to his knees in humble submission to the Porcelain Throne, I darted out of the bathroom faster than the Road Runner fleeing from one of Wile E. Coyote’s traps.

But while pacing the hallway outside the bathroom, the mother in me suggested I offer Scott some support. Without stepping foot into the bathroom, I opened the door a crack, reached in with one arm and blindly patted Scott on the back while saying, “okey-dokey, how ya doin’ there?” I highly doubt this was any comfort to him, but it was the best I could do considering the circumstances.

But then a strange thing happened. As I inched my way into the bathroom, and upon seeing Scott curled up in the fetal position on the floor by the toilet, I suddenly became militantly devoted to helping him, no matter what the cost to my personal comfort. So, I spent the following 24 hours much like I had spent the previous 24 hours, stroking the cheek and kissing the forehead of someone I love.

And this is yet another lesson I have learned on my pilgrimage as a wife and a mother, that there is joy in the filth of life. Had Scott gotten sick earlier in our marriage, say, before Rainey was born, I may not have accepted the gift of being needed so willingly. But because I believe the timing of his illness was perfectly planned, I received it like I received the contents of Rainey’s tummy the day before — with open arms.

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