Monday, November 27, 2006

As Good as It Gets? Thank You Very Much

The Wedneday night before Thanksgiving, I collapsed on the couch just in time to watch “Top Chef” with my husband. I had the day off and spent most of it preparing appetizers for the next day’s feast—in between bouts of coughing, wheezing, and assorted aches and pains. For weeks now I’ve been battling what I refer to as a “high-functioning plague,” a respiratory infection that has lodged itself in my lungs and won’t let go. While it makes breathing difficult and congestion constant, I am usually still able to go about my daily activities and am not confined to bed. I feel sick, but it is a functional sick, so it is okay.

During the commercial breaks, my husband and I chatted a bit about our upcoming few weeks. I mentioned needing to schedule a test I’d had to cancel earlier this fall, and the conversation eventually drifted towards an inevitable topic with us these days: maintaining stability. It’s been 10 months since I’ve had a seriously acute respiratory event and needed to be hospitalized, the longest stretch I’ve had in over a decade. I am so conditioned to expect critical illness that sometimes I can’t even believe it. I’ve had to juggle several other conditions, but they are more life-altering than life-threatening.

Three years ago, I spent the entire week of Thanksgiving in the hospital. I spent Christmas Eve of that year being transported by ambulance from my parents’ hometown hospital to my Boston hospital, one Christmas out of the past five I have spent in the hospital in recent years. Holidays haven’t always been especially festive for me.

But here it was, the night before Thanksgiving. My appetizers were finally ready, my condo was scrubbed clean, one of my favorite shows was on, and I wasn’t anywhere near the hospital. The holidays were indeed making a comeback.

As the night progressed, my symptoms worsened. I turned pale, got clammy and sweaty, and the exhaustion in my arms and legs was overwhelming. This was a nightly occurrence, as was the coughing jag that followed. We barely noticed it, only pausing to turn the volume on the television up more so we could still hear it above all my racket.

“It’s not great, but it’s a lot better than the past few years. I’m not healthy, but I am stable,” I said to John.

“It might just be as good as it gets. And you know what? I’ll take it.”

“Me too,” he said. “It’s more than good enough for me.

And when we sat down to dinner the next day with our family—including my father, who only a few months ago underwent heart surgery, my mother, whose joints would pay for her meal preparations for days to come but whose smile didn’t show that, and my niece, a healthy and happy two-year-old—we knew that while stable never means perfect, we’ll gratefully and thankfully take it for all of us.
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