How Does a Marriage Last When Disease Overshadows Health?

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I’m a terrible patient and an impatient nurse. I’ll go to bed with my throat sizzling, sending an authoritative shopping list to the family member unlucky enough to be sent to the pharmacy on my behalf. (Why are Luden’s cough drops so hard to find?) But when things turn upside down – for example, while my husband is recovering from shoulder surgery – a rough, fast weather, I assume Florence Nightingale is overseeing the rowdy soldiers’ place. A kind man whose worst crime was playing hockey in middle age.

Accompanied by my own eccentricities, MY EVERYTHING IS YOURS (Flatiron, 400 people, $27.99), Eleanor Henderson’s account of her husband Aaron’s three illnesses – as he describes them – “addiction, mental illness, and what I inadequately call ‘chronic illness’.” I wasn’t sure I had the stomach for Aaron’s amazing medical treatment. conditions (including worms; skin) or for its tolerance that is evident from the first page.

Henderson begins in their bedroom in Ithaca, NY, and tries to persuade Aaron to sleep while Aaron writhes in pain from rashes and boils covering his body. After four years of sobriety, Smirnoff pursues a series of prescription drugs with Ice. “She struggles, she cries, her eyes close with pain,” Henderson writes. “I caress your back. I kiss your forehead. It’s okay,” I whisper. ‘You’re fine.'”

Aaron is not well, that much is clear. Throughout the book, states and decades, the birth of two sons and the death of their parents receive diagnosis upon diagnosis, each more incomplete and uncertain than the last. Some experts believe it’s Morgellons disease (don’t Google it); others blame stress; Aaron, an acupuncturist and herbalist, says he has “too much fever.” There is no clear path to a healthy life or treatment process. Family members are loyal but confused; neighbors don’t arrange a casserole brigade. It is difficult to act around a situation that has no name, trajectory, or known cause.

Henderson jumps in time, going back to his early days with Aaron and then back to the emergency room waiting room, and then back to the time when their father met with his siblings to spread his ashes and Aaron couldn’t be there. You feel for him, but you also worry about Henderson, who carries the burden of his emotional and financial responsibilities. When she remembers the most difficult moments, she switches to the second person: “After excruciating hours on the porch, when the sky was getting dark and you were both talking dryly to yourself, you took her into the bedroom and made peace.”

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