The last thing I noticed before we left home was the bouquet of flowers Rob gave me for Valentine’s Day. I considered bringing them along with us but instead consoled myself with a photo. The flowers reminded me of our marriage. A week ago the newly-opened yellow roses were perfect, wafting a gentle aroma when I drew near. Velvet green leaves and long lily buds pierced up between the sunny orbs.
I remember when we met almost 40 years ago. Our love was young and fresh. We too, like the flowers, were still perfectly formed. Four days (and four decades) later the roses had become wilted blobs hanging on weak stems. Simultaneously the Asiatic lilies had exploded into full glory – large white blossoms with pink stripes and dots surrounding fuzzy maroon stamens. Their incense permeated the dining room and I laughed out loud, realizing that I’d imagined these jewels as symbolic of my marriage now.
How did this happen?
Rob and I met when we both enrolled in a climbing class at REI. Not unlike unblemished flowers, our stretch of pristine beauty extended longer than that of most couples because we lived together three years before marriage and then waited to have kids. When we welcomed Clarke and Carolina into our bouquet, we were ready.
Our kids were school-age before we learned Rob had Hepatitis C (HCV). He’d probably been infected all of the time we’d known each other because he received tainted blood the year before I met him. Thanks to a procedure that ultimately saved his life, he’d contracted an insidious virus that would eventually destroy his liver.
After diagnosis, Rob’s best response was to stop drinking alcohol as he waited for a possible cure and begin fighting back the depression that surfaced. Modern medicine along with music, a significant job-shift and love from the communities we’d built at church and in our neighborhood helped him move forward. Eventually he retired, restored a piano and created our garden. Soon he’ll be a beekeeper.
Years ago, Rob could have chosen a complicated chemotherapy treatment to address the virus. After several months of side effects, he’d probably have beaten the little devil. But since his liver was only slightly scarred (rated 2 out of 4 in terms of damage), he could afford to wait.
Until today, when we find ourselves in the middle of a magnificent healing bouquet. That’s because a couple of years ago, Harvoni came on the scene.
- A new drug offering almost 100% eradication of HCV.
- Minimal side effects – only headaches and weakness for some patients.
- No cocktail, just one pill per day for three months.
When Rob went into the hospital for his third liver biopsy, he was surprised to be greeted by a nurse practitioner we know. Mary Sue Galvin was our neighbor pre-HCV-diagnosis when we lived on the houseboats. For me, this coincidence was enough to consider him healed. With Mary Sue running the department and looking out for us, what could go wrong? Still, Rob the economist waited. After all, Handsome Harvoni was expensive. We decided to wait until insurance companies were required to cover most of the $100,000 tab. Then we waited a while longer to avoid the double deductibles of spreading the treatment across two calendar years. Rob took his first pill on January 2nd. Welcome 2017 and Harvoni! Good-bye Hepatitis C!
Some people suffer through gruesome surgeries alongside their lovers. Then come long recovery periods before strength is regained. Me? I’ve just listened to Rob’s tales of insomnia. Sleeplessness is not a side effect of Harvoni per se but Rob believes it’s a discomfort that arises when he’s not operating at 100% capacity. Also, no alcohol is part of the regimen and I’ve joined Rob on the no-booze kick in solidarity.
How dare I complain though? One thing I’ve liked about this period of our lives is being ever-conscious about the healing that’s happening right in our own home. About a month before Rob started popping pink pills, I was overcome with joy at one point, certain he was going to be well after beating this virus. Then 30 days into the treatment, we had our proof when they checked the viral load in his blood. First glance of the results showed a chart with October 2016 counts alongside late-January 2017 numbers. In October, millions of HCV microbes showed up. But beside the January date on the grid? “None detected.” His liver counts are improving too.
Truly we have lived our lives fully for the past 20 years. We traveled. We raised our kids. Lots of laughter and loving. Still in the shadow of HCV, I’ve had my blood tested a few times (uninfected) and I’ve learned about liver transplants. Now we know, blessedly, HCV and liver disease is not what’s going to take him down. We could be one of those privileged couples who live into deep old age together. No wonder the gorgeous voluptuous lily seems so like us.
But if I am honest even now, I know that by the time we get home those same pink petals will let go and drop off. The stamen dust will drift and spot the tablecloth. We’ll have a mess on our hands. And I’ll acknowledge those times when I feel distant from Rob, those times when we’ve hurt each other or just couldn’t care less. In so many words, when we’ve had a mess to clean up. And we will again. We’ll continue cycling – close, distant, blobs, jewels and messes. Regardless, in late March, post treatment when he turns 67, I’m definitely imagining a toast with whiskey on the rocks coming up. In the middle of this life bouquet of roses, lilies, Harvoni and each other, “Salud! Here’s to us!”