Serious illness can be a great teacher

Monday, Dec. 19, 2011

Brittany Pope is the first person I’ve had invite herself to be featured in Family House Diaries. I should have known it was coming as I had seen the outgoing, never-met-a-stranger blonde talking to others in the community dining room at Family House, all the while keeping an ear and an eye on me while I was wrapping up details with a patient she knew was being featured. When there was a break in that conversation, she wasted no time making the ask. I bit.

I was struck by the candor with which Brittany and Chuck – OK, mostly Brittany – talked about the hardships and the rewards Chuck’s disease had brought to their relationship. My sense was the apologies for the hard times have been accepted and the gratitude for the good times never stops.

Brittany comes by her care-giving and nurturing naturally and can be appropriately stern when Chuck isn’t following the post-transplant instructions to the letter. She gives him the concerned look of a caring mother when explaining why he can’t skip a day or two of steroids, stopping short of the scold because he forgot them when she tested his ability to be responsible for his own pillbox.

They met when Brittany was still in high school, introduced by Chuck’s cousin. It wasn’t love at first sight, although Brittany’s mother predicted upon first meeting Chuck that he’s the one Brittany would marry. “He really is a true romantic,” Brittany said.

“I still carry the ticket stub from our first date in my wallet,” Chuck said, drawing a smile and a wink from Brittany, as they reached for each other’s hand. They both seem wiser than their years when it comes to making their relationship work. Serious illness will do that. It’s a great teacher.

I hope they continue to be good students.