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Commentary: Love, Marriage, Hospitals And The North Star


Jennifer Cline has learned a lot about relationships, good and bad, in her job as a physical therapist. She shares them in this commentary.

You definitely can’t “fake” your relationship/marriage when one is hospitalized. The stress makes the non-hospitalized's true colors fly. Some organize the patient’s room, constantly rearranging and folding blankets, some complain about the care their loved one has received, some don’t show up at all, and the worst is when couples still bicker when one is sick.

One way in which I connect with my patients and sometimes distract them is to ask them about their marriage.  How long have you been married?   My favorite response from one 86 year old female was: “6 months.”

Mainly though, people respond: “62 years, 46 years, 54 years.” I then follow up with, what is your secret? The answers are funny and one of my favorites has been: “I just do what my wife tells me to do for the past 49 years.”

Sadly, people have whispered in my ear: “Send him to a nursing home, I can’t take it anymore”. Or, “I wish the bastard would die.”

Conversely, I watched a wheelchair bound man with dementia enter his wife’s ICU room to visit her for the first time since she became sick and I witnessed both of them melting with joy to be reunited. They held hands desperately. He kept saying, “Honey I miss you and can’t wait for you to come home.” They kicked me out of the room to “court.” True love.

Another time a wife sat next to her husband’s hospital bed. His colon cancer had spread to his spine. He was very weak.

“I know he needs rehab,” his wife stated matter of fact. “But I want him home as soon as possible.”

The patient replied nodding to his wife, “She is my North Star. Always has been, always will be.”

One physical therapy session with yet a different patient consisted of taking him to visit his wife (also hospitalized) and  his oxygen levels dropped once he saw her because he was so relieved she was alright.

The energy exuded between those that truly treat one another as if the relationship is the greatest blessing they have after six months or 60 years is a beautiful sight.

Once again my patients teach me much more than I teach them. They have shown me what I want –and what I already have. Marriage is not the only venue in which this kind of love is exchanged. I have friends and family who adore me and would be so happy to reunite with me if I were a patient. I can feel it. So I tell my kids: do not be afraid to love. Take the risk. Connect. Make it sweet. Tell your people you love them. It all still may not work out. They may break up with you, leave you, or die. Still-

Allow yourself to be the North Star for another. And always and forever: be your own North Star.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Jennifer Cline is a resident of Charlotte and a physical therapist at Carolinas Medical Center.