Living With Polio

Married 52 Years with Medical Problems

From the series, Polio Survivors Ask, by Nancy Baldwin Carter, B.A, M.Ed.Psych, from Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

Q: My wife, who had polio, and I are in our late 70s and have been married for 52 years. We had our interactions down pat until we both started having medical problems. Do you have any ideas on how to keep the problems from overwhelming our relationship?

A: Sometimes it’s difficult, I know. My husband is 81 and I’m 73. Amid a never-ending parade of ailments, he’s had a major heart attack and two cancer surgeries; my vigorous PPS has been peppered by a colorful variety of other health issues. We’ve been around since the polar ice caps froze over, and we’ve been through it all. For what it’s worth, I can tell you what we do.

Each of us understands we have no control over the other’s physical condition—nor indeed very much over our own. But as long as life goes on, we deal with it. We focus on what we can do. On wanting “what we have” rather than insisting on having the elusive “what we want.” Acceptance. Serenity.

Start with this: He’s always here when I need him—and I am here for him. He takes me to the doctor and holds my hand and opens the ketchup bottle for me when the cap won’t come loose. I write a poem for him and fold his socks.

It helps that we truly like each other. I love everything he does—well, almost. Who wouldn’t smile at a shelf of canned veggies arranged alphabetically by her librarian hubby? Or clothes closets in which he’s made the color of each hanger match the color of the garment it holds? It’s these little things that count.

We’re a great team. We think a lot alike. Once I chose some dining room wallpaper that the decorator hated. “Your husband will never go for that,” she declared. “Let’s see,” I said as I slammed shut the heavy book of samples and called him up from the basement. With no coaching whatsoever, he looked until he found the wall covering he preferred. Yes. Exactly the one I chose. He knows what books to get me; I can pick a movie he’ll enjoy.

He makes me laugh. We don’t just play a game, we banter our way through it. Last week he got me a terrific spelling game for my birthday. After I beat him two to one, he said, “I’m at a real disadvantage here.” It is hard to play on this bed. The game board won’t lie flat, so his playing pieces keep slipping off; he can’t reach the cards from where he must sit. I thought maybe we could change something. “What disadvantage?” I asked. “I can’t spell,” he said.

We talk a lot. Sometimes about life or philosophy or simply some little nothing we want to discuss. Recently a friend loaned us a DVD that suggested this question: “If Heaven is a memory, what one memory would you choose?” It’s long been a favorite theme of mine—that one pivotal moment that made all the difference. The two of us don’t live in the past, but sometimes it’s fun looking back.

We’re not the two we used to be. Time and circumstances have seen to that. But what’s inside draws us closer every day. We take advantage of it. “I love you,” he tells me. And I, catching the secret meaning of the phrase, respond in kind. We’re who we are today. And that’s enough.

We take today seriously. It’s all we have, in fact. Right now. We try our best to make the most of it.

Source: Post-Polio Health International (

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