My husband: Not afraid of scary bugs in the bathroom or mice in the attic; can lift heavy suitcases with one arm; able to run fast enough to catch our dog; the first to get up in the dark when we hear a strange noise downstairs.
Is there anything that can stop this Navy pilot trained for war, a man who has been tested at Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school and faced the Helo Dunker at Aviation Preflight Indoctrination, an underwater contraption that simulates a crash-landed, sunken aircraft?
Why, yes. In fact there is. The Man Flu.
I could tell Dustin had a headache even before he said so. He rubbed his temple with his right hand and drove with his left. His eyes had red rings around them.
“Should you pull over and let me drive?” I asked.
“Actually, let’s stop for lunch,” he said. “And then you can drive after.”
We took the next exit and found the loudest, most crowded franchise restaurant. Dustin rubbed his temples with both hands at the table. His face looked pale.
“Mind if I go to the car and lie down?” he asked.
The truth is, I had a little headache, too. But I’m a mom. It takes nothing less than hospitalization to put me on the sidelines. I didn’t mind that Dustin left the restaurant to sleep in the car. Later, I drove the rest of the way to Boston while Dustin slept, took pain medicine and recounted how that headache had nearly floored him.
I was fine with this. Really, I was. Because I wasn’t surprised. After I delivered our first baby, Dustin told the doctor it was the most tired he had ever felt.
When he watched a resident physician give me an epidural in my spine, Dustin said his back ached. He paced nervously in the kitchen when I was in labor with our third son, and before leaving the house, I stopped to write my next week’s column.
When the kids are bleeding, I tell him to sit down. When a doctor explained Owen’s tonsil surgery, I saw Dustin’s face lose color.
Dustin is equipped with bravery for things I will never try or encounter. He’s trained for the battlefield. But when it comes to good, old-fashioned sickness, he needs me to hold his hand.
A few days after “the headache,” and before we left our hotel to go to the Boston Museum of Science, Dustin told me, “Wear something comfortable so you’ll be in a good mood today.”
Thirty minutes later, as I hoisted my suitcase into the back of our van, Dustin pushed the button to automatically close the door. The van door came down on the small part of my nose, just between my eyes. I heard the bones crunch. I could feel the bloody wetness.
Dustin leaped out of the driver’s seat and ran to me. “Oh my gosh, I didn’t see you there,” he said. “Honestly!”
Blood trickled down my nose.
“Do we need to take you to the hospital?” he asked. “Should I get your some ice? Do you think you need stitches? Do we have any hydrogen peroxide?”
He was pacing around me in the parking lot.
“Get me a tissue from the glove compartment,” I said. “And let’s get to the museum before the kids want lunch.”
I held the tissue on my nose as we drove. My heart beat between my eyes as my right eye lid began to swell. I felt like I had a giant clown nose on my face, only just below my forehead, not on my nose. Every time I bent over, I felt it throb. I looked like I had been in a fight.
But the kids wanted to go to the museum, and it was the last day of our vacation. There was no time to take me to the hospital for stitches.
At the museum, I chased Lindell through displays while Dustin and the older boys read every plaque with information and tried the hands-on experiments.
I balanced all the kids’ lunches on a single plastic tray in the cafeteria while Dustin waited for something from the grill. My nose was hot and tender. My head ached.
I rode the pretend space shuttle with Lindell.
I built a robot claw with Owen.
I listened to Ford explain the laws of probability.
And at the end of our day, I wandered off from Dustin and the boys to look at books in the gift shop. I rubbed my forehead as I read, and I longed to lie flat so the blood would move away from the knot on the bridge of my nose.
That’s when Dustin found me. “Where have you been?” he said. “You just ditched me with the kids, and they’re all going crazy, and I didn’t know what to do or where you had gone. ...”
I looked up at Dustin and smiled, even though my nose hurt as it wrinkled.
What I wanted to say was, “Welcome to my battlefield, Honey.” What I said instead was, “I’m here now. What do you need?”
Sarah Smiley is a Navy spouse and author of “Shore Leave,” a nationally syndicated column.