Life is What Happens


“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon from song Beautiful Boy

We planned to celebrate the end of my treatments for two awful viruses that invaded my body last year. Seven months of chemo-like treatments ended in early October, and the viruses were killed–along with my hair follicles. My husband was scheduled for a conference in Acapulco for mid-October so we decided to add some days to his travel itinerary and I would accompany him.

He’d only been to Acapulco once before, and that was with my brother more than forty years ago. My brother died in 2008, and Robert thought it would be nice for me to go to the same places they went as young bucks out for a lark. It might have been one of the few times was my brother was truly happy.

As soon as my treatments ended, I felt wonderful, even better than before. Robert had a cold when we started out, but he’s a healthy guy, and we both were certain with plenty of Vitamin C and lots of fluids, he’d be well by the time we started our journey, first to Mexico City, then by bus to Cuernavaca, and then by bus to Acapulco.

When we first planned the trip, we made reservations for a hotel in Pie de la Cuesta for one night. Pie de la Cuesta is only a few miles from Acapulco but a world away in beauty and pace. Robert and my brother stayed there for most of their month-long sojourn to Mexico. One month before we left, two major storms collided on the Pacific Coast and left Pie de la Cuesta in bad shape. We cancelled the hotel.

We spent our first day in Mexico City walking around the Zocalo and Alameda–the historic center of the city–with Robert sniffling and blowing his nose.

Templo Mayor, Mexico City
Templo Mayor, Mexico City

After a late lunch, we set out in search of the Diego Rivera Museum, but Robert’s sniffles turned into major chest congestion. We were at about 6,500 altitude in the city, and the pollution is omnipresent in any air breathed. He couldn’t walk fast and forget climbing any stairs. I managed to get him back to our hotel room and put him to bed. But he couldn’t sleep lying down, and I couldn’t sleep when he couldn’t take air in. He kept saying, “Get me to the coast.”

bus ride

So we went with an overnight stay in one of the oldest cities in Mexico. Cuernavaca has been inhabited since 1200 BC. Our hotel had a beautiful pool overlooking green hills. The air pollution lifted even though we were only an hour from Mexico City. When we got out of the pool and started to walk up the stairs to the elevators, he couldn’t make it. My active and athletic husband had to stop after each step. We managed a few hours in the historic district, thanks to the concierge at the hotel who arranged for a taxi drop and pick up in a place near the two main plazas of town.

By the time we made it to Acapulco, he was still in bad shape. He tried attending his conference for a few hours, but his coworkers sent him back to the hotel. We never made it to Pie de la Cuesta. We never saw the places where he’d been with my brother.

But as I prepared to get him back to the States, I realized that you can’t really go back because nothing is the same as it was. The trip home was agony as we faced a six-hour bus trip, an overnight at airport hotel and then eight hours of plane trips home. Through the kindness of strangers, we managed with wheelchairs and escorts provided by Courtyard Mexico City Airport and Delta Airlines.

Upon arrival in Pittsburgh, I drove him straight to the hospital where he was admitted with a severe case of acute bronchitis. They kept him in the hospital for four days. Now a few days later, I can hear him puttering around the house without coughing. I periodically poke my head out of my office to remind him to take it easy even though he’s feeling a bit better.

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” reverberated through my head as we made our way home.

We lived our life from moment to moment in Mexico with our roles reversed for the first time in a year. At one point, he looked up at me from a wheelchair and said, “You have no idea what it’s like not to  be able to do things I could before.” I smiled, and he realized the irony in his statement. No one knew better than me what that was like. He gained instant empathy for what life must have been like for me when my body was attacking itself.

And I learned what it was like to be the helpless, worried spouse. I wanted to cure him and make it all go away. I realized that’s exactly what he’d been saying to me over the past months.

Despite our disrupted plans, we came full circle in our relationship. If we’d been able to go to the sites he wanted, we’d never have experienced this symbiotic reversal, which brought greater understanding of both our relationship and those around us.

United - Cuernavaca
full circle

Here’s to health, which I never really appreciated until it disappeared for a time.

Soon I’ll publish more on what we saw in Mexico.

Published by P. C. Zick

I write. It's as simple and as complicated as that. Storytelling creates our cultural legacy.

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