Side Effects

at 10:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 3 years old.

A loved one’s serious illness at a relatively young age can upset the most mundane life plans and generate unexpected side effects for all concerned. Yoav Potash has this Perspective.

I probably grimaced when my wife asked me to floss her teeth.

Only in distant “golden years” did I suppose I might care for a partner with a chronic condition. Not while we have kids in preschool and first grade.

My wife has an autoimmune disorder, one of those bizarre ailments where the body attacks itself. It’s not life threatening, just quality-of-life threatening. Each week she must give herself an injection, a fight-poison-with-poison approach to treating an ailment that has medical science stumped.

She’d love to instead heal herself by cutting out comfort foods and alcohol, or exercising more, or less, or differently, or by seeing a naturopath—she’s tried ’em all, but her symptoms persist.


The symptoms start with a swollen finger, snowball with aching joints and muscles, and then fatigue—a knockout punch from within.

That’s when I have to do more, especially for our two young daughters. More care taking, shopping, driving, cleaning, cooking, whatever needs doing. It’s taken me a year to accept those side effects without an exasperated sigh.

I had just put the kids to bed when my wife displayed her swollen finger and asked me to floss her teeth. Did this signify an escalation, a cascade of daily hygiene tasks outsourced to the spouse without sickness?

She sat on the closed toilet, tilted her head back, her mouth open in a large Joker smile. Floss between my fingers like a tightrope, I approached, realizing that if you’re not a dental hygienist, flossing someone else’s teeth is like trying to sing your ABC’s backwards. Upon my first clumsy attempt, we burst into laughter. Our giggles subsided, I wiped tears from my eyes, and managed to floss my wife’s beautiful smile, a strange trick of dental intimacy. I’m not sure I expected this at any age, but like most things in life, it’s better with someone you love.

With a Perspective, I’m Yoav Potash.

Yoav Potash is a writer and filmmaker based in the East Bay.