We met when I was 21. I was just out of university and full of the hopes and dreams of a child eager to start playing "grown ups". Dave was a roughty-toughty looking biker who'd been to public school! I immediately fell for his contradictions, his kindness and his charm.
When we met, I had just started on the Addenbrookes diet for Crohn's, and having rested my bowel for two weeks on nothing but liquid feeds, I was just a little way into testing ingredients one by one to see if they caused a reaction. Fate would have it that the weekend I met Dave, it was time to test alcohol and - I kid you not - I had carte blanche to drink as much as I could over four days to see if it caused Crohn's symptoms!
After a very merry weekend indeed, Dave asked me on our first date and insisted he wanted to cook me a meal. I was in a quandary : it was far too early to be explaining all about Crohn's and diets and bowels, (guaranteed to make most blokes run for the hills) but I really wanted to see him again. I tried hedging and fobbing him off, but he wouldn't budge. Reluctantly, I explained about the diet and broke the news that I'd only tested 8 foods so far, so any meal he cooked would have to use just tea, lamb, rice, carrots, apple, beef, tomatoes and green beans! He still insisted on cooking and, as he had no phone in the house he was renting, spent all day rushing to the phone box to check on ingredients. "Can you have gravy?" He asked at some point. I replied that I could, but only Bisto.
I arrived at 8, nervous and fluttery as you can only be on a first date, just in time to see him tipping bisto granules into his stew. I tried to stop him but it was too late. The granules have wheat in them and I'd already found out that I couldn't tolerate it. Mortified with embarrassment, I explained to Dave, but far from being cross, he just started fishing meat out of the stew and oh-so-painstakingly scraping off all the gravy! I decided there and then that this one was a keeper.
Just a few weeks later, I had my first really bad night. We were staying at my next door neighbour's house and I started to be sick and writhe with that old, familiar pain. I tried desperately not to let Dave see, and slipped out of bed, hoping to go home before he woke up. He caught me though, and when I explained he got really quite cross. "If we're together, we share everything, you can't keep running away" he insisted and then stroked my hair through the night through the suffering, getting me drinks and rubbing my back.
Just 3 months after we met, I started to get very sick indeed. I couldn't walk up the stairs and Dave set us up with a mattress on the floor, I couldn't eat at all and had gone back to surviving on liquid feed - 2 litres of the stuff a day. Dave always ate in the kitchen to save me the agony of watching and he made our flatmate do the same.
2 Months later, I was admitted to hospital. I weighed less than 6 stone, I was in excruciating pain and I could barely walk. If you read my post a while back http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2010/10/little-trip-back-in-time-nhs-1995.html you would recognised that of the infamous 1995 admission.
Dave was so shocked by the state of the system and it's inability to care for me properly, he told work he wouldn't be in for a month or so, borrowed his Mum's camper van and lived in the car park all through a bitterly cold February and March, making sure I got my liquid feed and probably saving my life.
Years went by, and despite all of our challenges, we were the happiest couple we knew. One by one our friends split up or had affairs, but Dave and I outlasted them all.
Dave had always been broody and I'd always felt that I wouldn't have children. We decided that if it ever did happen, I would go out to work and he would stay home to look after the kids. However, as time went by, it got clearer and clearer that I wouldn't be working at all, let alone supporting the whole family. Doctors also started to tell me I may not have children at all due to all the meds and operations. It took Dave nearly 6 years to ask me to marry him. He knew that it meant giving up on the idea of children and he says he wanted to be very, very, careful that he really could accept a life without kids,
Dave needed a proper job to support us and slowly, he worked his way to the top, running a call centre of over 100 people with a budget of over a million. I carried on being ill and had four more operations. We lived in a adrenaline fuelled haze, constantly facing intolerable stress, debt and uncertainty. Dave was working long hours to allow us to barely get by, overtime in the morning, overtime in the evening, Saturday shifts, in the end something had to give.
Early in 2003, Dave had an enormous breakdown. He sat, huddled up in a chair, his knees pulled up to his chin rocking backwards and forwards, incapable of something as fundamental as speech.
It was obvious things couldn't go on as they were and we decided that Dave would take a three month sabbatical and that we would spend three whole months living in Italy, recuperating, recovering and just being together.
It worked and Dave slowly started to climb out of that enormous black hole of depression. He decided to set up a motorcycle touring holiday business. I think this was probably one of the happiest periods of his life. He'd always dreamed of working with motorbikes and the twisty, thrilling, mountain roads of northern Tuscany were his vision of heaven. To top it all, against all the odds, I found myself pregnant! Dave was so thrilled that I could never find the words to describe it here.
The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle seemed to suit me, but slowly, slowly I started to step back down that "sickness staircase"** I got sicker and sicker and in the end we had no choice but to come back and live in England. Dave was crushed. I think it might have been the closest we ever got to splitting up and I couldn't bear to see my illness affecting his hopes and dreams as well as my own.
Anyway, move back to England we did, and Dave, as always, found any old job to see us through and dragged himself in to an office every day, daydreaming of the scent of pine forests, jasmine and rich, dark coffee.
And there he's stayed. Trapped in a brain numbing office job, unable to leave because there's little other work available, earning just two thirds of his previous wage. He needs to care for me more and more and just needs a nine to five job that will allow him to get home in time to do the kids tea, bath them and put them to bed. Finally, he starts on the housework and usually collapsing into a chair somewhere around 10pm looking grey and clammy with exhaustion.
He had another breakdown last year. I'd had major surgery, then I had a stroke and then a massive seizure. His Dad was diagnosed with a life threatening condition and his Mum had a stroke too. This time we recognised the signs earlier, thus getting help sooner, but it was still a terrible, bleak time.
His life has been turned upside down by my illness, his dreams crushed by my illness, his career stunted by my illness.
When he took his wedding vows, he took the words more seriously than most "For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer in sickness and in health, til death us do part.
**See http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2010/10/pain.html if you don't know what the sickness staircase is.