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When a couple is separated due to illness, doctors provide an act of mercy


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Paola Belletti - published on 09/11/18

Medical experts recognize and accommodate the truth about a long-married couple.

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On August 8, an Italian man named Mario, 83, was admitted to Schiavonia Hospital in the Italian region of Padua for treatment for a chronic respiratory infection. That in and of itself would be nothing out of the ordinary or even noteworthy … except for the fact that his wife of 64 years, Elisa, was also admitted to the same hospital, and same hospital room, 10 days later.

When Mario was admitted, Elisa, who is undergoing serious cognitive decline, became anxious and agitated at home. The change of her status quo and prolonged distance from her husband had strong a negative effect mentally. So the doctors decided to give the couple the best possible medicine they could: their strong unity, built from more than a half century of marriage.

The recreated (as best they could) the atmosphere of home by giving them a room with two beds just for them, to reduce the disorientation that everyone experiences during a hospital stay, especially the elderly.

Perhaps these medical experts recalled Jesus’ warning not to separate what God has united, or maybe they were inspired by the human wisdom that recognizes the vital richness of relationships and their great influence on our wellbeing. Regardless, the doctors’ decision may have reduced the couples’ length of hospital stay.

The medical field is well-positioned to rediscover and enhance a patient’s relational and psychological dimension, and to gain a keener sense of their human dignity, which is equal to that of the physician. Humans are not monads, nor are we souls separated from bodies. And what can we say about husband-and-wife or parent-and-child relationships? They are among the closest and most inseparable. With hope, initiatives like these will become more common in health care.

Cases like Elisa and Mario prove that the words of Scripture are not just images, but deeply describe our being and what we are called to be. Two spouses really do become one flesh. They shape each other, for better or for worse. And, in these 64 years of life together, made up of four children, work, toil, perhaps quarrels and reconciliations, tight budgets and prosperity, habits and small delusions, perhaps of common prayer, celebration, and shared sorrow, is it any wonder that Mario and Elisa have ended up looking more and more alike?

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