Ronnie's carefree attitude always makes Cystic Fibrosis feel so easy; so manageable. Sure he has his good days and bad days, but for the most part CF doesn't play much of a role in any given day. However, I have come to learn that the CF Ronnie portrays and the CF Ronnie has are two very different things.
After dating for about 6 months, Ronnie and I went to China together to visit my parents. In China, he experienced the perfect storm of a chest cold, polluted air, cigarette smoke galore, hemoptysis, and one long flight back to the US, but I didn't realized just how bad off he really was. I knew he didn't feel well on our flight home. In fact, I spent the entire 12 hour flight watching him as he fell in and out of sleep and consciousness. I'd watch his chest for movement and nudge him if it looked like he was "gasping" for air more than he normally does when he's asleep (anyone else breath like that? It almost sounds like a slow, drawn out bull frog croak). Still I wasn't nervous. He'd give me a reassuring smile here and there, crack a joke or two, and let me know he'd be fine.
We got him back into the country and into the emergency room. We sat there for hours. Ronnie's sats were low enough that the nurses seemed quite alarmed, so they put Ronnie on oxygen, and kept upping the number of liters, from 2 to 4 to 8. Ronnie didn't look like he felt the greatest, but still he gave me a reassuring smile, cracked a joke or two, and continued to tell me he was fine. Around 3 am, he told me to go get some sleep. "I'm just waiting for a room," he said. "Go sleep and I'll be all set in the morning when you get up." So I did.
When I got to the hospital the next morning around 7, I found him in ICU. He was sound asleep, hooked to all sorts of machines making all sorts of noises. The most alarming of all, however, was the bipap. I later found out that they were unable to keep his sats up with oxygen alone, so they had him on the bipap to attempt to get more oxygen into his body. I sat there just watching him. There was no smile for reassurance that I could see through the bipap mask, no jokes, no words of encouragement, or words at all. It was the first time I'd seen him truly sick. The first time he just didn't feel well enough to bring light to the situation. It was the first time I saw that CF could change the game within a split second. It made me realize how much I don't know about CF. It made me understand that it's a very, very serious illness.
That being said, it also made me realize how much of a fighter Ronnie is. Uncomfortable, in pain, uncertain: He just kept on. And as each day passed, he just kept fighting and kept improving. It wasn't long before his reassuring smile was back, his jokes started flowing, and his encouraging words soothed my worried mind. So I guess the best part about the first time CF was real to me, was that I realized no matter how much CF can do, Ronnie will always do more.