On our third trip to the emergency room in the span of 15 days, I suggested to my husband that we pick up on what seemed to me a very obvious hint.

"We should play Lotto with the numbers of every hospital and emergency room we've been in," I said. "They could be our lucky break."

That coaxed a reluctant smile from The Hubby, a triumph of no small proportion, believe me. Later, encouraged by his reaction, I used our time in the ER to splurge aloud on fantasy trips that my non-existent payoff will buy us. Dreams, as I often tell my children, don't cost a penny.

These days, I spend a good portion of time, whether it's on the phone, by email or through texts, answering the one question that is defining our life: How's The Hubby? The truth isn't always pleasant. Some days are better than others, and some are just plain difficult to muddle through. This glacial recovery is not what either of us expected.

After The Hubby won a near-death battle with sepsis, survival turned from gratitude to entitlement. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but we wanted more miracles. We demanded better results. Now.

We got reality instead: the slog-though-it version.

We're realizing that it will be months, perhaps years, before our lives are back to normal, whatever normal might be. By then, we'll be different people, not only older but also wearier and certainly more jaded.

We're living through that stage in life that calls for us to keep our spirits up. This is where we buckle down, stay positive, apply our noses to the grindstone, fix our eyes on the ball. Such trite phrases, but oh-so-fitting in our situation.

So how to keep spirits high when all you see before you is toil and struggle? How do you hold fast to a vision that appears so distant? How do you give comfort while also seeking solace for yourself?

I'm still figuring that out. So is The Hubby. As with any skill that must be learned, we stumble in the process, then manage to pull ourselves up. Up, down, up, down, again, again, again, a tide of changing moods and impressions. Thank heaven for a friend's kind words, a neighbor's impromptu dinner offer, the boss's do-what-you-have-to attitude. These acts of kindness and understanding make smooth a way that now seems so full of obstacles.

An acquaintance I long lost track of used to urge people at the end of almost every conversation, "Tell me something happy." I thought him strange. Now I find him wise.

Yes, I'll tell you something happy. I eat spoonfuls of Nutella when I want to and haven't gained an ounce. I wear lipstick every day, even when I'm not leaving the house. I play my mother's salsa music loud. I had the front yard landscaped just the way I wanted and admire it every time I pull into the driveway.

Last weekend, when the skies darkened and a storm rolled in, I stood outside, arms outstretched, feet muddied, strength way past tested. The leaves of my new plants shimmered in the rain. I said to no one in particular, "It's going to be OK," and I believed it, even if only for a minute.

Then I returned to the soggy mess that is my life, feeling -- at least for now -- so much better.

(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)