Monday, January 5, 2009

The Penalty for Being Brooke

One of the things—perhaps the thing that’s been most important to Brooke during the past six weeks, both in the acute-care part of the hospital and now in the rehab part--has been the waves of people who’ve come to see him. This has sent him soaring—it’s been phenomenally gratifying to him. You all know how gregarious he is and how he loves to talk—to talk about ideas, to talk about politics, to talk not just about people but with people, and how he’d much rather hear about you than talk about himself. That’s just who he is, a talker. And that’s the problem at the moment: Being Brooke, talking. He’s got another little bout of lung infection (yes, this is a setback) and that means not only a longer, more heavy-duty course of antibiotics (14 days!), but cutting down on the amount of talking. This is because it’s necessary to keep the air pressures in his lungs high, but deflating the cuff around the trach—which is what permits air to be exhaled upward through the vocal cords—lowers this. So here’s the fierce new medical regime, imposed for at least the next few days or until the current infection is under control: a maximum of two hours a day of talking.
Two hours? He used an hour this morning for his computer voice-recognition therapy, and another half hour talking with various doctors and nurses. That leaves half an hour to spare—hardly anything for visitors, well-wishers, phone conversations, or even (I hate to sound selfish) me. Two hours, that’s all? Hardly enough to get started on Being Brooke.
But he is entirely willing to cooperate with this medical regime. So there we are; he’s rendered mute, and confined for the moment to visitors who promise not to ask questions, start conversations, assert controversial political theses, pose challenging philosophical problems, or engage in ripartee. (Will anybody be left?) This is a huge deprivation, as I’m sure you can understand. I guess it’s the penalty for Being Brooke. Of course, he still loves seeing people, so don’t stay away altogether—just bring something to read to him or play for him and by all means phone me in advance, 824-9160, so I can let you know if it seems to be a good time.

Sorry for this bit of strictness. But the doctors are persuading me that he’s been, as they say, overdoing it, and a somewhat quieter existence is necessary for the moment. But we can all hope he’ll be back to Being Brooke, or being Still More Brooke, soon. Keep calling me and asking if you can come. And keep posting to this blog--he loves to have it read to him.

Setbacks are scary. And they may mean that things don’t progress as fast as hoped, so that vent-weaning is delayed or perhaps other things as well. There aren’t any guarantees in this business, except that it isn’t easy. I’m astonished by how one’s natural optimism is always being challenged: that subconscious assumption that tomorrow will be better than today, that one gain will yield another, that things are trending upward. The course of “recovery” is far more jagged, and it’s always possible that the label itself is misleading, since it carries unwarranted suggestions of complete success. Just the same, the physician says that Brooke is doing better than 90% of patients with this level of injury—and get this, irrespective of age!


B.C. said...

Yakkety Yak (don't talk back)Brooke and Peggy! GADS!!!!!! Two hours! You can do it, you can do it, you can do it. What about a good ol' book on tape, you guys? Ahh, Brooke. Write poetry in your head? Memorize that poetry? You could have thirty poems memorized and ready the second they unleash you from the Two Hour shackles. Thirty poems dictated, and then you have a nice little collection ready for editing. It's just a thought. The idea of only two hours to speak a day is thought provoking. What would I say? What would begin to be the most important things to say before the talking time ran out? Sitting here, watching that snow continue to fall, I cannot think of a thing to say -- other than -- I love you both.
And I do not need any other words than those.
Brenda C.

B.C. said...

Two Hours

Choosing words
Two hours to do it
Which words, and how many
To move you
Teach you
Lead you
To understand more of me
More of life
Of love

Quietly, I ponder
In and around the English language
For those words for you

So many!
The past?
We’ve done it
Talked and talked until we’re blue
The words tripping out over a glass of wine
More spilling out over coffee
A handful here and there in the darkness

The present?
We speak of it daily
Until we sometimes run out, exhausted
Me running over
You stepping in
Until the dance of language and thought
Becomes one
Our present needs be spoken of
Perhaps not today

The Future?
Yes and more now!
What will we do and how will we do it
And who will we do it with and when?
What’s most important
This time
Our time

Two hours to choose the words
And each day they will be the same
I loved you yesterday
I love you today
Tomorrow is ours
And now.

(Just wanted to toss a little something at you. Sorry that it was written so quickly.

Emily Smith said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy,

Having sat several 10-day meditation retreats in silence, one with Brooke, (and that the hardest one of my life, but only coincidental with Brooke's presence) I can affirm that talking, in the best of circumstances, is exhausting. Before leaving such a retreat, people get to practice talking again for a day so as not to hit the world cold. It always strikes me how much energy it takes to talk, never mind about politics, poetry, philosophy or attempting to be witty.

I know Brooke can do the silence, whatever symphonies are going on inside. And I think it's perfectly natural for you to feel like hoarding the allowed talking for yourself. Until we all learn the Vulcan mind meld or telepathy, which I'm convinced is the modus operandi on my husband's home planet, the voice is one of the most intimate connections I know. You both have wonderful, rich voices.

I'm so glad you posted those lines from the Winter's Tale. They are perfect. I benefited so much from Brooke when I had to teach that play. Those last lines always give me chills.

I think also of Prince Hal ruminating on his proposed transformation from gross disappointment to suitable heir apparent:

Yet herein will I imitate the sun
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wond'red at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.. . .
My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

Of course I'm taking liberties with the metaphors and there are terrible ironies for Brooke's situation, since there was no choice involved in his rare accident. I mean here to emphasize the sun-like nature of Being Brooke, how for so many people you both light up the room and bring warmth and life wherever you go. To have that eclipsed is terrifying, but the shafts that break through the clouds are so marvelous.

As our mutual teacher Goenkaji would say, anicca, anicca, anicca, each breath, moment, note of music, thought, chemical process, arising, passing away, arising, passing away.

I don't know if you got to watch it last night, but Michael Wood's new program on PBS called the Story of India was wonderful. I thought of you as he toured North India tracking the Buddha's progress. Next week, silks and gold.

I think of you every day, sending best wishes, since really all my words feel so inadequate


Tim Schaat said...

Message from a former student:
Brooke, I have been meaning to get in touch with you and Peggy. Last week my wife spoke to an old friend who was a graduate student in the U Philosophy Department. I asked about Peggy and that’s when I learned of your accident. My heart sunk when I heard what happened and you have been on my mind frequently this last week. I sent a quick e-mail to Peggy but I’m sure she has been deluged with messages of support and concern. I read every word of this blog Peggy and your daughter have been keeping. When I first heard about what happened, I was fearful that somehow the magnitude of what you have suffered would dampen the exuberance, passion and joy for life you always carried so evidently. I read your words from the blog, that you were not afraid or bitter, and that you looked forward to your new life. Odd that I would take comfort from your words, but I felt relief that the Brooke I know and care for is still thriving in the seeming worst of circumstances. I thought about one of our conversations about Milton, while working on my senior thesis, a discussion about the spontaneous gratitude that one can feel in the presence of even the simplest of life’s pleasures. I imagine that countless conversations and ruminations about these kinds of notions have perhaps prepared you more than most to remain hopeful and joyful despite such profound changes. I realize there must also be frustrations I can’t even imagine, but I hear a hopefulness in your words that I admire greatly. I wish for you to enjoy a full recovery, but maybe even more than that I hope that you will continue to carry excitement and passion for each day, that you will be energized by each new experience and enjoy your life fully. And if in the face of frustrations and setbacks you feel too exhausted to face the next challenge, I hope you feel some renewed energy coming from everyone who loves you and is pulling for you. I’m one of them. I’ll come visit you.
Warmest regards,

Gail Sanders said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy, I just can't "logoff" without saying that I follow the blog(osphere) with you continuously, and hope I can find a way to express how deeply concerned and hopeful I am for your process and recovery. The information you sahre is a gift to all.

Gail Sanders

Steve Adams said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy,

I said last week I would write you a real pen-and- ink letter, then procrastinated. I am sorry to hear you have been overtalking, and hope any infection is clearing up. Your pressure of speech comes from having so many interesting things to say. Barb is reading a new biography of Ezra Pound. I am reading several Christmas-present books simultaneously and can't remember anything. One is a 1983 "A Stroll with William James" by Jacques Barzun: it is anything but a 'stroll', full of vicissitudes in Jacques' own brain, as if William's weren't enough.

I wish I could think of something to say to console you. It is so hard to know what you are going through subjectively. Nick and I want to come see you as soon as it is convenient for both of you.

Love, Steve

Paul said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy:

I just finished reading the recent entries on you blog and am feeling very inadequate. How can I with my bureaucratic background even begin to express the wonderful ideas and thoughts that your many friends from academia contribute on a recurring basis? You are extremely fortunate to have so many wonderful friends and family who truly care about you. Now that the holidays are over and our family members have departed, Gertrud and I will be calling Peggy to arrange a visit.

Our love and best wishes,

Paul C.