Imagine a friend who’s having a birthday and wants to spend it in the hospital with you, instead of subjecting himself to some standard-issue restaurant where birthdays are a routine formality. So this friend and his wife proposed to have a little birthday dinner party here in Brooke’s room in rehab: we asked permission from the staff days in advance, and they were most obliging. They brought in a table and chairs, and looked the other way while we opened the wine. The friends cooked a remarkable lamb curry with aromatic rice, and together with another couple who’ve also spent many hours tending to Brooke, we had this remarkable little dinner party a night ago—with almost every detail perfect, right down to the tablecloth. (No lighted candles, though, in a room with oxygen.) Wonderful.
Of course, not everything about this picture suggests gracious living. Brooke has been afflicted by huge, gripping spasms, both modest ones that make his legs jump and serious ones that he says feel like a vise around his chest. Of course, these are common in (incomplete) spinal cord injuries, but apparently much worse for some folks than others. Some of the big ones Brooke has go on for hours. There’s apparently some debate about what causes these, and also what should be done about them: we gather that the old school says try to suppress them, while the new look is to make use of them and consider them possibly part of nerve regeneration or reinvigoration—though they aren’t at all well understood. Brooke’s getting a good dose of spasm in any case. He speaks of it as a “crash course in the relationship between the mind and the body, a crash course in a day, like graduate school in mind-body relationships compressed into a single day.” And the relationship seems to get more complex every day, as little single muscles in the body give some trace evidence of action and Brooke’s no longer a completely independent-seeming head. Yet the mind clearly plays a role in the process: there are some things he’s been at first able to do, like wiggle his right toes, only if he was looking at his foot but not otherwise.
There are other wonderful things too—not counting family, we had the first out-of-town visitors the other day: friends who swooped in just for the day to say hello, then got right back on the plane. It make one think about what it must be like to have followed Brooke’s (mis)fortunes for so long without actually seeing him, as people who live here in town can, but to have imagined what it must be like and then actually see him in real life, both motionlessness and animation at the same time. But it’s really Brooke, and it was wonderful to have them enjoy being with him.