Brooke writes (with Peggy taking dictation):
Regression. It comes from the Latin regressus, “to go back.” Regression is used in psychoanalytic parlance to mean a return to childhood, perhaps under conditions made possible through psychoanalytic work. Of course there are many other ways we use the word regression, but mostly people who speak psychoanalytic parlance use it in this way: “he is regressing to an early childhood state,” “she is regressing as a result of transference with her analyst to traumatic experiences she had as a child,” and so on.
It occurred to Brooke the other morning at about 5:00 a.m., when he was waking up, being turned on his side, and having a suppository inserted in his rectum, as it is for bowel care every morning (the good news, from the standpoint of spinal cord recovery, is that he can feel this)—he had the sense that what he is experiencing is in many ways a regression: almost everything about his condition and treatment involves what we would ordinarily call regression, although not a traumatic one. He is painfully learning how to breathe again. (Actually, babies don’t have to learn breathing, except perhaps when they’re spanked at birth.) He is fed by someone else, a nurse, an aide, a friend. His orifices function the way an infant’s do—what the nursing profession calls “bowel care” is much the same as what a parent does in cleaning up a baby’s poop. He sometimes wets the bed; his sheets are changed. He has to be picked up and moved from the bed to a conveyance—a shower chair, a wheelchair—in order to go anywhere. He has to be bathed by others, mostly women (there are fewer male nurses here than at the university rehab unit). He is put to bed in the same way, by someone else, and often with the same care that an infant is put to bed—his diaper checked, his covers arranged, and he is scrutinized for anything about his condition that might be amiss. And, no doubt like an infant. he sometimes has fears: of abandonment, of being treated roughly, of being shouted at when he cannot shout back, all stemming from physical helplessness.
This is what the word regression, to go back, signifies, if it signifies anything; anyone who has been seriously ill or spent a lengthy time in a hospital knows this. This is especially poignant for Brooke, since as an infant he had a nurse who took care of him. Her name was Nelly, and she came from Hungary, from the Austro-Hungarian empire; she must have come to the United States sometime after the first world war. Sometimes, when Brooke is in his regressed state, he remembers some of the gentleness and kindness of Nelly; sometimes when he is being treated roughly (like a sack of potatoes, he calls it), the nurses seems like witches, though this doesn’t happen very often. Mothering figures are often shattered into fragments during the regressive episodes: Good mothers, bad mothers, good nurses, bad nurses, everything in between. He has fears, although some of his worst fears about the vent-weaning trials are waning.
Vent weaning takes willpower and hard work, something infants don’t have, so Brooke is not fully regressing. He is something between an infant, a child, and a fully functioning adult. One thing about this regression is that Brooke will have to speed up his growth into a very short space of time, say, three years or so, by which time he will have learned to use a voice recognition computer, will have learned to write, will have written part or perhaps all of the book he has in mind, will have learned to send e-mails, to order things from the library; he will also have learned how to move himself, either by walking (hopefully) or by using a sophisticated machine which can open doors and turn on stereos and so on and so forth. Since he is now 67 (which doesn’t seem particularly old to him), his target date for full maturity at this point is 70, which also doesn’t seem particularly old to him. Age has taken on a whole new dimension as a result of this spinal cord injury; it is regressing into infancy and re-maturing over the distance of a whole lifetime in the space of just a few years.