Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Extra Hour's Breathing

Around 11pm tonight, two aides hoyered Brooke from his wheelchair into bed, did a last cleanup and cath, brushed his teeth, put on his hand splints and boots that prevent foot drop, and covered him with the usual sheet. They turned the CD player on to the same Julian Bream recording of Bach that he has listened to practically every night (indeed, all night, since the player is set to repeat) for the past eight months (though he listens to lots of other Bach and other guitar music and other remarkable recordings during the day, he loves this recording for sleeping). He’d already had his evening meds, and several hours earlier he had odysseused the sleeping pill: Take it out of the cupful of pills, he’d said, but since he knew he could always ask for it again later on, he’d added, and throw it away. (In a hospital, pills don’t just get thrown away, and especially not narcotics; there’s paperwork involved when one isn’t taken to ensure that it wasn’t diverted somewhere, but this was cheerfully done.) As he settled back onto the pillow, eyes closing in evident contentment, he murmured happily, I made a breakthrough. I made a breakthrough, barely finishing the second phrase before he was asleep.
It wasn’t just declining the sleeping pill to keep from being fuzzy in the morning. It was the extra breathing. He’d already done a morning session off the vent of 2 hours 10 minutes, then a late afternoon session of another hour and 20 minutes. That’s already a respectable performance. But this evening, perhaps partly because one of the respiratory therapists who is particularly enthusiastic in pushing forward happened to be on duty, Brooke volunteered to do a little more time off the vent. Right after dinner, he said, so we had a wonderful chile verde made by a friend, washed down with a bottle of beer, and a lovely heirloom tomato grown in our own garden, thanks to sets planted by a neighbor, and then brownies baked by other friends earlier that day, and we felt rather loved. Then Brooke settled into the third trach mask of the day—15 minutes, then half an hour, then eventually a whole entire hour. According to the numbers—the end tidals, the SATs, the volumes—he wasn’t even tired and his breathing wasn’t labored a bit, but as you know he did settle onto the pillow and even without the sleeping pill was almost instantly asleep. I made a breakthrough. I made a breakthrough, he said, and, indeed, he had. An extra hour’s breathing. After the hard days in the last couple of weeks, this looked like a year in bliss.


Steve Adams said...


Steve Adams said...

Dear Brooke,

I just left a terse message saying, "test", and you can guess I am having trouble posting this blog.

I spoke to Peggy two or three days ago about coming to visit, which I am very anxious to do.

I am so glad you just had a breakthrough, because the news on the blog has seemed discouraging over the past month till now.

My very best to you,

Hasta Pronto, Steve

norm said...

Peggy and Brooke - In the last "Welcome to August" chapter you paired the words "recovery" and "process". You no doubt think of what's been going on this way, but my recollection (maybe faulty) is that you haven't used that phrase before,haven't paired those words before, perhaps being wary of tempting or testing the gods of fate.

This "Extra hour's breathing" chapter is so encouraging.

A wonderful Southern poet named Barbara Ras has written a terrific poem called "You Can't Have Everything", in which she lists the things you can have.

A bit of that poem:

"You can have the touch of an 11 year old finger touching your cheek waking you at 1 a.m. to say the hamster is back.

You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look of the black dog, the look that says 'If I could I would bite every sorrow til it fled'.

And when it is August you can have it August and abundantly so"

Very best and love from both of us

Nan and Norm

norm said...

If you'd like to see that full poem go to and enter Ras in the poet search box.