Some of you may have seen the picture in the Salt Lake Tribune of Peggy and Brooke lying in bed, in the closest thing that could count as curled up together. This was during the 24-hour trial home visit that the Tribune covered in the fourth in its series about Brooke (to see the pictures, you can look online at sltrib.com and search for Brooke Hopkins). This was the first night together we’ve spent in the same bed since Brooke’s accident, a year and three quarters ago, and indeed it was in our very own bed. We just want to reflect here on what the experience of spending that first night together actually meant to us.
There’d been lots of preparations for the home visit, including bringing in oxygen tanks and an air compressor and a backup portable ventilator, just in case, as well as all sorts of nursing care supplies. Assuming that it would be impossible to sleep in a bedroom where there’d be so much activity all night long, including CoughAssist and cathing and whatever other urgent things might come up, Peggy had made up a little bed for herself in the upstairs room she’s been constructing as a sort of retreat space, a lair so to speak, for when she’s overwhelmed by the amount of nursing activity, visitors, therapists, whatever is going on downstairs in the house. The little bed was just a mattress on the floor, with some sheets and blankets, not much more, but at least it would be out of the way and quiet.
But she didn’t need to sleep there. When Brooke was finally finished with the bedtime routine—cathing, CoughAssist, oral care, as well as arm splints and boots and nighttime medications and being positioned on a foam wedge to keep his upper body semi-upright, she lay down for a moment next to him. Next to him! Well not exactly next, but close, and not as though he could actually feel it if she touched him, but just the same, next to him.
Though she was vaguely aware of Julia and Mike, who were doing the nighttime nursing, coming in and out from time to time, she was still there in the morning.
In fact, Brooke was unaware that Peggy was sleeping next to him that night until he woke up in the morning, when Mike and Julia came into the room at 5 a.m. to start the bowel care process. For Brooke, it was an absolutely incredible experience to feel Peggy’s body curled up next to his. Yes, it’s true, that unlike the past, he could not reach over and touch her, as he might have when his body was whole. He wasn’t even actually next to her, just nearby. But oddly enough this did not seem to matter to him. Peggy was just waking up at that point, making the little noises of waking up that were so familiar to him. It didn’t even matter that he couldn’t touch her. The one truly active part of his paralyzed body is his left hand, and Peggy slid her hand inside it, interlacing their fingers, and he could feel that—though feeling isn’t normal for him, only light, tingly sensations in the fingers. But he can make it squeeze, and he squeezed her hand in his, and he could feel her squeeze his hand back. Imagine this: your body is 90% unable to move voluntarily, but it does have some sensation—light touch—in parts of it. Just the sensations produced by squeezing Peggy’s hand and being squeezed in return seemed to be everything at that moment, as the two of them lay in their new kind of togetherness in the semidarkness.
Early on in this blog we recalled a moment in which Brooke told Peggy spontaneously, we can still have a nice life together. He wasn’t necessarily referring to a moment like this, but certainly a moment like this one would be part of that nice life. Intimacy is more than sexual contact; it can be expressed in the most subtle and seemingly minor ways, and just the same the sensations can flood you with warmth and affection for the person lying near you in bed. We don’t want to make too much of this, or to claim that it’s better than actual touching or real sex; life is very hard and sometimes a sense of utter bleakness overtakes you, but just the same there is something amazingly real and deeply intimate here even if it might seem too small to notice to anyone else.