Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arrival of the Fire Department

We know we’ve been silent, and we owe you more.  Our new life is complicated, for reasons we’ll describe.  But here’s one vignette from this new life, now that Brooke is at home.

 A week or so ago, at our invitation, the fire department showed up to explore our situation.  There were four of them, big guys who looked even bigger in their massive uniforms, but coming with one mission: to see how to make things as safe for Brooke as possible, whether in a fire or in any other emergency. 

They like to keep track of the folks on vents in their area, they said, or with other health problems—after all, they’re the paramedics and rescue squad.    So they looked at the way our house is arranged so that Brooke can live entirely on the ground floor, and checked out the various routes of egress.  That makes it easy, they said, though they also said that if there were a real fire, they’d not just check the downstairs but the entire upstairs, including every closet—that’s where children try to hide in a fire.  They admired our new backup generator, fully automatic.  They noticed the fire extinguishers.  And of course they talked with Brooke, noted the various sorts of respiratory equipment on hand from the oxygen tanks to the backup ventilator, and carefully examined his diaphragmatic pacer, making sure they knew how to change the control box and where the extra batteries are stored.  We need to put together a “Go Bag” of stuff you don’t want to have to wait to assemble, if he were to need to be transported to the hospital in an emergency:  a copy of his physician orders, his medications list, his Living Will (full code, it says), and of course copies of his insurance cards. 

The firemen made it clear that they were impressed by the job our staff has been doing:  you’ve got it together, they said, lots of other people don’t.  This is praise we didn’t take lightly.    But as they finished their visit, they turned and said, we recognize you.   Two of them had been on the crew that had rescued Brooke at the time of the accident, two years and two months ago.  You’ve lost so much weight, one of them said, but they knew him just the same and remembered answering that call.  

What’s the moral here?  It’s not just about how many people were involved in rescuing one man, those like the flight nurse in the first moments after the accident and now the fire crew, who were called by someone—we still don’t know who—who ran down City Creek canyon to the bottom, where you could get cellphone reception, and were there within only a few more minutes—but that they still remember.  Part of our continuing desire to piece together the fragments of what happened at this accident, so long ago, is to give some real thought to what rescue means—not just for us, but also for them. 





Practical note:  Peggy started to post this from the Paris airport en route to a conference in London, but somehow it didn’t quite work.  She’s back home already--quick trip! (This has some elements of getting back to "normal.")  But Brooke’s sister Lisa and niece Isabelle was here for a much-anticipated and excellent visit while she was gone.



Elisabeth said...

More than six degrees of separation I say. The links between our lives and events. It's god to read that all is well, including the 'escape' plan in place.

Paul Carpenter said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy:

Warm greetings from Namibia. I apologize for not being in contact very often, but I do regularly check your blog from wherever I happen to be. As you know I work abroad about six-months a year and I want you to know that your blog was the inspiration for me to write one of my own which I just launched in January. It's only a travel blog but it is a way for me to document my life abroad working for the government. The link is

Love to you both,


Lorraine Seal said...
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Lorraine Seal said...

In your posts about the logistics of bringing Brooke home, I heard your bewilderment, anger and compassion for those people who don't get to go home. There are nursing homes filled with people who live in not-terrific conditions (ranging from comfortable-but-not-home to appallingly uncomfortable) because they require extraordinary care and/or because they have no one who has the love or commitment or strength or resources to care for them at home.

In fact, my mother ended her life in a nursing home because we were unable to take on the responsibility of supervising her in our home. She was not demented or seriously incapacitated, but her personality disorder made her resistant to complying with meds to rein in her manic episodes. We couldn't control her, she couldn't control herself, and she frequently went off the rails. We didn't have the resources, emotional or financial, to handle it.

I think of it now with mixed feelings. On one hand, I am ashamed that I allowed her to live like that. On the other, it would have been impossible, bringing us all down, and no one recommended we try. By the same token, I recognised that could no one could have taken on in-home care of R, my friend with brain-damaged-induced dementia. It extremely hard to contain his agitation, which frequently escalated to aggression.

The nursing home where my mother lived and died, and those R where lived, primarily cared for the demented elderly. However I met people in them who didn't have dementia, were not elderly, but had no place else to go. In two of them there were schizophrenic women of middle age, both of whom, as it happens, in wheelchairs.

In another, there was the woman in her seventies, a widow grieving her husband, who had heart disease. She was mentally as acute as you or me. After we became friendly, I asked her why she lived there, among so many with dementia. She said she had no place else to go. The last I heard, fortunately, she had found a more suitable place to live.

There was the woman in her early fifties with Parkinson’s disease who was losing control of her limbs. She also was mentally acute, though she did have occasional strange lapses in conversation, flashes where she seemed to see or hear things that weren't apparent to me. Before her illness, she had been in the administration staff at BYU.

And most poignant with relation to Brooke, the man about my age who had suffered a spinal cord injury when he was in high school. Sometime about 1967, his car had gone off Parley's Way into the canyon, late one night. He too was quadriplegic and, as far as I know, had been in a hospital or nursing home since then. As you discovered, most people with this level of injury don't go home again.

And as you say, 'But these are people. This Brooke.'


I didn't write this when you first posted, among other reasons, because it's too disheartening. But we know it's the truth.

The quadriplegic man I referred to had a room across the hall from R's. I’ll call him Ken, which is not his name. Ken had managed to complete high school and earn a degree from the U. Still he lived there among the elderly and demented, more or less unvisited as far as I could see.

When I visited R I felt at times that Ken watched me with longing, as I, who obviously cared a great deal for someone seriously not himself, passed in the hall someone who was very much himself, though paralysed. I recall one meal where Ken and R sat at the same table in a small dining room. Ken, like Brooke, was unable to eat on his own. R was having a bad day and sat staring at his food.

As it turned out, the staff was occupied or distracted; no aide came to feed Ken. So I sat between them, alternately giving forkfuls of food to Ken and to R. All the time, talking about rock music with Ken, who was delighted because he had got me to tune a radio in the room to a rock station. For a change.

I thought of Ken when I read your post.