Monday, January 21, 2013

TING AND I, Tina's World


On the Internet site that Phil created for us in 2005 (, one can see Tina’s room, which I call “the Tingdom,” with its multitude of medical devices helpful in keeping her alive: the ventilator, the compressor and atomizer, the pulse oximeter, the hospital bed, the oxygen (O2) line coming from the oxygen concentrator in the nearby equipment room (formerly the dining room), where her wheelchair, a second ventilator, and boxes upon boxes of medical disposables are stored. On the nearer of our two porches is the gasoline-powered electric generator we use when power goes out.

The Tingdom, proper, is Tina’s room, where I say that the Empress Ting of the Ting dynasty reigns. I sometimes refer to her as “Your Highness” or “Your Magnificence” or “Tina Su-per Cooper,” but she finds “Tina Su-preme Cooper” a bit too much. She rests with one or more of her little subjects in her bed: Teddy bears with names like Sarah Bear Cooper (from nurse Mary Wilkinson’s daughter, Sarah), Tina Bear Cooper, Tyler Bear (he’s young and jade green, sharing Tina’s birth nation), and Ezra Cornell Bear.

By her TV sits a much smaller bear (Di-di, younger brother in Chinese), along with Teddy Bear Cooper and Philly Bear Cooper, and the longest-serving stuffed toy, Sally Wabbit, a Chapstick Aide (she keeps it under her tiny sweater). Sally Wabbit wears a nurse’s cap fashioned for her by nurse Dori Oskam. The stuffed animals are part of our continuing campaign to support Tina’s morale. They are gifts from friends, family and staff. Now that my mother is staying with us, Tina insisted she have one of the bears, giving to my mother Sarah Bear Cooper.

When I see Tina in the morning, I ask how she has been doing, tell her how magnificent I think she is, and inquire as to the overnight behavior of the bears. Her reports are uniformly favorable. Once, when Tina was being fed through the gastric tube, I explained that I had asked the bears once whether they, too, wanted something to eat and they had said, “No, thanks. We’re stuffed.” She laughed.

I like to joke with her. One day I felt for her toes through her socks and claimed that I counted eleven toes. Why hadn’t she told me before the wedding? Was this grounds for an annulment? She smiled her megawatt smile.

Tina loves to have her hair washed, especially by our Barbara George. Barbara puts her heart into all she does, even this, and it shows. We used to give in to Tina’s request to dye her hair, but the itchiness of her scalp for days afterward led us to stop. Her hair now has a salt-and-pepper look and has become wavy. Where the waves came from is a big question, apparently the side effect of one or more medication.

The weather forecast I give to Tina for the Tingdom is always the same: “temperature in the low 70s, no precipitation, and–at most –a gentle breeze.” This always wins a smile.

I used to call myself the Consort to the Empress Ting, a mere commoner, but she would not have it. She elevated me to Emperor, and I accepted. We issue an occasional edict, such as (on a Monday), “tomorrow shall be Tuesday, in the Tingdom; it’s been about a week since we had one, and the subjects desire one.” My Most Precious Ting plays along in the spirit of the jest.

Another metaphor I use with her is that of a binary star system, two suns revolving around a common center, warming and illuminating each other. My Ting is the light of my life, and she assures me I am the light of hers.

She is wonderfully easy to please and very appreciative. Nurse Kate Murphy gave us for Valentine’s Day a heart-shaped framed needlepoint for Tina’s wall: “Always kiss me goodnight.” I comply happily.

On the walls are her Cornell A.B. and Harvard M.A. diplomas, a beautiful watercolor done by her mother (three small birds chatting on a tree branch), another by her mother’s teacher, and a calendar (Golden Retrievers last year, China the year before). The wall she sees ahead of her from her bed is a robin’s-egg blue, a color she requested soon after we moved to this, our “year-round vacation home.” Repainting the whole room (it is an off-white) would have been awkward, and the fumes unhealthful, so Tina accepted this compromise.

When she leaves the Tingdom to go to our lakeside kitchen, she can see Lake Osiris, getting an even better view at it if the weather allows us to be on the adjacent porch. She spends an hour out of bed each afternoon.

This is Tina’s world, pretty much. I had bought, years before we were reunited, a reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World,” showing a vaguely disabled-looking young woman in a field gazing longingly toward a house, presumably her home, a distance away. Not knowing Tina’s condition at the time, I nonetheless felt the painting symbolized her being separated from where she should be, with me.

I later learned that the “Christina” who was the inspiration (but not the model) for Wyeth’s painting was a woman whose legs had been paralyzed by polio. Wyeth had seen her crawling in a field. Eerie coincidence.

To add to the coincidence, Tina chose to be “Christina” Cooper the first decade of our marriage, signifying a complete break from what had been an unhappy first marriage. When we moved to Ramsey in 1993, she reverted to being called “Tina,” thinking to accommodate my brother Chris.

Tina has a window on the world, with a fine flat-screen TV given her by Gene and Christy, with associated DVD and CD and tape players, a digital TV subscription to over a hundred TV channels, including some fine music channels, and several hundred DVDs, tapes and CDs. Her favorites are comedies, travel, nature, documentaries, musicals, concerts, and inspirational presentations.


Excerpt from Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion,
published 2011 by Outskirts Press, available from

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