Saturday, December 3, 2016


Chapter 10 My Heroic Quadriplegic Wife

Tonight, I took our dog for a walk. While I was out, my wife told her nurse that she was sorry I had to walk the dog without her (my wife’s) help. That is so like our Tina Su Cooper, whom I have loved for over a half-century and have been married to for over 30 years. For the last 12 of these, Tina has been quadriplegic, on a ventilator, at home, fed and medicated through a gastric tube. She is our heroine, our inspiration.

Once, she was an exceptional pianist. She was an Asian Studies scholar, with degrees from Cornell and Harvard.  Once, she loved to swim, to travel, to take walks with me hand-in-hand. We had fallen in love in college, did not marry (largely due to parental opposition to an inter-racial marriage), and then we wed 20 years after I had graduated, after both of our previous marriages had failed. Before I asked her to marry me, she told me she had multiple sclerosis, though her symptoms were not apparent. She had another ten years of minimal disability, then ten of paraplegia, and then over a dozen of quadriplegia. (See Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion.)

On becoming paraplegic, she asked, “Why me?”

After much thought and prayer, she decided, “Why not me?”

She has been an exceptional woman, as a daughter, sister, wife, and mother. She is an inspiration to our nursing staff; she is always thankful, almost never down.

For her care, TLC, “Tina-Loving Care,” we have a motto: “Tina comes first, but everybody counts.” We have had a dozen successful years, when her original life expectancy after coming home from the Critical Care Unit was a few months; the choice then had been: home or hospice. She can only enjoy a limited number of things, generally those that can be viewed or heard on the big TV on the wall facing her bed. Still, she mostly enjoys her life: appreciating what she can, when she can.

If Tina can be happy, so can we. Granted, comparing ourselves to others is not the secret. Do we need to be in the top half? Top 25%? Top 1%? And who knows what the lives of others are really like? Still, we learn something from the lives of others, often that our own lives are not so tough.  

A tougher life than Tina’s? Jean-Dominique Bauby, the author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death, was a victim of “locked-in syndrome” and spent months in an iron lung machine dictating his memoir to a nurse-secretary by blinking his left eye as she offered a choice of letters, to form the words and sentences…. Shortly after his memoir was published, he died, seemingly in resignation from the world. That’s a tough situation!

Yes, things can almost always get worse. The joke goes, “They told me to cheer up: things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, they got worse.”

For better or worse, as the marriage vows go, we must make the best of it. Part of that is how we look at it. The British statesman Horace Walpole noted that life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think. To find the humor in our situations is to put our problems in a frame; as I sometimes tell Tina, “Better here than Bangladesh.” She has the graciousness to smile when I say it.

Our heroine.

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph. D.

From Guzman and Cooper (2016), Frustrated with Life? You Are Not Alone!
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