My dear wife, Tina Su Cooper, my love for over half a century and my spouse for 37 years, quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent, having skilled nursing care at home for 17 years, suffered a pair of strokes in mid-March, from which she is only very slowly recovering.
Before the strokes, Tina could verbally indicate her preferences only in short sentences, greet us, thank us, and enjoyed a narrow set of television programs and music, usually Classical, Light Classical, or Easy Listening. She would occasionally say, “I love you with all my heart.”
The first month after the strokes, she did not seem to know she was home or who we were. She slept most of the day. Was this all there would be?
The second month, Tina would sometimes follow us with her eyes and nod a “yes” if asked a question to which that was the correct answer. “Are you warm enough?” “Do you like this program?” “Do you want quiet?”
This third month, she does usually follow us with her gaze. She smiles when greeted. Her nod is more emphatic, and last week, she added shaking her head “no” to answer questions. I half-jokingly commented that she had doubled her vocabulary, as limited as it is.
This week, as usual, I reminded her who she is and who I am and how much I love her. She was watching a home-improvement or a house-hunting program, which she sometimes enjoys. When I asked her if she liked it, she did not answer, which I took for “no” or “not much.”
Puzzled, but knowing her love of music, I asked her whether she would like to listen to “Easy Listening” music or “Light Classical.” She had once been a gifted amateur pianist and still enjoys music. In asking this way, I had forgotten her limitations and had gone outside our “yes/no” set of answer options.
Tina’s recovery from her strokes has been slow, but our nurses and I agree that she has already progressed beyond what some medical professionals thought would be her limits. The hospital’s doctors seemed to favor “do not resuscitate” and “palliative care” or hospice care. None was so open as to urge, “pull the plug,” but that seemed the sub-text in two meetings I had with them. I told them to care for her medically, save her life, spare her pain, return her to us for nursing care at home.
Yes, only a few days ago, in response to my music-choice question, Tina looked at me, smiled a little smile, and silently mouthed two words, “Light Classical.”
Our heroine, recovering.