This recliner reminds me of nothing more than the bed in my first college dorm. It’s hard, it’s tiny, and it’s about two feet from the other bed in the room. Now, just like then, my roommate and I can reach across the gap and hold hands if we are so inclined. We don’t.
There are too many wires in the way. Besides, reaching for someone’s hand requires a surprisingly complex set of interactions between the brain and the arm. My aunt’s stroke has interrupted that line of communication. It’s too early to tell whether those wires are permanently down or just offline for a while.
I am completely inept at this kind of thing. Hospitals, pain, confusion and uncertainty are not my jam. Still, I think I’ve done a decent job at faking it so far – offering encouragement, deciphering the riddle of her speech, distracting us both with movies and pictures of my kids. It helps a lot that she can’t see out of her right eye – I just stand on that side of the room when I cry.
The daytime is okay. She smiles at her visitors, handles speaking with about 60% accuracy. She knows when she’s using the wrong word and she rolls her eyes at herself just the way she’s always done when someone says something too ignorant to be worthy of comment.
The night is an entirely different matter.
She doesn’t sleep much. The things she says are nonsensical and panicky. She trashes about in bed crying over pain in her legs that could be anything (Cramps? Nerve pain? Phantom pain?) and so can be treated with nothing.
Years ago, my mother had open heart surgery. She came to while still intubated and lay there in agony, unable to speak, her eyes rolling around like a mad horse, imploring me to DO SOMETHING. This feels exactly like that. To make matters worse, my aunt’s eyes are staring at me above my mother’s cheekbones. It’s as though I’m getting a do-over of my mother’s death, one where instead of keeling over suddenly and leaving me without warning, she’s letting me explore the other possibility.
Not that Charlotte is dying.
People recover from strokes all the time. I know because I read at least twenty recovery stories last night (Tonight? It’s only 5am) after I had scared myself good and proper reading everything else. I read until my phone died. There are stories of miraculous comebacks – people once completely comatose, now running marathons, people who couldn’t read or speak going on to write books. They described the physical therapy, the speech therapy, the how-to-brush-your-teeth therapy. Even so, no one mentioned those first couple of days. Those days when the nurse comes in every thirty minutes to ask the same questions:
What is your name?
What is the month?
What is the year?
And Charlotte’s personal favorite: Where are you at?
She does pretty well with the first three, but EVERY.SINGLE.TIME the nurse asks, “Where are you at?” Charlotte repeats incredulously, “Where am I AT?”
She can’t quite remember what to say, though it’s clearly right on the tip of her tongue.
She knows she’s in the hospital. That’s not the problem.
The problem is with the question.
There’s a dangling preposition. You can’t end a sentence with “at”, you need a word to follow it. When I was young, Charlotte taught me what to say to complete the question. But today, she can’t quite remember how to do it herself.
She seems to have temporarily forgotten the word, “asshole”.