Magazine article Tikkun

Love in Adversity

Magazine article Tikkun

Love in Adversity

Article excerpt

IN THE SUMMER OF 1950, THE YEAR I GRADUATED from high school, my future husband and I had a forbidden but memorable love affair-after which we went our separate ways, married others, raised families, built careers, endured tragedy, divorced-but we never forgot each other. By the time we reunited thirty-four years later, we were in our fifties and with such separate, weU-defined lives that we were able to build our new marriage on trust coupled with freedom, equality, and self-sufficiency-goals inspired by the feminist movement that had shaped me. During the two decades we shared our lives we prided ourselves on our independence, spending months of each year apart, separately pursuing our vocations (he as a sculptor, I as a writer) until, on July 22, 2004, in a beach house on a small Maine island, our lives were completely transformed. As my love fell from the sleeping loft to the floor-suffering (as I was soon to learn) many broken bones, internal bleeding, and multiple blood clots in his brain-his independence, and with it mine, vanished. He was seventy-five and I was seventy-two.

Seeing him lying naked and deathly still on the floor nine feet below our bed, I dashed down the stairs calling out his name. No answer. I shook his shoulder gently. Still no answer. Somehow I managed to find my cell phone and call 911.

After what felt like an eternity, but was actually perhaps twenty minutes, the door to our cabin burst open as, from every corner of the island, one by one the island's heroic Volunteer Fire and Rescue Team exploded into the room. I barely had time to put on my sneakers before I was scrambling to keep up with them as they started out the door with Scott on a stretcher, down the rickety stairs, toward the treacherous beach at high tide. The night was foggy and moonless, obscuring the path. My watch said 2 am.

They carried the stretcher in relays across the long beach in the dark to where a dirt road began, then transferred him to the waiting fire truck, putting me in the cab-and off we raced across the island to the dock, where a rescue boat from Portland had arrived only moments before. As we pulled anchor and headed out to sea, I gazed back at that receding ordinary world where life proceeds by days and nights, not moment by terrifying moment, aware that our world would never again be the same.

Most traumatic brain injuries are pretty impervious to treatment. Human bones normally heal in six weeks, but for brains the course of healing is unpredictable and erratic. "It could be a year or more before we know the extent of the brain damage," warned Dr. Crushing, head of the Maine Medical Center trauma unit.

A year! I reeled in shock but never wavered in my resolve. For nearly three months of hospitalization- six weeks in the ICU in Portland followed by an equal time in a rehab hospital in New York City, where we live- I sat beside Scott from 8 am to 8 pm, determined to protect him from the inevitable daily institutional mishaps (including another fall on his head!), soothing his terrors and waiting out his delusions, committed to restoring his health. Somehow I convinced myself that the doctor had predicted that he would recover fully within a year. As most brain healing occurs in the first few months after trauma before gradually tapering off, seeing his steady progress, I continued to believe in Scott's total recovery, even though, by the time an ambulette brought him home to our apartment, his short-term memory was still completely shot, resembling advanced Alzheimer's disease, and all his cognitive abilities were severely compromised. Although he couldn't figure out how to work the phone, bring up the names of our neighbors, or make sense of a menu, much less make art again, and he was ignorant of the century, year, season, month, and day, he recognized his family and friends, with whom he was able to exchange pleasantries as if our conversation actually made sense to him. Buoyed by each improvement, however miniscule, I embraced his recovery as my mission, my calling. …

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