I just looked in on my wife Tina as I often do during the day. It’s shortly after noon, and she is asleep. Her breathing is regular, with the help of her ventilator. The baby monitor brings its reassuring sound to the kitchen where I am preparing her food and medications.
The good news is that she is resting peacefully, unaware for a brief time of the limitations her quadriplegia has imposed upon her. Slowly, very slowly, neurological repair is occurring while she rests. Where there is life, there is hope that someday her life will be enhanced by a medical breakthrough for multiple sclerosis. Meanwhile, we make the best of our half-full glasses of life.
The bad news is that this is yet another period when Tina and I cannot communicate. At times, both her thinking and mine are clear, and we can talk as we once did, understanding each other as few, if any, others can. We can have conversations rivaling those we had when we first fell in love at Cornell University in 1963, almost 50 years ago. She quickly grasps my meanings, laughs easily at my puns, speaks carefully so as not to hurt any feelings.
She was Tina Han Su before marriage: Her given middle name, Han, means “reserved,” as in “quiet.” Still waters run deep, and she can be profound. At other times, MS has stolen some of that mental acuity, and our interchanges are less satisfying. Fortunately, mercifully, she rarely seems aware of these cognitive losses so common to those with advanced cases of MS such as hers.
The phone rings, and I hustle to get it before Tina wakes up. Sleep is good for her, but I miss her when she is asleep. Still, Tina’s sleep is a mixed blessing—it’s a time to catch up on other things that need attention, like writing this perspective to share with you. I’ll tell her about it when she wakes. She’s sleeping now.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., a retired environmental physicist, lives in southern New York State with his beloved wife, Tina Su Cooper, a former editor at the Encyclopedia Britannica and mother of two. Tina was first diagnosed with MS in 1981 at the age of 37, and she has been quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent at home for almost eight years. Tina is the central figure in Dr. Cooper’s book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or their website, tingandi.com.