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Love: Simple and complex

Blog Summary

I told my wife, Tina Su Cooper, that love is both simple and complex. It seemed a contradiction, but her deep understanding of music—she had been a highly accomplished pianist before her diagnosis with MS—made this idea clear to her once I used a musical metaphor.

Consider a musical note: middle C, for example. Its fundamental frequency is 262 cycles per second. That pure tone can be produced electronically, but musical instruments produce something different. They add to this fundamental frequency higher-frequency harmonics, over-tones.

A stringed instrument will add different proportions of these higher-frequency tones to the fundamental tone than will be added by a horn or a reed (an oboe or clarinet) or a xylophone, and most people can distinguish one type of instrument from another based on these contributions to their timbres, even though each instrument is playing predominantly the note middle C.

A violin produces music through the partnership of the bow and the strings. True musical aficionados can distinguish between a high-quality violin, an Amati or Stradivarius, and a run-of-the-mill instrument. All pianos produce notes as hammers strike strings, but Steinway or Kawai pianos produce more pleasing notes than lower-quality pianos. The great and the not-great instruments can both produce middle C notes, but the best add highlights that the lesser will lack.

Together, in love, two humans can produce amorous music. The special characteristics of each partner contribute to the over-tones that make a unique love more or less beautiful. The changes that life produces in each partner add complexity. The music evolves.

Just as aging deepens the sound from a classic instrument, so the challenges that life presents us can deepen us and enrich the music we make together, loving and caring for each other.

You see, love is both simple and complex.

Love: Simple and Complex

Blog Summary

I told my wife, Tina Su Cooper, that love is both simple and complex.It seemed a contradiction, but her deep understanding of music—she had been a highly accomplished pianist before her diagnosis with MS—made this idea clear to her once I used a musical metaphor.  Consider a musical note: middle C, for example. Its fundamental frequency is 262 cycles per second. That pure tone can be produced electronically, but musical instruments produce something different.  They add to this fundamental frequency higher-frequency harmonics, over-tones.  A stringed instrument will add different proportions of these higher-frequency tones to the fundamental tone than will be added by a horn or a reed (an oboe or clarinet) or a xylophone, and most people can distinguish one type of instrument from another based on these contributions to their timbres, even though each instrument is playing predominantly the note middle C.  A violin produces music through the partnership of the bow and the strings.True musical aficionados can distinguish between a high-quality violin, an Amati or Stradivarius, and a run-of-the-mill instrument. All pianos produce notes as hammers strike strings, but Steinway or Kawai pianos produce more pleasing notes than lower-quality pianos. The great and the not-great instruments can both produce middle C notes, but the best add highlights that the lesser will lack.  Together, in love, two humans can produce amorous music. The special characteristics of each partner contribute to the over-tones that make a unique love more or less beautiful. The changes that life produces in each partner add complexity. The music evolves.  Just as aging deepens the sound from a classic instrument, so the challenges that life presents us can deepen us and enrich the music we make together, loving and caring for each other.  You see, love is both simple and complex.

Don't run away

Blog Summary

“Don’t run away,” she said to me. She pierced my heart. That night, I had stopped in at my wife’s bedroom to see how she was. Quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent, Tina Su Cooper has outlived medical expectations, thank God. We are still very much in love after 28 years of marriage, another blessing. When I am at home and awake, I check on her almost hourly. Often she is asleep, unaware that I had looked in. That night, she was seemingly engrossed in a romantic movie, I was pleased to note. Commercials began. I asked her how she was doing, gave her a quick update on myself. We restated our love for each other. Commercial break over, the movie restarted, and I headed out of the bedroom. “Don’t run away,” Tina said.“I’m not running away. Your movie is back on. I’ve got things to do.”“What things?”“Among others, finishing the payroll receipts and checks for the nurses.”I could have added that I wanted to catch up on some email correspondence and to read more of Stephen King’s On Writing,which I had just begun. This conversation between the cared-for and the care-giver is like many others of a similar pattern: the request, the refusal, the questioning with its implied accusation, the defense with its underlying guilt. Both sides have merit. Both have legitimate needs or desires. Each cares about the other. Neither wants to be a burden or to feel burdened.I sat back down beside her. We spent a few more minutes together. When her eyes wandered back to the movie on the TV screen, I knew I could go without disappointing her, and so I did. The next morning, I still felt a bit guilty that she had to ask me to stay longer. I don’t want her to have to ask. She doesn’t want to have to ask, either. That’s just the situation we find ourselves in. Our brief interaction is a microcosm of a distressing phenomenon: well spouses deserting their disabled mates. I wrote about such a desertion in my memoir, Ting and I.  Perhaps there are “two sides to every story.” Perhaps the departing spouse has a defensible position. Leaving certainly seems to violate the wedding promise of staying together “in sickness and in health.” Where is one running to? Can one be proud of having left? Can one outrun the memory of someone abandoned? Tina cannot run away … and I will not.

Our Rainbow

Blog Summary

For about an hour each day, we get Tina out of bed and into her wheelchair. We often go for a “walk and a talk,” a “roll and a stroll” outside, weather permitting. Recently, we have been treated to a daily rainbow from the brilliant interaction of the sun and the mist from the sprays used to water the golf course adjacent to our property.We almost never see natural rainbows. We avoid going out when it is raining, and even when it is raining, the sun is rarely shining on the rain, which is what is needed to paint these pretty colored ribbons in the sky.Fall afternoons have been cool enough, yet not too cold, to bring Tina out. Warmer days aggravate her symptoms. With sunlight coming from the west and at our backs, if we get close to the golf course’s ninth-hole irrigating spray, and if I push her chair into a favorable position, we see a lovely little rainbow, our rainbow.Well … it is not exactly ours. We are willing to share it with others who would appreciate it, too, but most of the cars that pass us by have drivers who are too hurried to observe it. They have little time to stop and smell the flowers, or to view our rainbow.Nature and technology combine to form the beautiful rainbow. Nature and technology have extended Tina’s precious life, sustained with help from her doctors and nurses and by her ventilator and other medical equipment.What does “our rainbow,” generated by technology and nature together, suggest? Better days to come? That technology will one day free those now shackled? Yes.The poet John Keats wrote, “beauty is truth,” an overstatement, as he knew. Still, the beauty of “our rainbow” brings us pleasure … and hope.  

Are you there?

Blog Summary

After we moved from Westchester County, NY, to our country home some forty miles north, we would sometimes learn of the situations faced by the members of our former multiple sclerosis support group. One woman is doing well, but her boyfriend has died of complications from MS.The husband of a care-giving spouse, we learned, spent much of his days during fair weather just sitting outside, looking at their garden. Not reading, not listening to music or news, just looking. We felt sorry for both husband and wife.  Approximately half of MS patients develop significant cognitive losses. As with physical impairments, these losses can be intermittent, so the care-giver does not know for sure the state of mind of the cared-for. “Know thyself,“ Socrates advised us; hard to do. Even harder is to know well other people, as we only partly glimpse what is in their minds. For our interactions with some MS patients, this problem is exacerbated: are they there?  When my most precious person in the world is thinking clearly, it is a delight. When she seems confused, then so am I. She will repeat the same phrase or sentence scores of times without pause. It is something she thought or something she has just heard. If I ask her a question, she replies to it briefly, then resumes her mantra. Perhaps she is too tired or the room is too hot. We do not know why she starts, nor why she ends.  Almost always when I enter her bedroom and greet her as my most precious person in the world, she responds, ”I love you with all my heart.” Often, she will then say it over and over again, lest I think she “never could recapture / The first fine careless rapture.“   She is there. So am I. We are there.

TLC: Tina-Loving Care

Blog Summary

 When I came into Tina’s bedroom yesterday, I was surprised. She and her nurse were watching TV together. Not unusual. My beloved wife, now quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent due to multiple sclerosis, enjoys television, watching anything from news to Dr. Oz to travel to home and garden to documentaries.  We have had around-the-clock nursing since Tina Su Cooper’s nearly fatal MS-caused aspiration pneumonia in February 2004. Our nurses have come to like or even love Tina, and they stay for years, giving her what we call “TLC” for “Tina-Loving Care.” Tina is an exceptional patient, and we select her nurses carefully. The nurse in this instance was raised in Britain and of Jamaican ancestry, and has lived in the U.S. for a decade or so.   Although there was much that Tina liked about Britain when she spent her junior year abroad there in 1964, she noted that her Asian ancestry generated a certain cool distancing from many of the British people she met there. She and others “like” her—blacks and Asians—were segregated in a new dorm, rather than interspersed with the “home” folks. Perhaps such a situation would no longer occur there, but it hurt a bit then. No doubt our nurse could tell of similar slights here and there.  But what had surprised me and pleased me deeply? Our nurse was holding Tina’s hand, the first time I had seen that done by any of our nurses, though many will give Tina a kiss of greeting or goodbye.  Nurse Angela said quickly, “She finds this comforting.” Clearly, Tina did. So did I.  I was deeply touched. “Please do so … any time.” 

Traveling at home

Blog Summary

My dear wife for now 28 years, my love for nearly half a century, Tina Su Cooper, used to relish traveling—that is, B.M.S., Before Multiple Sclerosis. Now, her trips are strictly local, except for the trips she takes vicariously.  The local trips are almost exclusively medical. I drive our special van, which securely holds Tina’s wheelchair, and along with it come her nurse, ventilator, oxygen supply and much medical miscellany. It’s a lot of stuff, but all of it is needed, especially if something unforeseen were to occur on the trip.  Having Tina sit for longer than a couple of hours is hard on her, however, so our trips are usually limited to a half-hour ride, an hour at the doctor’s office, a half-hour ride back.  Unfortunately, most of our friends and family live much farther than that. Furthermore, public transportation—bus, train, plane—is not feasible for us. What to do? We invite them all to visit, which they do, but much too infrequently. We understand. Phone calls help, as do emails and conventional letters. Fortunately, we have each other … and our staff.  Trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and throughout North America we now take vicariously, through television programs and DVDs. Paris, Peking, Pretoria, Patagonia and Pasadena are all within reach. No packing or unpacking is needed. No hotel reservations are required. We get the best views of the best places, often with a musical background. What a way to “travel”!  Sometimes, though, the journey is strictly mental, as our memories transport us to far away times and places. The most pleasant mental meanderings end up taking us back to the early 1960s, to Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., to when we fell in love with each other. When we return, we are right where we had so long wanted to be … at home, together.    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.

North Star

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Something my beloved wife, Tina, recently said to me on our porch made me want to reassure her of the constancy of my love for her, a love that has lasted 49 years so far. Reunited with me almost 20 years after we had separated upon my graduation from college, Tina told me about her multiple sclerosis before I proposed to her, and we have faced her progressive disability together.   Tina nearly died eight years ago of a respiratory infection due to her MS. In his foreword to our memoir, our primary physician, Dr. Richard Walker, referred to our triumph over death in a 100-day battle in the Critical Care Unit of the Orange County Regional Medical Center. He wrote: “Their love saved them both.” He understood.  We thank God daily for Tina’s survival, and almost daily we thank IBM for its generous retiree medical benefits that have supported around-the-clock critical care nursing in our home from a dedicated set of RNs and LPNs. I worked for a decade as a research scientist at the IBM Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., my favorite job. We have been very fortunate in an unfortunate situation to have so much assistance.  To illustrate the steadfastness of my love for her, I told Tina to picture the North Star, toward which the axis of our rotating Earth points steadily, day and night, fair weather or foul, seen or unseen, always north. Likewise, home or away, attentive or distracted, I assured her, I remain wholly in love with our heroine.  “I love you, too,” she replied.

“Twogether” Forever

Blog Summary

In love for nearly half a century, married more than a quarter-century, we lay next to each other in her bed that night, beside her life-support equipment.  My beloved wife Tina Su Cooper asked me, “Will we be together through eternity?”  “Yes. If heaven is in store for us, we will be there together. Otherwise, we will lie side by side. Our graves will share a headstone that says, at the bottom, ‘together forever.’ If I go first, don’t hurry to join me. If you go first, I won’t hurry, either. There will be an eternity through which to remain united.”  “Good.”  “Dearest Ting, thank you for loving me and for being someone worthy of my devotion.”  “Thank you, too.”  “Our love is something like a work of art, and we are collaborators in its creation. It is not as tangible as a picture or a sculpture or even a book. It is more like beautiful music, and in that way it can endure forever.”“I like that: beautiful music, a duet.”

Cuddling

Blog Summary

My wife, Tina, and I no longer sleep in the same bed together overnight, as we had been pleased to do for most of the first two decades of our marriage. We stopped in 2004 when she came home from the Critical Care Unit, quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent due to her multiple sclerosis.   She shares her bed with an alternating-pressure air mattress, her ventilator tubing, and a Teddy bear and is awakened once or twice each night for medications and ministrations.   Her bed is a hospital bed, and I slept there uncomfortably one year when we had no overnight nursing, but it is narrow and her care and my sometime insomnia have made sharing the bed overnight impractical. It is a loss we both felt, both commented on when it began, both have almost gotten used to now.  Last evening, for a half an hour, we cuddled there. Turned on her right side and supported in that position, Tina could see me and speak to me easily as I lay beside her. We chatted a bit and reassured each other, as we often do. We listened to romantic music given to us for Valentine’s Day, the forty-ninth anniversary of our falling in love. She fell asleep briefly, as I held her hand.  She awoke. I got up. We agreed to do it all over again tonight, if we can.  Life and love are precious. Carpe diem! Seize the day! Seize the evenings, too, while you still have them.
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