We've had colds, that followed the usual gravitational course, starting in the nose and then draining down into the chest. Suddenly, the last two nights, I thought J might be descending into pneumonia. His cough was loose, the way they are when they're winding down, but he was unresponsive (I've seen him shut down like that before when he's sick: fighting the virus seems to take everything he's got) and feverish. I figured at the very least he needed an antibiotic to stave off pneumonia. But he doesn't have a primary care physician yet (nor have I gotten him to sign a health care power of attorney -- unforgivable omissions!).
There was no way I could get him up and shlep him to a doctor or emergency room in his inert, semiconscious, Do Not Disturb state, and I was afraid if I got a nurse to come to the apartment, she'd interpret his cocooning neurological somnolence as being sicker than he was, and throw him in the hospital. And we all know what so often happens in hospitals: old, sick people get sicker. They get over one infection and catch another; they get doped up with too many drugs . . . and sometimes they don't come out. I didn't want to be a jerk about it, but I did not want him to go to the hospital just for the convenience of the system, if it wasn't the best or the only thing for him.
I spoke to his wonderful neurologist on the phone, who said, "I'm worried about you being able to take care of him. I'm worried about both of you." This is the guy who has never taken much more than half an hour to answer any of my e-mails. Dorothy, I think we're not in New York anymore.
Well, long story short, the county social worker for the aging put me onto a business called Doctors Making Housecalls, that charges an off-insurance fee to come to your house, but in our case it's worth it. They're coming tomorrow, which should be soon enough, because he's a little better today. Meanwhile, I went in to see him and he smiled. For a moment I thought he was just glad to see me, but no: "I was having sweet dreams," he said. I was pretty sure what kind: "Where were you?" And he named one of the villages of his childhood. I figured as much: he goes home a lot in dreams, to the world and the family that he was taken away from at age 16, and that was then destroyed by Communism.
Actually, this one of the things that inclines me to think we do not live in an accidental universe. Why should the brain have this marvelous capacity for consoling time travel? According to Dawkins-Dennett-Darwin-Dogma (try saying that three times fast), it had to have survival value. Nostalgia, memory, and dreams must have contributed somehow to the will to live, to survive hardship. Yet Jacques writes in his book about how he refused himself the luxury of homesickness when he was a teenage prisoner in Russia, because he sensed that to dwell on home would weaken him. He saw many people die that way. He chose, rather, a cold-eyed realism.
Here he is now, helpless, confused, out of control of his own body, in what would seem to be misery, and he's smiling in his sleep because he's been given back the childhood that was ripped away from him over 60 years ago. This gift has no survival value now. Not even in the long term, in the medium term, he's not going to survive, and he's certainly not going to reproduce. I'm sorry, but this is more than merely a material brain in a material world. This is something like mercy, something like a soul.