If you don’t know him, Mike is the better brother. He was the best until Ed died. Then we became comparative, not superlative. We both did. Well I almost lost my comparative last week. Mike had a stroke and brain bleed. I don’t know much about medicine except for what I see on “House.” Those illnesses are always interesting and the doctors are always only interested in them as a complement to their personal stories. I suppose I am as shallow as they are, as I see all of this through my own filter and how it affects me. And it affects me bad. You don’t have to know much medicine, or watch much television medicine to figure that a brain bleed joins two words together that you don’t want sitting next to each other. As for strokes, I knew/know that Anne Bancroft was all messed up for a long time and then everyone said how great she recovered, but you could always tell.
So I drove to see mike and feared the worst. I suppose the worst is drooling incoherence. It was not the worst. It was vastly better than the worst, although I understand he almost died. He is sitting up under his own power in the required hospital wheelchair, with half of him wholly on board using the same gestures, being as sharp as ever and listening with the intelligence for which he is known. The other side is inactive, asleep. You can’t tell of course, but it’s like a dentist’s visit gone awry. He is fully numb on his left and when he speaks you can tell. He feeds himself making a mess for which he would have been mortified last week, and which he disregards this week.
We talk. I try to let him speak at first and nod indicating I hear him. But, truth is I understand precious little right away. Short sentences I get. But anything longer gets lost on me and I still nod. He tells me not to. He understands that he is largely not understandable. When Anna, my niece is there I talk to her mostly so that she can respond and she keeps up his side of the conversation. Mike, neither stupid nor bothered by this, only adds that she should expand on some topics. He tells her to say more. She is a tad timid and is not as verbose as her dad. No one is verbose as her dad. So as she takes the task of being his general respondent he allows that she does voice the family catching up vocabulary. My kids could speak for me on the word streams of family gossip. But mike always shares the long version and Anna not.
He wears out after an hour or two and starts drifting off. He has the stamina of a little old man and looks a bit like a pirate speaking out of one side of his mouth, and sounds like a very drunk pirate. But all of those ungenerous observations aside he is wholly Michael. He is sharp, impatient, completely patient, kind, abrupt, funny, serious, demanding, self effacing, loving and eager to get back to the next thing on his lengthy and demanding personal agenda. While easy to exhaust, and visually frustrated he is clearly not feeling sorry for Michael. He still has an enormous amount to do. He has a job to do, five kids, to get finished with and out of the house, he has that car to work on, those thirty three books to read, and a demanding wife to accommodate. In short he is a busy man who will take this in stride. This may sound foolishly hopeful, as Anne Bancroft was messed up and Mike is messed up. But I know Michael.
He will be that patient on House who defies the doctors, insults the staff and changes their lives. He will. That’s is who he is. Until he finishes he will get no kind words from me. He is my older brother, who has picked on me mercilessly for years. I will call him names and taunt him and tell him I expect him to hold up his end of the deal. He is the better brother. Let’s see him act like it.
Christ said “take up your bed and walk.” Not lie there and be a weenie. So, Mike, let’s see what you made of. Get up, get better, kick my butt.