Long-awaited homecoming for paralyzed U. professor
It took Brooke Hopkins two years, two weeks and two days and four tries to get through the door's threshold to find his way home Wednesday after a bicycle accident left him paralyzed and barely able to move a few fingers.
In those agonizing months since November 2008, Hopkins labored to breathe, to speak, to fight infections and to regain a semblance of the rich life with family and friends he once knew as a beloved English professor at the University of Utah. He endured painful treatments, drug reactions, lung ailments and muscle spasms. At every turn, he faced a loss of dignity and control.
Earlier this fall, the 68-year-old Hopkins spent three 24-hour trial visits at his Salt Lake City home to teach a class and relish a familiar space.
But every time he was scheduled to leave South Davis Community Hospital for good, some new problem emerged pneumonia, falling blood pressure, vacillating temperature, trouble with his diaphragmatic pacer and so forth.
The August date passed, then October, then November.
Finally, the long-awaited Avenues homecoming arrived. It should have been exhilarating, but Wednesday was gray and Hopkins was exhausted.
He had spent the last few nights off the ventilator, breathing on his own, so he didn't get much sleep.
Plus, he said, "traveling home takes a lot out of you."
Reclining in his automated wheelchair, he said, "Oh, boy. I think I've got to do a little CoughAssist [to remove fluid from his throat]."
Hopkins' wife, Peggy Battin, a nationally recognized medical ethicist, charged around the couple's home, discussing his care with various helpers, including Julia Strompolos, a neighbor with nursing experience, and Shaun Wheeler, a drywaller who is moving into medicine.
Battin held up a large whiteboard, on which she had listed in various colors the dozen or so friends and helpers who would contribute to Hopkins' care, along with an outline of their overlapping schedules.
She discussed with Natalie Brown, a registered nurse with a home health care service, the need for a chart with Hopkins' medication schedule, his temperature, vital signs and failure episodes, such as when his temperature spikes or his blood pressure plummets.
"I need people around me all the time who are constantly plying me with water," said Hopkins, who was eager for a drink.
The couple planned to sleep side-by-side Wednesday night in their own bed. On Thursday, though, it will be replaced by a hospital bed.
"We are using our old bed for one more night. It's sentimental," Battin said, tearing up.
She wondered aloud: Why can't supply companies make a bed that is both "medically and matrimonially adequate"?
Though physical intimacy is impossible, she said, "I love him and still would like to be near him."
Later, Hopkins reflected on the differences between hospital and home. Take Thanksgiving.
Hopkins and Battin enjoyed the holiday feast with friends in his hospital room, but eating wasn't easy. His bed couldn't rise to an 80-degree angle necessary for swallowing, so he had to prop pillows behind his back, making him uncomfortable.
"Eating was not much fun," he said. "Sometimes I was in considerable pain in my shoulders."
At home, he will be able to eat while sitting in his chair, he said, which will be "infinitely easier."
Moving from chair to bed and back will also be easier at home, thanks to a lift in the bedroom attached to the ceiling that can hoist him from one to the other, with only one or two helpers.
Hopkins looks forward to not having a lot of people around all the time or the constant whirring of machines. He anticipates the peace and quiet of working on his voice-activated computer and looking at birds through his window.
But, he acknowledged, it is going to take a while to adapt to these new and old surroundings. Give him two months, he said.
Hopkins' face lights up, though, when describing the classes he will teach next year Shakespeare's Winter's Tale in the winter, Homer's Iliad in the spring and maybe The Odyssey next fall.
"I need to teach things I am familiar with; otherwise it's too complicated," he said. "Walden was perfect."
This fall, Hopkins ventured home to meet with a dozen students from the U.'s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which provides nondegree classes for the over-50 crowd. They gathered in his living room to discuss Henry David Thoreau's masterpiece.
"It's a book," he said, "about what you can learn when you are doing nothing."
At midafternoon on Wednesday, longtime friend Gale Dick dropped by unexpectedly, bringing leftover macaroni and cheese.
Dick, a retired U. physicist, has been among Hopkins' most loyal associates, often making the trek to the Bountiful facility.
"You are my first impromptu visitor," Hopkins beamed.
"It's wonderful to see you," Dick replied.
Glancing around the room where Hopkins had spent so many years entertaining his friends and colleagues, Dick said with a kind of hushed reverence, "You're here." email@example.com
About the series
Brooke Hopkins, a retired University of Utah English professor, was paralyzed in a 2008 bicycle collision. The Salt Lake Tribune has been chronicling his rehabilitation. To see more photos and read past stories see the links above. And for multimedia, visit the following links:
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