Monday, September 14, 2009

"I Prefer to be Called Robert"

I have called my youngest brother by many names throughout the years: Rob, Robbie, hon, sweetie – even the occasional “kiddo” (okay, I’m not so proud of that one). “Robbie” was my favorite since he was so young when we called him that and he still had his silky fine, wavy brown hair and cute little chubby cheeks pierced with huge dimples. Even as he grew into adulthood he was called “Robert” only by telemarketers.

Now, at age 44, he tells everyone “I prefer to be called Robert.” Okay, fine, I’ll try to remember that. Sheesh, I didn’t realize I had to be so formal. Plus, who wants to sound like a telemarketer? As the older sister, I kind of thought I earned the privilege of calling him whatever I’d like to.

“Hey, Rob, do you want ketchup on your burger?”

“I prefer to be called Robert.”

“Okay but I’ve got a hot burger right off the grill and I’m wondering if you want ketchup, Rob.”

“I prefer to be called Robert.”

“Okay, okay. Robert. Do you want ketchup?”

“There’s no cheese?”

Oh goodness.

After a few times of getting annoyed at this persistent request I stopped to think about what he was asking. Why is he insisting everyone call him Robert? He doesn’t just say this to me but to our own father, the residents and nurses at his care facility as well as his neurologist – an obviously highly educated woman whose time is precious and who carefully manages Robert’s medications in an effort to control his incessant seizures.

Of course. The answer hit me with a slap on the forehead all its own.

Robert has no control over his own body. He falls flat on his back without warning when a seizure hits. He could fall into a lamp and lay for two minutes on a hot light bulb (it happened). He could have a seizure after diving into a swimming pool (he was young and we didn’t yet have the sense to ban him from the pool). He could fall into any number of fixtures, appliances and furniture (you name it, I’ll bet he’s fallen on it), breaking, denting or shattering them (and him) in the process. Before requiring him to wear a hard shell helmet, Robert developed a permanent bald spot on the back of his head from all the stitches he repeatedly needed. He frequently loses control of his bladder, even his bowels (hey, the truth isn’t always pretty). Robert’s body has failed him. He has no control over his body.

Robert can control what he wants to be called. As a certified Control Freak myself, I understand how important some sort of control can be. If he says he prefers to be called Robert, then that’s what I’ll call him. And, next time, I'll remember that he wants cheese on his burger.

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