Welcome to America, the Land of Leaders Who Insist on the Demonstrably Untrue
The federal coronavirus response reminds me of my father after his stroke, when he’d say things that were simply incompatible with reality
In January of 2012, my healthy and spry 82-year-old father suffered a catastrophic hemorrhagic stroke. Though he would somehow miraculously survive and regain consciousness, the resulting brain damage left him radically altered both physically and mentally. He died quietly in his sleep a little more than two months later, after contracting an infection.
My father was a scientist, a rigidly logical mathematician who did The New York Times crossword puzzle in pen each day. He prized intellect above all else and had little patience for those who did not. And while there were occasional glimmers of his pre-stroke self during his convalescence — he could recall some sports trivia and still made the occasional clever joke — it was apparent that the person who inhabited his ravaged body was just… not him. The first time he could speak after having his tracheostomy tube removed, he excitedly told me that he’d won a historic jackpot in some kind of internet lottery. When I expressed skepticism, he told me to Google his name. “I think you’ll find it veeeery interesting,” he said mischievously.
But the most memorable of my father’s post-stroke fixations was his insistence that he had recently appeared on a stage at Hofstra University with George Gershwin, one of his musical heroes. My brothers and I found this both hilarious and horrifying. The idea of our supremely serious father asserting something so patently absurd provided some much-needed comic relief during an intense ordeal. (A friend once told me that after suffering a traumatic brain injury, her law professor father had maintained that he held the patent to a multimillion-dollar pasta product.)
In trying to determine the origin of this particular fantasy, my brother Andrew discovered that there was an upcoming performance of Gershwin songs at Hofstra, where my father had been a professor of computer science. We wondered if this might somehow be the event to which he was referring.