It had been a long day filled with assessments. After finishing the last one of the day, I started packing up when I was called in for another one. It was a walk in but given the the clients age, it couldn’t be rescheduled again. I won’t lie, I was a little bummed out given that an assessment can take over two hours and I was exhausted. It was a difficult case too, doing assessment on a 70 year old man with a fairly progressed stage of Parkinson’s disease can be extremely challenging. This would involve a lot of repetition, translation, and explanation.
What I didn’t know at that time was that the next two hours would be life changing for me. I left the session feeling truly inspired. Something was completely different. I don’t think I have words to explain what I felt as he was wheeled away from me. I just stood there, overwhelmed.
Okay wait, I’m skipping ahead of myself.
So, in terms of medical history, Mr. G had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since ’94. He could still walk around a little bit, but was mostly dependent on the wheelchair. The Parkinson’s had reached a stage where there was rigidity in his vocal musculature causing hypophonia (very soft speech), to the extent that I had to literally put my ear next to his mouth to decipher what he said.
The session began with the usual rapport building to help him feel comfortable and at ease. Given his apprehension, I engaged in small talk till he was ready to talk about whatever ailed him. Slowly, he started responding to my persistent efforts of making small talk. His eyes though…had a haunting look that was a mixture of emptiness, sadness and longing.
I learned that he’d lived quite an extraordinary life, written some very successful books and been quite an important man on the academic front. The more I talked to him, the more engaged he became. He was witty. Very witty. I remember that about him. His eyes lit up as I showed interest in his work.
Unfortunately, he had had to quit working as the Parkinson’s progressed. His wife had taken control over the financials and completely isolated him to his room. To the point where she didn’t even let him meet any visitors. There was always an excuse.
“He is sleeping.”
“He isn’t feeling well enough to have company.”
The past five years, he had had nothing but his empty room and some books for company.
He had a son, let’s call him Dhruv, who lived away and would come visit once a year. Dhruv knew about this situation, but there wasn’t much he could do, or tried to do. That’s how Mr. G rationalized things.
Now, Mr. G had been referred to us for cognitive evaluation. His intellect seemed intact. His limitations were more on the physical front.
I could see that beyond physical disability, he suffered more due to lack of will to do anything. Years of isolation, abandonment from his family, his life partner, for whom the caregiver burden was too much to handle, had made him empty from inside. He was suffering from moderate to severe depression.
He told me that I was the first person who had taken time out to actually listen to him. Made him feel like he mattered. Now this was a really hard thing to hear.
Social interaction is very important, I told Dhruv. I told him that Mr. G’s manifestation of disability was more pronounced due to his depression.
“He needs more positivity in life. Even simple board games like ludo would be beneficial.”, I said.
Mr. G looked at me, with a look that still haunts me and said, ” But that’s at least a two person game…”
I winded the session up with some alternate recommendations customized to suit his abilities. He need to be mentally and physically engaged to keep whatever abilities he had left.
It really got me thinking. This was a father, a man whose life had revolved around providing for his family. Someone who had invested years of his life putting the needs of his son, his wife foremost. Now in his moment of need, when he was the was the one who needed care, his adult son was too busy to return the favor. Why? Because he was too busy building a life of his own.
We both walked out of that session, a little different than when we had entered. As he was being wheeled away… with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “This was interesting.” And left me standing with a new stir in my soul.
Those are the best sessions, you know. That change both parties a little. That’s when you know you have made a difference.
Erikson defined different stages of life, an individual goes from needing care as an offspring to being the caretaker of his own offspring and then moves on to needing care from that very offspring. This is the cycle of life. Then why is it that this offspring, who has already procured the level of care necessary to survive by himself, fail to reciprocate this care to their very own care taker?
I’m not generalizing and saying that this is the norm. But being in practice, I have seen enough cases to say it is quite prevalent.
Life is busy. That is how it goes. But next time you feel like your parents are becoming a burden to you. Remember that they lived the same life as you are now, but they somehow managed to ensure that you were provided for in every way.
Don’t get so lost in your life that your elderly parents, who now rely on you for the same support that you required whilst you were growing up, become background furniture in your life.
“It is not how old you are, but how you are old“ – Jules Renard