"LISTEN TO ME"
A HOSPICE PATIENT SPEAKS
GEORGE PETRIE - LONGBOAT KEY FLORIDA
Once upon a time, in a world not long ago, he was an executive. He was the President of a very large corporation and had written papers related to Engineering. His papers were published and showed how brilliant he was.
Today, as I sat with him on his sofa at his home I wouldn't be seeing the same person that he used to be. Today, he would sit silently, arms crossed and not seem to understand what was going on around him. He would smile at you if he recognized you as a friend but, even if you were one of his children, he could not remember your name.
Frontal Lobe Dementia was the diagnosis. It was a diagnosis which meant that all of the things that he ever knew would be slowly erased from his memory. All of those years of brilliance would be darkened by a treacherous and incurable disease. Cancer was also robbing him of time.
I only visited him once a week. His wife needed respite care and she hoped that someone (perhaps me) couldbrighten his day. She already knew that it was impossible to turn back the clock and that he would never again be the same person that she loved. She loved him as much as the first day they met, but to him she was a stranger.
Each time I would visit, he would simply sit on the sofa with his arms folded across his chest and it was impossible to engage him in any conversation or activity. Anyone who has ever worked with a dementia or alzheimer's patient knows how difficult it can be and how frustrating it is to not understand what that person is thinking about. Worse yet is the inability to communicate, in even the simplest terms.
This day, I found a bag with "Scrabble" pieces in it; asmall bag full of wooden tokens with different letters on each one. I dumped the bag out onto the glass coffee table in front of us. He had become comfortable with me sitting on the sofa next to him. When I first started visiting, I would not be able to get close to him. It seemed as though he was frightened of me and anyone else that he didn't recognize. When this would happen, he would get up and go to his bedroom, lay down on his bed and pull the covers over him
Now we were seated close to each other and I started to move thetiles around to see how many words I could form. I knew that he was watching closely but I didn't know how much of what I was doing he really comprehended.
I had made several different random words. I placed the tiles along the table. One of the words was "listen". Without even realizing it I had missspelled the word - "litsen". Suddenly, as though out of nowhere, he sat forward, rearranged the tiles and said, "You spelled it wrong". He started to move the tiles and move the words that I had formed. When he was finished, he sat back, folded his arms, closed his eyes and retreated into his silent world.
This is what he had arranged on the table:
THE HIDDEN MIND SPEAKS ONLY TO ITSELF AND ME
LISTEN TO IT CAREFULLY
Our visit was over. Once again I had been given a glimpse into that mystical world of the brain. I don't understand how he could communicate such an eloquent and moving statement. I will never know what is locked inside the mind of someone who can no longer communicate. Do they understand everything we say but are unable to respond?