Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Kind of Life

He stares out the window, fumbling with his belt and drumming his fingers on the arms of his portable wheelchair. Wheeling himself to the table, he leafs through a magazine, the pages worn from days of similar activity, the corners greasy from his fingers. Unwilling to draw, refusing to be read to, staring past the TV towards the empty wall, eschewing the Play-Doh that we thought might be a fun and therapeutic diversion, engaging with him is significantly challenging. Throughout our 12-hour shift, he generally refuses food, readily accepts water or juice, and otherwise chooses to keep to himself with occasional brief conversational interludes.

And so the days pass.

Recently, he was saved from a deplorable situation where he was taken advantage of by acquaintances looking for money or alcohol, rarely washed or bathed, and lived a life that most people would find appalling in its squalor. Now, living with family in the countryside, he is safe from ill-meaning neighbors and so-called "friends", yet he pines for that other life with all of his might. Stripped of his freedom, his drivers license and his car, he is at the mercy of nurses and social workers who mind his every move with a keen and earnest intent to help him stay clean, dry, well fed, hydrated and happy.

It is without a doubt that this individual was truly a danger to himself and at risk of injury or death without the proper intervention. Still, assessing his current situation, it's also quite clear that his quality of life leaves a great deal to be desired. We do our best to provide for him, keep him comfortable, and afford him some level of contentment. Still, it's so difficult to witness a person who seems to glean so little enjoyment from life, made even more keen by the sudden loss of his independence. Yes, it's a life, but how can we make it better? How can we bring him joy? And how can we make up for the changes that have stripped him of his ability to make decisions for himself? These are not easy questions to answer, and as we grapple with the possible answers, he stares out the window wishing that things had never changed.
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