Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
Happy Monday all! I am super excited about this Christmas week. For one, we will be off for nearly 2 weeks, so I can catch up on my honey-do list and start a new Bible study with my kiddos. I love my job, but I also love being home. 🙂
It is kind of a challenging thing to segue on my writing segway into, but I shall try: The Elephant Man.
I was thinking a week or so ago, as I rewatched the 1980 classic movie The Elephant Man, that it can teach us a lot about dementia.
((Sounds of bathroom cabinets squeaking up and me mumbling “Where is that stinkin’ shoehorn??…Hey, there is that mullet-trimming kit accessory for my Flowbee! Hmm…oh, there is some allergy medicine waaaaay back there! Oh crud…it is dated 10/95. …<Google Searching> ‘Is it safe to take 25 year old allergy meds?’.<Screen showing:> Hey, look, the vaccine made a nurse pass out. (regretting being universally supportive of the vaccine last week). Ohhh…crawling around in this cabinet to find my shoehorn makes my back hurt! Sigh… I am feeling old. Googling “how old is old?’ (popup for home mask-making business appears). Sigh…dang internet. Oh!!! There’s that silly thing!))
10 Ways The Elephant Man Makes Me Think of Dementia
(SPOILER ALERT x1000)
- People are naturally bad and it makes life harder– I love humanity. I love people. I do…sincerely. However, when I realized, after reading even a few pages in the Bible and especially after reading the Book of Romans Chapters 1-6, that people are not “good” by nature, but are bad, it does explain some things. I have often wondered why some seniors will tease folks with dementia. My mom stopped going to her favorite walking track because other seniors would laugh when she would forget something. I have written about this several times. It makes me mad and it makes me sad. We have to become more “dementia-friendly” in our culture instead of treating poorly what we don’t understand. But we won’t. Why? Because our good/bad filter is hopelessly broken and won’t be fixed this side of eternity.
- John (Joseph) Merrick was real– Joseph Merrick, the man about whom The Elephant Man was penned, was real. He was born in England during the U.S. Civil War and died almost 28 years later of asphyxia from a broken neck. He (arguably) had Proteus Syndrome along with hundreds of others even today. These are real folks. Numbers, be then small or big, represent real folks with real lives, who all need real love and care. Dementia’s numbers, while staggeringly huge-normous, represent REAL folks with real families that suffer. Isn’t it strange how we only feel that the real folks are the ones in our circle and the rest are less so? Understand numbers…but don’t become desensitized by them. Terrible diseases. 🙁
- The importance of the arts– Merrick was an avid fan of the arts. He, as depicted in the movie, created a replica of the Mainz Cathedral:
I suspect although I am not sure that the arts were a place of escape for Merrick. The movie depicted this beautifully. For mom and many folks with dementia whom I have been able to meet, art, music, TV, and the like are a welcome respite from the savages of the disease. Familiarity with these mediums perhaps relaxes the mind? Or, perhaps as I have often mentioned, there is more to it than that. Mom’s happy place is and has always been at a piano. It is part of her…a big part of her. She could do wonderful things on auto-pilot and not have to stress/scramble.
- The familiar Bible verses are still super special– In one beautiful scene in The Elephant Man, Merrick was being grilled by the hospital administrator to see if he was even mentally cognizant of his surroundings. (It was early and he had yet to come out of his shell and talk much because of the terrible things done to him by society). The administrator rejected his stay there, saying he was untreatable and incapable of improving and any advance that was made was merely his doctor coaching him. That is until the administrator was walking off and Merrick continued reciting the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my Shepherd) beyond what was “taught” to him by the doctor. This shook the administrator and changed his mind. It was an amazing and poignant scene… The Bible urges us to memorize Scripture. In Psalm 119:11 it says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Memorizing the Bible helps you recall it in a pinch and helps you digest it for lifelong use. Should I end up with this disease like mom, my uncle, my grandma, and the rest, I hope I recall Scripture above all. If I can do that, the rest of the problems of the situation will most certainly fade.
- Unfamiliarity+Panic+Confusion=Terrific Sadness– Watch this clip. Merrick, out of necessity, had to travel although it was incredibly hard for him I am sure. Life was much easier most days in his room with his things… One of the save things about dementia is the transformation of the familiar into the unfamiliar. I hated that for mom. Things these wonderful folks took for granted turned into a stressful mess. Throw in the mix something changing their routine and it is made even worse. (see the spitball shooting brat in the clip).
- People can get hurt– Returning to the clip again. The little girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Merrick (accidentally) ran over her running from the mob. It is NOT uncommon for a dementia patient to become irritated/confused and to lash out at whomever is available. Add to the mix something like bath time or toileting. What is still engrained although confused in their minds (we don’t do those things publicly) leads to fight or flight responses including punching if necessary. It is NOT them…it is the stinkin’ disease. 🙁 Reminder, yet again…these nurses and doctors deserve to be paid well and loved/respected greatly!
- Vision is tunneled. In the train scene we have been talking about, Merrick, a super, super, super polite man (!!!) never would have intentionally ran over the poor girl. His mask, worn to protect him from terrible people, also could easily block nearly all of his peripheral vision. I mean…have you ever ran with a Halloween mask on? The dangers would be all around! In dementia, vision…better said cognition/understanding becomes more and more tunneled. Rather than being overwhelmed with inputs from all directions, the brain, it appears, “focuses” on what seems most likely to need attention: that which is right in front of us…and blocks out the rest. Mom’s vision is nearly 20/20 after her surgery about 2 years ago. However, I can sneak up on her easily. Make special care to always make eye contact as soon as possible when approaching a person struggling with dementia lest you accidentally scare them and make it worse.
- Merrick’s mind– I love this poem:
Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind’s the standard of the man.
I will just let the words speak for themselves here. Think it through and then think about dementia. I am curious your thoughts…
- Nothing could be done– In the movie, Merrick asked the struggling doctor whether he could be fixed by surgery? Sadly, the doctor informed him that medicine was lost as a ball in tall grass as to how to help. Even today, medicine has few answers for folks struggling with either condition. In dementia, there have been some advances. There are far more treatments to help symptoms than there used to be and hopefully there will ultimately be a cure. But for now, the mortality rate is devastatingly whole: 100%.
- Rest– Here is the clip. The movie ends with Merrick, worn out in 100 ways and wanting to be like those he loves, lays flat…and dies for doing so. It is a tragic, if beautiful, end to the wonderful movie. Millions with dementia are struggling. They are typically exhausted mentally and physically, not unlike Merrick. That is where mom is right now. We pray for them. We treat them. We love them. We protect them. We fight for a cure…every.single.day. However, in the end, they…as of 12/21/20 with no cure in sight… only find rest in the loving arms of their Creator. I liked this movie. It has always been a favorite. I wish dementia didn’t permeate everything these days, but it is what it is. We are all terminal and we will all only find rest in His arms.
Update: Nothing new to report. Mom is back in a regular room, alone and quiet. I wish I could fix the situation, but it is far above my pay grade. But the One who can fix it is trustworthy and will, one way or another.
Bonus side thought…no charge for this one. 😉
Isn’t it interesting how elephants are associated with long memory? Treehugger.com validates this thusly:
“The memory of elephants is legendary, and for good reason. Of all land mammals, elephants possess the largest brains. They have the ability to recall distant watering holes, other elephants, and humans they have encountered — even after the passage of many years.
Elephants transmit their wealth of knowledge from generation to generation through the matriarchs, and this sharing of information has been beneficial to the creatures’ survival. They are also able to recall the path to sources of food and water across great distances, and how to reach alternative areas should the need arise. Even more impressive, they adjust their schedule to arrive just in time for the fruit they are seeking to be ripe.”
If only some of that is correct, it is amazing… What a Creator we share!
I just discovered this podcast about him too. It is excellent 🙂
Joseph Merrick, aka “The Elephant Man” on Podbean: