Thursday, August 04, 2011

Who Are You?

I recognize it's been a while since my last post but now that I'm knee-deep in nursing classes and clinical rotations, I feel that I have something interesting to write about again. That said, I'll warn you that this isn't the most cheery entry.

I'm not exactly sure what HIPAA permits me to write about and what it doesn't, so I'll try to keep everything about actual people as vague as possible.

For most of July I spent a day each week in an Alzheimer's facility (as a nursing student, not as a temporary resident; my cognitive processes aren't that far gone yet). Throughout my time there I alternated between being really interested and really depressed. The interested came from talking with residents, learning about their lives and seeing the effects of the disease (from an impersonal perspective). The depressed came from seeing the effects of the disease from a personal perspective.

There's been a lot written about declining mental status and quality of life, and I don't really want to dig into all that. At the very least, my experiences in the facility reinforced my opinions about treating others with respect and allowing them to live their lives with as much dignity as possible.

There's been something particular weighing on my mind though.

On my last visit I encountered two residents who were very affectionate with each other (holding hands, cuddling, kissing, etc.). At first I thought they were a married couple who lived at the facility. When I was informed that they weren't, my reaction was, "Oh, that's nice, these two individuals found comfort in each other." Of course, because things are never that simple, the next thing I learned was that one of the residents was still married to a non-resident and the spouse was frequently upset upon visiting to see those overt signs of affection with someone else.

No one is really to blame or at fault. Obviously this situation is awkward, but I hesitate to say it's unfortunate. It's certainly unfortunate that anyone has Alzheimer's, but I don't think it's unfortunate that people nearing the end of their lives with a tragically debilitating disease are able to enjoy a small sense of comfort and happiness.

What's been weighing on my mind is the concept of self. I've always thought that a person's actions reveal that person's soul. If actions are what define a person, does that mean that completely "abnormal" actions from the way someone has lived most of his or her life mean that someone is actually a "different" person? Is the "soul" different?

Another thing this experience taught me is that the blood is easy, the brains are hard. I expected the strong emotional response from going into nursing as a new career. I didn't expect the internal metaphysical debate.

Aren't you glad I started blogging again?

EDIT: I showed this to Hannah before posting and her response was that presumably (and it is a presumption), the couple in the facility were always affectionate people so the big picture of how they act hasn't changed, therefor they still have the same "soul" -- at least as far as my definition of soul. They may not remember who they "were," but who they actually are hasn't changed; it's just that the people involved are different due to circumstance.