Have you ever heard something, in the course of a day, that strikes you as so profound that it seems as if the world pauses just so you can take it in?
I had such an experience yesterday, and I have to tell you, my mind is still trying to process that moment. I was with my “second daughter”, who is a nurse. But not just a nurse, she is a psychiatric nurse, and she works at a large, inner city hospital in the lock-down psychiatric unit.
We were discussing someone we’d come to visit on another unit of that hospital, someone who’d been a patient there for a few weeks, and who’d been admitted with some sort of an infection. Sometimes, medicine is an inexact science. The doctors have been unable to determine the source of the infection, but have been treating it, more or less, with a general course of antibiotics.
At one point this person was unable to communicate, or to even sit up. Then, as the infection began to clear, speech returned, but it aphasic speech at first. Nothing she said the last time I visited her last week made any sense at all.
We went to visit her yesterday, my second daughter and I, only to discover that this person was in the process of going home—against medical advice.
We added our voices to the voices of the staff, urging her to remain in hospital. We tried to convince her husband that her going home was not the best course of action, even if it was what she wanted to do. But reason no longer seems to have sway with this woman. In fact, I do believe that reason has fled her for good.
Her husband only wanted to do what she asked of him, and would not consider that it wasn’t for the best.
As we were leaving, I lamented that something could not be done, because quite frankly, without further treatment, this person will not get well. Then my second daughter said, “I know you’re upset, and I understand. But she’s not a danger to herself or anyone else, and she has the right to be crazy.”
She wasn’t using that word lightly for it has become clear over the last several months—and I am probably the last person aside from her husband to see this—that this person really isn’t quite sane anymore.
You know, I never before considered the possibility that one could have the right to be crazy.
For me, life has always been what I would characterize as a challenge to be faced. It’s something to be lived, certainly, but lived judiciously, and even strategically. Sort of like an obstacle course where you must meet and surmount challenges before going on to the next level—or the next thing.
I’ve only ever considered that life is damn hard work, with some rewards and nice surprises along the way—but only some, and that my perception is yes, right for me, but basically recognized as valid by everyone.
And all along, instead or maybe as well, one has had the right to be crazy.
There’s no question in my mind that my second daughter is right, of course. I wouldn’t force my religious or political views on another person; I would never dream of telling someone what sort of music they should like, or movies they should watch or books they should read.
If someone is living in an alternate reality, responding to ideas that are only in their own minds, believing things that are not as I know them to be, who am I to judge them? Who am I to insist they must conform to my standards over theirs? If they are no danger to themselves or someone else, then they do indeed have the right to be crazy.
I’ve known for some time that this person—the one that we visited in hospital—truly only felt secure and happy in her home. It doesn’t matter, does it, what ‘home’ is? In this case it’s a very small apartment in a large building. She’s lived there for probably more than 20 years.
It’s her place, and where she needed to be, so of course as soon as she was well enough to communicate this desire, she told her husband she wanted to go home.
Yes, she needed to stay in hospital and be treated—in my point of view.
But as much as I demand to be granted the right to live my life on my own terms, when it comes to those I care about, I have to give way and allow them to live their life on their own terms. It’s not easy, but I shouldn’t be surprised at that.
As I’ve often said, and as I’ve always believed, life isn’t easy. Nor is it supposed to be.