Talking Across Those With Diminished Capacity

When Jonathan Kozol tells us how his father, Dr.Harry Kozol, diagnosed himself with cognitive decline, we know we have met in his father a formidable intellect and a remarkable  spirit. What Jonathan Kozol was not ready for was how the wider community of family, friends, and health care practitioners  would so quickly adopt a practice of "talking across" his father rather than to him, once the Alzheimer's diagnosis was official.   This particularly offends him, I think, because it was not the way his father treated those with diminished capacity or cognitive impairment, whatever its source.  I do have to wonder, though,  if his father's determination to seek a  much delayed confirmation of his self-diagnosis tapped into  his father's  understanding of this aspect of human behavior.

The author is 87 pages into his book  The Theft of Memory before he can say it: "I never felt they [his father's clinicians] gave him back in full, or even in small part, what he had given once unstintingly to people who had placed their trust in him."

And what was that thing? Dignity.

"My father had always liked the word 'clinician' better than 'physician' because it held the connotation of direct, unmediated, never arm's-length service to the people he had been asked to care for." We meet Jonathan Kozol's father through his eyes, including his memories of tagging along on after-hours calls to patients in mental health facilities who, no matter their distress, his father unfailingly attempted to connect with as people.

What a gift, in the pre-HIPPA era of course, for Jonathan Kozol to watch his father search for humanity first and patient second.

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