Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Harry's miracle

Harry has had a difficult but amazing time of it lately.  As a member with a disability in our L'Arche community, he's always been one of my favourites because he has quite a cheerful outlook on life, and loves to visit with admin team members in our offices at the community centre. I have his art on my wall at work. Harry used to say, "Hi, my boy!" and call me by name, or by what I know to be my name, Mre, before launching into a charmingly garbled story, interspersed with chuckles and grins, leading to a punchline that I didn't understand, but that made him laugh -- which made me laugh.

But well over a year ago, the people who lived with Harry began to notice changes in his personality, and it wasn't long before those changes became evident at the community centre, too. Harry and Thomas were friends who had a habit of greeting the admin team in the mornings, but soon it was only Thomas who came to our office, sometimes in tears because Harry had hit him. Harry became unsteady on his feet, and shouted with no warning, at times when we couldn't guess what might be bothering him. He stopped making any kind of sense, and forgot our names, which probably added to his frustration, and hence, his screaming. It was as though the Harry we all knew and loved had been replaced by a stranger, and though his medications were changed and many different tactics were tried, nothing could bring the old Harry back. The word dementia was spoken, though the experts who used it weren't sure what it actually looked like for someone like him.

At Day Program, a few staff members were physically hurt by Harry's outbursts, and the man on team, who credits Harry's friendship for bringing him to L'Arche in the first place, became Harry's main helper. Harry's friends with disabilities learned to keep an arm's length away from him at all times, a sad thing because he had often been seen walking hand in hand with them down the hallways in better times. His yelling carried through the building, and one of us would inevitably comment, "Poor Harry."

Likewise, life in his house became pretty unbearable -- his family members, both with and without disabilities, were unsure of him, and there was little anyone could do to ease whatever was bothering him. Medications were changed, and changed again to no effect. Everyone in the home was on edge. Finally, Harry was sent to an assessment facility so that a psych team could try to determine the best way to help him. His house family and many friends from the community scheduled visits with him during the month he was to be away.

Unfortunately, the facility was placed under flu quarantine shortly after Harry arrived, so no one was allowed to see him for many days. Without visitors from home, he became withdrawn and miserable, and from all reports, was getting worse instead of better. Before his month-long assessment time was up, the community decided that it was necessary to bring him home.

He was welcomed like a long-lost brother, and was clearly happy to be back among familiar faces, but his joy didn't translate to his behaviour for quite some time. The people in his home continued to love him as patiently as they were able, and as time went on and effective treatments were implemented and relationships rebuilt, he slowly began to show signs of being the Harry that everyone knew before. The love of his community slowly brought him back. One of the assistants who lives with him told me at a recent community gathering that Harry's slow recovery had been one of the most moving experiences in his life in L'Arche.

Being a rather irregular face at the community centre, and somewhat out of the community loop due to working at home, I never expected that my friendship with Harry would ever return to what it was two years ago. After all, I'm not exactly a fixture in Harry's life. But...

Last week a neighbourhood party was held at the community centre, involving a barbecue with a band, a bouncy castle, face painting, games, and fun for all. I was wandering among those seated at the dining tables when Harry stopped me and said, "Hi, Mre, how are you, my boy?"

It was so unexpected that it didn't compute. "Fine, Harry," I said, and then his words sank in. "Harry? What did you call me?" I asked.

"Mre." He said it like a shrug. Then he told me in his garbled Harry-language that he was hungry, and his housemate showed up with a burger for him.

"He remembers my name," I said. "He hasn't called me Mre in well over a year." Harry's friend, the one who has been so touched by Harry's recovery, grinned and said, "Did you know that he went to church on Sunday? The first time in ages! Wonderful, isn't it?"

Miraculous, I would say. We're all enjoying the return of our friend!

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