Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A life lived for others, devalued on your behalf

Please take a moment to read this absolutely heartbreaking piece from Saturday's Times Colonist. When the author closes with "Now please act," I encourage you to take a moment and write your MLA and tell them our seniors deserve better.

Thank you for your continued support,


A life lived for others, devalued on your behalf

Because of cutbacks, man will go into a care home, at higher cost

By Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe, Special to Times ColonistFebruary 13, 2010

Meet John Moelaert. I have his permission to tell you of the life he has led and where life has led him. I am hoping you will be as appalled and outraged as I am at the thoughtless and heartless decisions that have recently been inflicted on this vulnerable man -- on your behalf.
Born in Holland in 1930, John escaped the chaotic aftermath of war in Europe, making his way to Canada in 1951. He studied philosophy and creative writing and had a diverse journalistic career that inspired a deep caring for nature, a just society and conservation of the environment.
In his fruitful life, John participated vigorously in making our society a better place rather than enriching himself. He founded the Calgary branch of Amnesty International, the Kelowna branches of Peace Group, Tools for Peace and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
In 1965, the Kamloops Wildlife Park was created under his leadership and it is now one of the largest conservation projects in Canada. In the 1970s, John worked with the United Church as uranium information co-ordinator and was appointed as an expert witness at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining.
Eight years ago, now living in Victoria, John was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder. Along with the worsening of movement and posture, general brain functioning can be compromised. John cannot think or speak as he once did, and faces the prospect of continued decline. It is a frightening time in his life.
With anxiety and depression accompanying and worsening the progression of his neurological symptoms, John was referred to me to see if I could assist.
John lives alone and frugally in his 37-year-old trailer with his cat Diego. I visit him there as he is often too ill to attend my office.
He lives with dignity, surrounded by reminders of his fruitful life. It would devastate him to lose his refuge and be away from his memories and his cat.
He survives on his pensions and his fixed expenses take up much of that modest sum. His eyesight is deteriorating, and spectacles are costly. Teeth break and rot, and dental bills pile up. John is a diligent and honest man who now spends his days worrying that the next major expense will leave him destitute. Expenses of a few hundred dollars are more than he can afford.
As he has grown feeble, this once-vibrant mind, which had galloped across social and philosophical issues with exuberance and insight, has now been reduced to worry over paying his bills.
I have been privileged to work with him as he continues to find hope and meaning in his life even as his body fails him, but it has been difficult to keep John going. Focusing on small mercies, accepting the changes in his body and mind and celebrating his lifetime of service have been the touchstones of our therapeutic strategy.
John has now had to cope with additional blows inflicted on him on your behalf as taxpayer, blows that have depleted his will to live. I have never seen him so devastated.
Consider what has been done to this gentle, selfless man. John has long been provided a Lifeline, a device that he wore around his neck. Patients with Parkinson's disease often fall and with Lifeline one button alerts a service that checks that he is safe.
John has been told that the service will no longer be provided unless he pays for it. He cannot, so he now lives with a new fear that he might not be able to get to his phone in a crisis.
John's ironic response to the yanking of his lifeline? He hopes the savings at the cost of his worrying about lying injured and helpless on the floor (a worry that I can see has worsened his mental health) goes to a good cause.
One loss was bad enough. Almost simultaneously, John was told that his meals would also no longer be delivered free. John faces additional expenses of $6 per day to eat the meals he has come to rely on in past years.
His sense of being abandoned in his old age by the society he served selflessly all his life is overwhelming. Despair has worsened his neurological symptoms.
I know: Times are tough and budgets have to be met. But set aside your compassion for a moment and consider the sheer financial stupidity of these decisions.
As a result of these decisions, I, as one of his caregivers, will have to push John into a care home far sooner than need be, leading to you, the taxpayer, paying much more for his daily expenses.
Does it take a genius to work out the difference between full-time care and $200 a month?
I accept the fact that for a bureaucrat, the name John Moelaert means nothing. Someone out there, up there, is making decisions behind closed doors. Can we not insist on an accounting for them?
I do not know how many people are out there in the same situation as John Moelaert. He is the one I know, and having known the man, the one I care deeply about.
Perhaps you know someone in his boat and you also care. If so, let your voice be heard; this letter is my appeal to you: call, e-mail, or write to those who represent you and insist that this inhumane treatment of our seniors must stop. Do not forget that these are decisions made on your behalf.
Thank you for reading this far. Now please act. We need to shame the decision-makers away from inflicting such suffering on John Moelaert and others like him.
Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe has practised psychiatry for 25 years in this province. Although primarily a forensic psychiatrist, he has a small non-forensic practice where he sees patients struggling to find acceptance and meaning in their lives when confronting losses and life-threatening illnesses.
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