Chimpanzee on the couch

3monkeyGlenn

The chimpanzee shot past me straight upstairs to the kitchen. Thudding and banging she emerges hobbling down the stairs laden with fruit clutched in her hands and feet, and tucked under her chin. I follow her into my consulting room. Perched on the edge of the sofa, only the sound of her slurping and sucking breaks the silence. We sit watching each other as a small pile of fruit skins form a pyramid on the wooden floor. I imagine them going into the bin.

‘You looked surprised; am I the first chimpanzee you’ve had? I bet you’ve never heard a chimpanzee speak before?’

I’m the one unable to speak.

‘I’m guessing you don’t speak in my tongue, so let’s stick with English.’

She’s teasing me? ‘Okay,’ I smile and blink.

‘This is talking therapy right? It’ll be odd if we didn’t talk.’

‘So what do you want to talk about?’ I say as though I’m used to conversing with chimpanzees.

‘The zoo psychologist referred me; she says I’m depressed, but that’s not why I’m here.’ She interrupts herself, ‘This is confidential isn’t it?’ Her look is so intense that I freeze for a moment. I’m trying to imagine describing this session to my supervisor. I want to stay with this image.

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Um, I don’t mind if you write about me in your blog.’

‘You’re concerned about confidentiality and yet you’re happy for me to write about our session.’

‘Well no one will believe you’ve worked with a speaking chimpanzee! They’ll assume it’s a metaphor, a literary device or something. So you can if you want to.’

‘Thank you. So you’re depressed and that’s not why you’re here …’

‘Well of course I’m depressed – I live in a zoo. There’d be something seriously wrong with me if I weren’t, right?’ She pauses; I can’t tell if she wants a reply.

‘I’ve heard that psychotherapy is primarily about listening.’

‘And the psychologist doesn’t listen to you?’

‘No, actually I’ve never spoken to her – well, not in English. I’ve nothing to say to her. I’ve never heard her say anything remotely interesting or insightful.’

Again she pauses as though awaiting a response.

‘In my experience people don’t listen. Have you seen the BBC programme Dynasties with David Attenborough?’

‘No.’

‘They followed a group of chimpanzees around for over two years then edited hundreds of hours of footage down into just one hour. David is this old alpha-male who has somehow held off challengers and remained at the top to keep his exclusive mating rights, though they didn’t show any of that. Actually he didn’t really seem to do very much. It does show him enjoying exclusive rights to narration.

‘Anyway humans love drama; with all their resources and all that film of chimpanzees they managed to shape a human drama and then, with no sense of irony or shame, present it as chimpanzee behaviour – it was genius.’

I’m trying not to imagine David Attenborough asserting his exclusive mating rights.

‘So people come to talk to you, you listen for maybe hundreds of hours, and then you make up stories, create drama? Or is that what you cure them from?’

‘There is no cure.’

‘I’ve seen it on your website: you work with addictions – sex, alcohol, drugs, spiritual addiction – but you don’t mention addiction to drama?’

‘Well people don’t see it as an addiction.’

‘So you help them become better addicts?’ For the first time she looks puzzled.

‘Ha! I suppose so. Once their stories have been listened to they can get beyond them.’

‘And then what?’

‘They become chimpanzees.’

‘Whaoo-ooh!’ her laughter reverberates around the room. ‘You know that’s not all there is to being a chimpanzee …’

Our conversation meanders until ‘our time is up’. As we move towards the front door she asks: ‘Will you dramatise this is your blog?’

‘I get the impression you want me to?’

‘Maybe it’s the only way I can tell if you’ve listened to me.’

‘Oh, so you’re testing me.’

I flash her a sad smile, her face is inscrutable; I’ve not seen this expression before. I imagine she’s reflecting back my smile, though less apologetically and perhaps more pitying.

‘How would you write it?’ I ask.

‘I wouldn’t. I’ve better things to do.’

‘And I’ve nothing better to do?’

‘Maybe you have, but then you are only human.’

‘You do know there’s no such thing as a chimpanzee, don’t you?’

‘Yes.’

Standing to her full height she looks intensely into my eyes and says, ‘Thank you for the fruit.’ In the next moment she is across the road, up a tree and swinging over the fence.

Glenn suggests …

… stocking up on fruit if you work with chimpanzees.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

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Dying twice

Portrait_002This year, and for the first time, the anniversary of my father’s death some years ago passed by without me remembering …

It had been a short drive to the nursing home my father had moved to eight days previously. My wife and I had been his primary carers for close to a decade but when, fourteen weeks earlier, he had fallen and broken his hip, his move away from his home and into the healthcare system sparked in him a serious decline. There was also a touch of guilt at the freedoms his move was affording to us.

As we neared the care home, an ambulance on an emergency call passed us. A minute later we drew up behind it and a paramedic vehicle already parked at the home. My wife said to me, ‘It’s for your father.’ I winced; I felt her to be right.

As we strode down the corridor of the second floor suite in which my father had taken residency, a member of staff addressed us: ‘Are you here to see Brian?’

‘Yes,’ we both smiled.

There was already a temporal shift occurring – odd, I thought, no one has addressed us in such a way before. A nurse blocked our path to my father’s room: ‘You’re Brian’s relatives?’ Somehow, in a moment, we were all in her office. My wife looked pale: ‘You’d better sit down Mrs Stafford.’ But there was a dreadful tension and confusion in the space. With my psychotherapist’s hat on I honed in on the emotion – there was huge anxiety being broadcast from this experienced nurse. After a few words she left us saying, ‘I’ll just check on your father’s condition.’ It hit my wife and me at the same moment and we rushed along the corridor.

Bundling into my father’s room we saw a paramedic ‘shouting’ at the prone and half naked figure: ‘Come on Brian … stay with us.’ My father’s chest heaved in physical distress as a bag covered his mouth and another medic prepared to shock him. His skin had the waxy hue and paleness I’d seen on my mother as she passed away.

In the small living space that had become my father’s whole world the paraphernalia of modern emergency support was strewn all around. My wife was first to enunciate her horror: ‘What are you doing this for?!’

For several weeks in three separate medical establishments my father, despite his communication difficulties caused by a stroke some years earlier, had made himself understood – he wanted to die. For the long years before he broke his hip my wife and I had cared for my father, it had been difficult to watch his almost daily decline; he had been a proud, principled and independent man, a teacher and an artist. At eighty, long overdue, he become a published poet. Difficult as it was to watch, we respected that this was a man fading out at his own request. And yet here we were, thrust into the most terrible of moments – a man who wanted to die being forced back into a world he no longer had an interest in. Our protestations that my father be allowed to pass away brought yet more tension into the room. The ‘shouting’ stopped, but our fourteen weeks of frustrations at the NHS care system were too much for me and my wife.

In counterpoint we made our cases aloud to the six medics about respect and civilised treatment. But apparently, my father’s DNR (do not resuscitate) wishes had not been recorded in the requisite manner. Procedure and regulation were in the way of care and welfare, and overrode my father’s desires.

For his entire adult life, my father voted for a system that respected people, treated them well; a welfare state, a national health service, free at the point of need – one of the marks of a civilised and mature society. Those entrusted to administer NHS continuing healthcare had already attempted piracy with his rights and, now, these paramedics were clearly having to apply procedure rather than the human care they so obviously wished to dispense.

My father was being denied his wish to die peacefully and with respect. This was a system seeking to revive him so that it might take him back to a hospital he had already refused to be taken to, in order that he could ‘die’ once more, probably on a trolly in a corridor in A&E.

Before all was lost, the senior paramedic took control and through several different stages and conversations that involved myself and my father’s GP the paramedics were allowed to ‘withdraw’. And then the room was quiet and my father once more calm. His beloved Radio could be heard in the corner of his room and death once more began to claim his body. Peacefully and with us as comforters for his passage he was able to complete his life, with respect and dignity.

Duncan suggests …

… reading the book ‘Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death‘ by Irvine D. Yalom,

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.