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We call them vegetables

  1. Feb 22, 2004 #1
    We call them "vegetables"

    The person in a coma from brain trauma. The patient suffering the last stages of Alzheimer's disease. The profoundly retarded adult.

    These folks will most likely be found in a substandard medical facility, many restricted to bed for the remainder of their lives, to use the pejorative, "vegetating." How often do we think of these people and empathise with their situation, much less dedicate a part of our week to them?

    After my parents suffered and died from degenerative brain disorders, I was asked to lead as volunteer an Alzheimer's group on my Mom's old unit for 2 and 1/2 hours a week. I was familiar with the occasional odor, odd behaviour and locks letting me on the ward (and hopefully out). Pleasing these seniors is a breeze - just sing, reinforce hope and orient them to time, place and daily events; i. e., treat them as worthy individuals with personality, memories and awareness. I may have saved some lives in the process.

    All of us eventually will be affected by institutionalization, either as family members, underpaid and unappreciated workers, a mostly indignant society or "residents" ourselves. Who of you has bothered to visit those whom society is too ashamed to throw away, unvisited for years, yet keep out of guilt rather than duty? If you're scared, just think how they feel!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2004 #2
    Are the people you are talking about actually "vegetables" (i.e.-unresponsive), or just in seriously deteriorated mental state?

    Anyway, at least they're not locked up in cages, with infectious diseases untreated and bodies mutilated without anesthetic.
  4. Feb 22, 2004 #3
    The people you seem to be talking about are not "vegetables". Perhaps you have heard people refer to them as such, but that is neither the standard nor the technical usage of the term.

    Do I devote time to people with advanced Alzheimer's and other invalids? No. Could I? Probably, at considerable expense of time and effort.

    But there are a lot of people in the world who could use help that I could potentially provide. I don't help them all. I try to help people when I can, but my time has value to me as well. And the more I give time to others, the more valuble my remaining time becomes. So I don't feel guilty about the fact that I don't spend time helping the infirm.
  5. Feb 23, 2004 #4
    Change, if you wish, the title to "We treat them like vegetables." Some of us become geriatric specialists when we see a beloved grandparent decline from a disease like Alzheimers, but the great majority shrink from responsibility and just hope for themselves a less cruel fate.

    It is true that we must focus our charity, not to spread ourselves too thin or risk being ineffectual to all those we attempt to help. However, a lot of people help no one but themselves.

    The institution I visit houses together those I mentioned: the profoundly retarded, the senile, and victims of brain injury, among others. Labeling ("vegetable") is usually cruel, but here is used to call people to action. This is one of the last frontiers for social concern. Aren't all these humans of value?
  6. Feb 23, 2004 #5


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    Is Stephen Hawking a vegetable too?
  7. Feb 23, 2004 #6

    A guy who used to live in my building had a serious stroke a couple years ago. After the hospital he went to a nursing home not far away and I went over very often to visit and run errands for him (like when he needed batteries for his tape player and stuff).

    On my way in and out I often found other residents glancing up at me hopefully, so I would ay hi, and if they responded I'd stop and chat as much as possible. I met another guy who spent all his time doing puzzles. Apparently he was going through them pretty quickly so I got into the habit of picking up new ones for him on my way over to see the other guy I was actually visiting.

    As far as nursing homes go, this one wasn't bad at all, but there was still the unpleasant feeling of a warehouse about it. The minimum human requirements of food clothing and shelter, plus medical care, all well done, but they stop short at any effort to create rich lives for them.

    Despite the fact that these places are businesses you would hope they would be more proactive in inviting volunteers from churches etc to come and spend time with these people, who aren't in too much of a position to do for themselves.
  8. Feb 23, 2004 #7


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    I certainly agree, LB, that it's a horrible label and it devalues those people's lives. (perhaps used as an excuse not to care or try harder to help)
  9. Feb 23, 2004 #8

    It is wonderful that you keep spending time with Alzheimer patients that are strangers. It is a cause you choose to use your time to help. Bringing awareness to others is important, and you have done this in your post. You also need to understand that people make decisions on whom and how to help. It is my hope that Alzheimer patients would have support of their families. I think that is where you should start your awareness battle.

  10. Feb 23, 2004 #9

    There was once a person with severe cerebral palsy taught to sign by their parents, but subsequently sent to an institution, to be locked 24/7 in a caged crib. No one there knew they were of above average intelligence, until 10 years later when an orderly thought he saw them signing. They were eventually released and put into a more mainstream environment. Many "Stephen Hawkings" may even now lie shackled!


    Thanks for your generosity. You have probably found your reward already.


    They may be the last group to attain civil rights.

    Peter Pan,

    It with sadness that one traces the of waning responsibilities of the extended family over the past century, to be replaced by machines, pills and human warehouses. What goes around comes around.
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