Last night saw the conclusion of Terry Pratchett’s Living With Alzheimer’s. While I remained somewhat unconvinced with the crusade Terry was on in the last episode, this final slot was much more interesting to watch. It became clear, to me at least, that it wasn’t so much a crusade the best-selling author was on. He just wanted to understand what was happening to him and his brain.
The main difference between this and the last show was the way TP was beginning to accept his condition. That’s not to say that he wasn’t optimistic about a miraculous cure (he still was), but he talked more about death, and the ‘end game’ as if it was something people shouldn’t be afraid of.
Seeing him in a home for people suffering with Alzheimer’s was a revelation, and very sobering. The patients lived in different areas of the home for different stages of the illness. It was hard not to find this uncomfortable – these last stages of life are things that we don’t normally think about, let alone see on television. The nurses explained that the patients walked a lot, often on their own fantasy journey, and were encouraged to do so. This touched a nerve with Pratchett. After all, it’s his job to spend his days in a fantasy world, and this was something that he could relate to.
Somehow, after the visit to the home, his journey didn’t seem so scary. So much so he began to talk about the character, Death, in his Discworld novels, a character that people aren’t scared by.
Pratchett realised that it wasn’t Alzheimer’s that killed people. Of course the disease shuts down peoples’ brains, but it’s the other health problems lead to death. The fear of the unknown seemed to be much worse for Pratchett, despite him finding comfort in not knowing what will happen in the future.
This show, if nothing else, gave Pratchett a better understanding about his illness. He travelled to see ‘miracle working doctors’ in America who injected a patient with a drug originally used for arthritis. While it didn’t cure the patient, it lessened the symptoms of the illness despite the doctor being widely discredited. Through a television screen, the treatment didn’t seem to do very much but to Pratchett the effects of the experiment were visible: “That’s the difference between a cloudy day, and a sunny day.”
When it’s put that simply, you could see what a difference something like that would make to someone’s life.
Pratchett said at the very end that he wanted to be known again as a writer, not a man suffering with Alzheimer’s. He’s wasn’t afraid of death. He wasn’t scared of ‘the light going out’. He just wanted to finish his book first, because he knew it might be his last.