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TV Review: Terry Pratchett – Living with Alzheimer’s, BBC Two, Wednesday 11 February, 9pm

By ShinyMedia on February 12th, 2009 1 comment

terry.jpgLast 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.

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  • Tony

    Throughout the last episode I felt a real parallel with Terry albeit I am not an Alzheimer’s sufferer (yet). The essence of the program, at least for me, was the similarity to Terry’s internal struggle with things that he has little or no control over. An unfathomable fear of the unknown and a deep worry of the legacy he might leave his wife and child.

    I believe many of us have a real empathy with Terry although this is not to belittle Terry’s plight. The fact is that many of us will suffer the same fate and I applaud Terry’s attitude in not taking it lying down. Like most men (according to my wife) he wants to find the answer and fix it. If there is something out there that might help and, you have the wherewithal to do something about it, then go for it!

    I understand there are a number of drugs in the final phase of development that give us all real hope for the future. One (being developed by an Irish company) is not that far away and, although it has had some mixed press, the underlying message is very positive.

    I have never read a book of Terry’s although I plan to do so in future. However, I doubt this will enlighten me about the man who is clearly going through a lot of torment.

    Good luck on your search Terry. Your energy to keep fighting is inspirational and, maybe – just maybe, there is something round the corner that will stop this awful disease in its tracks!

    Tony and family

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