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Courier Article by Sean Davis
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Writers Delve into Challenging Life Experiences

It is often hard to believe that our life experiences are shared by millions of others every day. From birth to death, the challenges, triumphs and tragedies are not necessarily as unique as we often wish to believe. However, this similarity of life lessons should be embraced and approached with an open mind and heart so we may gain insight through others' examples.

In his book "Making Rounds With Oscar: the extraordinary gift of an ordinary cat" Dr. David Dosa relates his experience with an end of life issue that many of us will face. A gerontologist, Dr. Dosa has years of experience dealing with patients suffering from dementia and the many problems that accompany an illness that robs them of the faculties to stay connected to their family and even themselves. Dr. Dosa relates the story of Oscar the cat and his uncanny ability to foresee the eminent death of people under his care. While intriguing in the uniqueness of the cat's story, it is in the universal portrayal of symptoms, treatments and subsequent repercussions of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses that Dosa makes his mark. Through his investigation of Oscar's strange ability to predict each patient's death, Dosa gives his reader a more solid understanding of the harsh truths that accompany such a devastating disease. From family members' denial, to the erratic behavior of the patients, Dr. Dosa gives a blueprint of the progression of such a terrible disease and many of the pitfalls and mistakes that patients and their family often make. Interlaced with his professional recounting, the reader finds a story of hope and awareness that such an illness is often beyond our ability to cope with alone.

While real life cases are often a good way for people to come to grips with an issue like Alzheimer's, fiction can be just as powerful for others. In "Lost: a novel" Alice Lichtenstein provides her reader with a story of a woman who has literally lost her husband who is suffering from advanced dementia. When the former architect goes missing in the middle of winter after leaving his home while his caretaker wife is getting the mail, a series of events lead the characters to a devastating discovery that makes way for new beginnings. The toll taken on the wife from the years of looking after her husband with the belief that were she to seek outside help she would be a failure, echoes several of the real life examples found in David Dosa's book. The tragic repercussions of the protagonist's decision to take care of her own are example enough to state the dangers in not facing the reality of such a situation.

The complexity of the human brain is part of the problem facing patients, family and caregivers coping with Alzheimer's disease. However, such a disease is not the only potential problem faced by modern patients. In "Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing – and Discovering – The Primal Sense" Bonnie Blodgett tells her own story of losing her sense of smell. Through an adverse reaction to an over the counter nasal spray, Blodgett comes to grip with what it means to lose part of her sensory perception. Through meticulous research the author gives the reader a full understanding of the importance of such a poorly appreciated ability. Through her bouts of depression to her realization of what she had lost, the author lends the reader a fuller understanding of what it means to lose something many around her continues to see as trivial. Only through her acceptance of the loss and later return of her olfactory sense does Blodgett herself realize the intricate way the brain and the senses are so intimately tied.

Through understanding and compassion much can be learned from people suffering from these illnesses. With the help of professionals like David Dosa, and through realization that we are not alone in our dilemma, even the most frightening of obstacles can be overcome.