Damien Le Guay is a philosopher, essayist, literary critic, lecturer. He published The Coming Civil War.
hooly-news.com.- How do you see what has been going on in nursing homes for six months?
Damien LE GUAY.- Obviously, the elderly are more vulnerable than others to the pandemic. Almost all of the victims of COVID are over 65. And the older the age, the greater the risks. And for having, at the beginning, forgotten the EHPAD, for not having quickly enough taken the measure of the incurred risks, tragedies appeared, with here and there numerous contaminations, in such or such establishment. Public opinion was moved. And with good reason. But what to do? Containment then applied, like a vast screed of lead, for everyone. A sort of blackout was decreed – as in wartime. Prohibition to move, to go out, to see each other. Restriction of public freedoms. House arrest.
And for the elderly, in the EHPAD, it was, for them, the double penalty. They were already confined, anxious to stay there so as not to burden their families too much, not to annoy them with all their little health problems, but, in return, with the essential assurance of being able to maintain a link with their family and to develop new sociability in the establishment. They withdraw, not to be forgotten but on the contrary to be in a new company, and to be more presentable when the family comes. This pact was broken by general measures to stop activities, movements, travel, meetings – which are all “opportunities” for infection.
The older you get, the more life holds by the “reasons for living” that we give ourselves. Talking with her roommate, kissing her children every fortnight, dining with the other residents.
In doing so, we cut the emotional humus and the relational reasons for being that keep the elderly alive. The older you get, the more life holds by the “reasons for living” that we give ourselves. Talking with her roommate, kissing her children every two weeks, having dinner with the other residents, often hearing from her daughter or grandchildren. This is what gives energy. For the rest of us, confinement was at best an opportunity to “reconfigure” all of our family relationships – through the phone, videoconferences – or even to find ourselves in confinement as a family. But, for people of another time, certain that the end is near, the need of others is immense. Huge or rather vital. To suffer from many disadvantages of age, their center of gravity is linked to this emotional memory developed over the years with friends and family. To no longer be connected, to remain alone, to be condemned to solitary confinement, for them, is to live in prison. A prison with no windows, no visitors, no one to talk to. An invisible prison which, moreover, makes them suspect. They must keep their distance, stay away, so as not to transmit the virus or become infected with it.
After these long months of separation, some advocate limiting, or even banning, again, visits to nursing homes. What do you think?
Of course that would be a mistake. A false good idea. Guilty evidence. One way of not taking into account the damage currently observed. I see three bad reasons that push to close the EHPAD.
Hygienists’ paradise is a world where everyone is locked in a bubble, side by side. Everyone has their own bubble, so as not to share the same air, not to breathe together, not to interact. But is this world livable? No. In the long term, we cannot live in spacesuits, each behind our little masks with “barrier gestures” and in an atmosphere of fear of everything and everyone. The government instills fear. The media maintain this fear. A little yes, to be vigilant. But enough is enough! And doctors and specialists were right to say loud and clear that “we don’t want to be ruled by fear ”. And what is true for everyone is even more so for the elderly. They live on trust. The one they give. The one they receive. More than others, they must justify, in their own eyes, their reasons for living. So to inject fear is to inject a slow poison into their heart!
EHPADs did not have the means to cope; and to protect, as they should have done, the residents while maintaining their essential human interrelationships.
On the other hand, it is obvious that nursing homes have been overwhelmed by this pandemic from the start. We noted that the means of protection were not given to them by the authorities. We now know that the state, oh so unpredictable, stripped France of the masks essential to face and, through a succession of state lies (on the theme “Masks are not necessary”), he cast doubt on the effectiveness of the protections. And, evidently, caught off guard, the government focused its meager means of protection on hospitals. All this meant that the EHPAD did not have the means to cope; and to protect, as they should have done, the residents while maintaining their indispensable human interrelationships with the visits and the meetings and the words exchanged. For want of anything better, everyone was put under a suffocation.
Finally, we do not ask old people their opinion! It was so. The scientific council recommended confinement. The government decided it for everyone and everywhere, without a spirit of finesse or taking into account the specific situations of the “elders”. We cut the ties they had like digging up a tree to better protect it. Because it was all there: protection. The old people had to be protected, including against themselves. Why such paternalism? To consider them, as the Prime Minister did recently, as “grandpa” and “grandma” is to consider them as irresponsible grown-up children! Who should decide what is “incidental” or “necessary” for the elderly? Is it Mr. Delfraissy, so talkative in the media, and so anxious to protect the only bodies? Let us remember that at the time of the de-containment, he even requested that the “People at risk” (and, in the first place the old ones) be confined for another six months. Who did the government ask for its opinion? To hygienists or gerontologists or psychologists specializing in these questions? No.
Body health is not enough! As the psychiatrist Édouard Zarifian said, to face reality, we need all the resources of the imagination and all the help of the symbolic.
Should the health of the body take precedence over the mental health of the being?
We can clearly see the underlying objective of the period we are going through: to save bodies and leave souls. We are seeing a lack of support for people who are dying, a neglect of the old, hasty burials, with as few people as possible in the ceremonies. Masses even hastily made. We do not measure enough, not yet, the damage that appears little by little. Marie de Hennezel already evokes cases of elderly people who allow themselves to die by refusal of food or others who “lose their bearings” for having lost their bearings. Many people feel they have overlooked, by force of circumstances, the death of their parents with even more difficult bereavement. How to deal with these shortcomings, these carelessness?
All this leaves traces. All this will cause great weariness, immense discouragement in living, regrets not having lived up to the event. For the death of our loved ones, many have crossed countries without tears. The tears that tire fear could not be shed. For old people, what will be the consequences of this forced silence?
No, of course, the health of the body is not enough! As the psychiatrist Édouard Zarifian said, to face the real, we also need all the resources of the imagination and all the help of the symbolic. We are made of our dreams, of the words that constitute us and of the stories that give us a story to tell and a coherence to defend. Without this taking into account of our psychic dimension, we are naked bodies, a biological mass without a raison d’être. Is our destiny to be isolated from each other and to consume medicines to calm us down, or to be as alive as possible, full of beautiful emotions and sometimes tears, and anxious to look everywhere “Rough reality to embrace” – as Rimbaud proposed? The choice is ours. I hope that with this Covid crisis, we will choose life – artistic and lawless and beautiful if we give ourselves the means to let it take hold of us.