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Forgetting Who You Are

By David Haldane

May 6, 2021

 

The scene made me cry.

In it, Anthony Hopkins—who recently won an academy award for his performance in “The Father”—whimpers piteously as tears flow down his cheeks like the first ripples of a tsunami about to consume him. “Mommy,” the 83-year-old actor sobs, “I want my mommy. I want her to come and fetch me. I want to go home.”

And just like that, I’m transported back to mine.

Like Hopkins’ character in the movie, my father suffered from Alzheimer’s. And just like that character, he eventually faded and disappeared into nothingness. “The last time I saw Dad alive,” I wrote in a 2015 memoir, ‘Nazis & Nudists,’ “he was lying in his bed at the terrible nursing home to which we’d consigned him. Suddenly, the clouds parted in a moment of clarity. ‘Do you think I’m getting better?’ my father asked.”

The answer, of course, was obvious and a few days later he died.

Now that terrible disease—from which about 11 million suffer worldwide including a projected 568,000 Filipinos by 2030—finds itself at the center of an angry debate. The question at hand: just how thoroughly and long should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration study a potential cure before issuing its blessed approval?

The same issue has drawn lots of attention lately in the context of the COVID pandemic. Under Project Warp Speed, scientists representing pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna worked closely with FDA regulators to achieve emergency authorization of new anti-virus vaccines in record time. Some critics maintain, even today, that the federal agency cut too many corners and took too many shortcuts.

More recently, the agency came under fire from critics on the opposite side convinced that it had exercised too much caution in temporarily halting distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID vaccine.

Enter Biogen Inc., a Massachusetts-based company with a promising new treatment for Alzheimer’s called Aducanumab. Scientists believe the nightmarish condition that snatched my father into oblivion results from the buildup of plaque and tangled proteins in the brain. And in late-stage trials, the new drug appeared to remove 71% of that plaque after 18 months of treatment. The result: an 84% drop in dependency on caregivers, 91% less decline in the ability to prepare meals and a 39% decrease in the inability to discuss current events.

“In short,” the Wall Street Journal recently reported, “patients treated with high doses of Biogen’s drug were much more independent and capable.”

Few things in life are simple, however, and neither is this: other trials showed mixed results. All of which has sparked a fierce debate between those eager to move forward and others more inclined to hold back. The FDA, according to the Journal, “is under political pressure… to reject Biogen’s drug” even though “doing so could set back Alzheimer’s drug development by years…”

I, for one, vote for moving forward absent any clear evidence of harm.

Which brings us back to that sparkling Oscar-winning movie. It’s genius lies in the portrayal of a world seen through the eyes of a confused old man in the latter stages of dementia. Characters change faces and names without warning, time jumps through invisible hoops and an apartment keeps evolving into strange new shapes and forms.

Was that how my poor father experienced his final days?

With God’s help, I shall never find out. And with the FDA’s, neither will millions of others.

 

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David Haldane’s latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author and radio broadcaster now dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines.

 

 

Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Simon J Gibson says:

    An excellent piece. Life is complicated, human life almost unimaginably complicated with, often, small but important biological differences between each of us. This makes creating a safe and effective ‘one drug fixes everyone’ with condition ‘X’ incredibly difficult. It is why huge clinical trials are undertaken to try and maximise the data sample diversity. All drugs, in fact everything, put into a human has an effect on that human. Often there’s a fine line between harm and benefit and hence the huge precautions taken by drug regulators. The Covid-19 vaccine experience has shown what can be done providing the payoff/need and will is great enough, we need to ensure the principle is applied to the big medical challenges.

    • David Haldane says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Simon. I’m sure all this will be worked out in time. Until then, though, I think there is great need for the kind of insight you provide.

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