Stephen Jenkinson - A Plea for Sanity

Three geese in a flock.
One flew east, one flew west,
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
O-U-T spells OUT,
Goose swoops down and plucks you out.
— Children’s folk rhyme
                                  Ken Rose

                                  Ken Rose

In the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a free-spirited McMurphy and his contagious sense of delightful chaos clashes with the numbing routine of the hospital and the woman in charge of making sure nothing disrupts the sedate mood of the floor, Nurse Ratched. Ken Rose, a good friend and interviewer of the What Now podcast show introduced me to the work of Stephen Jenkinson. On January 27, two days before he was to interview Stephen, Ken suffered a stroke resulting in vascular dementia. The impact of the stroke has left him with short term memory loss. He is currently at Heywood Hospital, against his will, waiting to be transferred to another facility.

You might ask what this has to do with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stephen Jenkinson and Ken Rose. If you ever had a chance to meet Ken or listen to his interviews, he carried a deep grief for the state of the world, and felt we had little time to change the course of our actions before we headed towards planetary collapse. He worked relentlessly over the last 4 years interviewing over 400+ thinkers, writers, activists who envisioned a sustainable world, not plagued by endless war, resource depletion, and anthropogenic climate change. He was not afraid to express his grief, and in conversation had little patience for small talk. He could be quite cantankerous, and yet he carried an immense gratitude for so many people, including Stephen Jenkinson.

Stephen's new book, Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Stephen and Ken developed a deep understanding and friendship through their many interviews. Stephen's experience as a program director of a major Canadian hospital and his work in palliative care and hospice organizations, gives him great insight into the shortcomings of how we 'care' for the aging population with mental and physical impairments.

Ken finds himself in the geriatric psychiatric hospital ward, that he describes as 'living hell'. I am not to suggest here that Ken does not need any mental and physical assistance. He does not have the ability, at this point, to live by himself because of vascular dementia. But he could easily become one of the forgotten elderly people that inhabit the sterile halls of our nursing homes. Where is the compassion and dignity, a plea for sanity, that Ken and others in his situation deserve? 

I invite you to listen to my conversation with Stephen and Ken, who joins us from the hospital later in the interview.

Music credit: First We Take Manhattan, Leonard Cohen

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