Revelations In Florida

Insights on the meanings of “Prisoner of Her Past” have come from many sources, and this week they were delivered by some very savvy psychiatrists.

During a Florida tour organized by Dr. Marc Agronin, we presented the film at the annual meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, in Orlando on March 17. After the screening, doctors discussed and debated what could be done for a patient like my mother, whose childhood Holocaust traumas have distorted her perception of reality, leading her to believe that the world once again is conspiring to kill her.

The doctors offered a variety of viewpoints, but I found the comments of Dr. Alessandra Scalmati particularly moving and persuasive. As a psychiatrist who has treated Holocaust survivors for years, Dr. Scalmati argued passionately that doctors should not presume that they can “fix” horrific memories that are so deeply rooted in trauma and in the past. Instead, Dr. Scalmati urged psychiatrists to acknowledge what their survivor patients endured, listen attentively to their stories and cheap cialis online respect the ways in which the survivors are attempting to cope with their difficult personal histories.

My mother’s current fears and paranoia, in other words, clearly are her means of responding to recurrent traumas. To tell my mother – or people like her – that her delusions are unreal and her behavior in need of modification is not only futile but a mistake. Instead, all of us – doctors and caregivers – must try to comfort people who suffer like my mother, rather than try to impose upon them a different way of thinking and acting.

The following night we showed the film at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center to an overflow audience that included many Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren. Dr. Agronin, medical director for mental health and clinical research at Miami Jewish Health Systems, took the podium to introduce the film. He pointed out that although my mother isn’t telling her story in the linear, narrative manner that we might prefer, she surely is doing so in her own way: through her actions, through her delusions and through her re-enactments of her Holocaust experiences. There are no words, after all, to adequately express what she and other survivors endured. But by appearing unflinchingly before the camera, she has assured that her story is heard.

— Howard Reich

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