Nicholas Conley radio WSCA True Tales Alzheimer's audience

True Tales: Past the Horizon Line

Back in February of 2016, I was honored to have the opportunity to share a true story on the radio station WSCA 106.1 FM, and in front of a live studio audience.

That story, which I called “Past the Horizon Line,” was about my real life experiences working in a nursing home, and how my friendship with one particularly amazing Alzheimer’s patient had a profound impact on my life.

As longtime readers know, much of my writing — including my novel Pale Highway (which deals with Alzheimer’s), as well as Clay Tongue: A Novelette (which deals with post-stroke aphasia) and my upcoming book, Intraterrestrial (which deals with traumatic brain injuries) — has been based on my experiences working in healthcare, but it’s not often that I get to share too much about what those real experiences were like, and how they shaped the person I am today. For that reason, I’d like the share this clip with you all, where I tell my story, “Past the Horizon Line.” Thank you for watching.

 

 

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Something in the Nothing Nicholas Conley Alzheimers radio play dementia nursing home new hampshire

Something in the Nothing: A Radio Play

Something in the Nothing Nicholas Conley Alzheimers radio play dementia nursing home new hampshire

From the author of Pale Highway comes a radio play that aired live on WSCA 106.1 FM in New Hampshire, on August 23rd, 2016. Set in a nursing home, Nicholas Conley’s Something in the Nothing tells the simple story of a conversation between an Alzheimer’s patient and his caregiver — a conversation that will have a dramatic impact upon both of their lives, forever.

Something in the Nothing stars the voices of John Pearson, Erika Wilson, Jessica Rainville, Jessie Duthrie, David Phreaner, and Suzy Manzi. The play was directed by John Lovering from an original script by Nicholas Conley.

Listen to Something in the Nothing below:

 

The Huffington Post: The Reality of Nursing Homes

For today’s update, I’m thrilled to share some exciting news with everybody: this morning, I have a piece up on The Huffington Post!

Read it here: The Reality of Nursing Homes

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My feature, “The Reality of Nursing Homes,” is a new examination of a subject that, as you all know, is very close to me, and I’ve taken this opportunity to write about my personal experience, the many serious problems with the nursing home system, and where we go from here.

But the truly agonizing thing about nursing homes is the facelessness of the system that all of these residents live in, locked into a bureaucratic structure where the bottom dollar matters more than human individuality, and where countless people spend the rest of their lives inside tiny shared rooms, hoping for a day where they can finally go back home. A day that, for too many, will never come.

The reality of nursing homes in the 21st century is something we should face as a society, together, and find productive solutions for. Especially as an aging society, with a massive wave of Baby Boomers racing toward a point where huge decisions will have to be made sooner instead of later.

I’m excited to have the chance to share my thoughts on The Huffington Post, and with all of you as well. As always, thank you for your support, reading, and comments; I can never express how much I appreciate all of it.

Cheers,

Nicholas

Understanding Gabriel Schist

Pale Highway is a novel that talks about such diverse themes as Alzheimer’s, nursing homes, the nature of the immune system, autopoiesis, and what it means to be human. But it’s also a novel that centers around the mind of one particularly strange human being, an introverted scientist by the name of Gabriel Schist.

In Gabriel, we find a man with enormous personal strengths — but many equally enormous flaws that existed even before the day he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Without Gabriel Schist, there is no Pale Highway. And one of the things we quickly learn, as we embark on this journey with Gabriel, is that he’s not a narrator we can particularly trust: the state of his dementia is in constant decline. As the story progresses, becomes less and less clear what is reality, and what is imagined.

To that end, in assessing his person, our only hope is to connect the dots, and hope that we’re getting them right.

Beach_GabrielSchist

When we first meet Gabriel at the start of the book, we witness a man whose greatest achievements appear to be long behind him.

Gabriel is the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of a vaccine that changed the world. But Alzheimer’s disease has stripped him of his dignity, and he is spending his last few years in a nursing home known as Bright New Day, where he is constantly treated with sympathy, condescension, and amusement. His once-brilliant mind is tearing itself to pieces, as all of the memories in his life—all of the achievements that he used to define himself—are fading from him, leaving him as little more than a confused old man with a cane.

He struggles to button shirts. He wets the bed. He’s not the same man he once was, and he knows it. Even worse, he knows that it’s only going to get worse from here on out.

Pale Highway - Nicholas Conley

Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

This would be tragic enough, but as we delve deeper into Gabriel’s past, an even muddier truth reveals itself: even before Alzheimer’s stole his memories, Gabriel was a man who failed at many things in his life — things he never quite forgave himself for.

On the surface, Gabriel Schist would seem to be a success story. A child prodigy who predicted HIV decades before it existed, Gabriel was a gifted, brilliant figure fueled a stubborn drive for results, who spent his entire life creating a vaccine that saved countless lives, and rightfully won the Nobel Prize for his efforts. Gabriel’s inspirational life story is one that would go on to inspire countless youth, including his future caregiver Harry Brenton.

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But Gabriel’s greatest gift, his brilliant mind, was also his greatest weakness.

Gabriel was indeed a child prodigy, but he faced the same struggles that many young geniuses face: a profound sense of isolation. Introverted, studious, and focused only on his passion for the immune system to the exclusion of schoolwork and games, Gabriel always felt like an outcast. Gabriel’s well-meaning parents struggled to connect with him, Gabriel didn’t connect to his classmates, and all of these ingredients brewed the perfect concoction for a future alcoholic.

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And sure enough, an alcoholic is what Gabriel became. His studies were mocked by the scientific community, and shut down at every turn. His drinking increased, until it destroyed everything he loved. And this struggle against his own demons defined much of Gabriel’s life, until somehow he was able to turn it around.

Somehow.

And then, right as he sailed over the horizon line and finally found happiness, the Alzheimer’s fairy sprinkled her magic fairy dust on his brain, burning away all of the achievements he’d fought so hard for.

 

“Somewhere in the distance, the Crooner’s never-ending singsong echoed through the halls. Looking to his%2

Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

At the beginning of Pale Highway, Gabriel faces his greatest challenge yet: insignificance. He faces the stark reality of the nursing home system, a place where over a hundred people have been packed into tiny rooms, their every need taken care of, but knowing that the only escape will be the hand of death. For a man whose entire life revolved around his brain’s ability to perform complicated tasks, Bright New Day is the worst fate that Gabriel could ever have imagined.

But then on one bizarre night, just when Gabriel is at his lowest point, a slug crawls up to him—and it speaks.

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As Bright New Day faces the advent of a terrifying new superbug referred to in whispers as “the Black Virus,” Gabriel will be forced to reckon with his flaws in one last ditch chance at saving the world again.

His past will come to haunt him. His future, and the future of everyone around him, will depend on his ability to beat the impossible odds stacked against him, as he faces a virus far more complex than anything he’s ever seen — a threat that is being covered up by the government, and leaving its victims paralyzed with black eyes and throbbing black veins. He stopped a virus before. Can he do it again?

Let’s hope so.

Pale Highway

Available on Amazon.com in Kindle and Paperback

Pale Highway - Nicholas Conley

Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley –

 

 

 

Pale Highway: Book Trailer

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Hey all! Hope everyone had a great Halloween, and that you’ve all successfully recovered from any haunted trees (like the terrifying one pictured above), ghost stories, black magic, werewolf encounters, serial killings, possessed trick-or-treaters, and post-Halloween hangovers that you may have encountered. After another week packed full of busy happenings, I know that I now need to catch up on some Walking Dead episodes.

Red Adept Publishing has released a book trailer for Pale Highway. Check it out below:

Pale Highway Nicholas Conley alzheimers slugs dementia healthcare

Release Day: Pale Highway

After all this time, it’s finally here.  I’m proud to announce that, as of today, Pale Highway is finally available on Amazon.
“Steeped in suspense, Conley’s novel delves into the darker recesses of the medical establishment.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Pale Highway brings his struggles for survival along with his fierce desire to hold off his symptoms long enough to save everyone around him to brilliant, beautiful life.”
Examiner.com
PALE HIGHWAY
Find it at the following links:
What I’m feeling right now is so surreal that I can’t quite put my finger on the right word to describe it. I wrote Pale Highway because I believe that people with Alzheimer’s—people who suffer from a neurodegenerative disease that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed down—deserve recognition. It’s crazy to look back on that first day I began typing this story, or the first day that I set foot in a nursing home and met the many residents who lived there, amazing human beings would have such an unexpected impact on my life. Pale Highway is a book inspired by my connection with these courageous people, conceived during my experiences in healthcare, and finally born here, now, today, in the form of this book that I’ve spent the last few years pouring my heart into.
And so now, here it is, and I hope you all enjoy the read.

 

Hogewey: A Better Kind of Nursing Home

Those who have read my feature on Vox are aware that my experiences as a healthcare worker have given me strong views about the flawed way that our current system treats the elderly. In the contemporary era, the nursing home system is a corporate mess that packs too many people into a crowded hospital-like facility, with not enough staff to properly cover their needs. The problem is inherent in the design: “total institutions”, as Erving Goffman once wrote in his 1961 book Asylums, are systems that break down the individual in order to better serve the system. A total institution will force people to conform to its rituals instead of adapting to the people within the system.

To fix this, a whole new philosophy is needed. To make nursing homes work in a way that respects human beings, the entire system needs a complete overhaul. Now, after reading this article on The Atlantic, I see that one potential idea for that overhaul has a name: Hogewey.

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Hogewey, known as the “dementia village,” takes a creative approach to elder care: instead of packing people into one building and forcing them to follow a routine, Hogewey is designed to be a small, enclosed town wherein residents are given the freedom to live relatively normal lives in an outdoor setting built specifically for their needs.

Hogewey has its own grocery store, a town square, a post office, a restaurant, a theater, and more, which residents are free to walk around in, socialize, and pass the time however they choose.  Caregivers wear street clothes, and take on roles such as gardeners and cashiers, though no money is exchanged in the transactions. This freedom is exactly the quality that is so lacking in regular nursing homes, and it allows the residents to truly form their own community.

In addition to the obvious fact that residents are happier, CNN reports that residents require fewer medications, eat better, and live longer. Not surprising, really.

hoge

Hogewey’s philosophy is best described on their website:

Hogewey’s view on care is founded in day to day life in society. In normal society living means having your own space to live and managing your own household. People live together with other people sharing the same ideas and values in life. This makes the place where one lives a home. Hogeweyk residents have already lived a life where they shaped their own life, where they made choices about their own household and standards. The fact that a resident cannot function “normally” in certain areas, being handicapped by dementia, does not mean that they no longer have a valid opinion on their day to day life and surroundings. The residents opinion on life, housing, values and standards determine their “lifestyle”.

Hogewey is a brilliant idea, the exact sort of out of the box thinking that inspires real change in the world. While it’s easy to look at the dire state of nursing homes and cry that it’s impossible to fix, Hogewey proves that change is possible: it just requires a little creativity.  Hogewey has already inspired similar dementia villages in Ontario and Switzerland, and with any luck, Hogewey’s success will inspire even more ventures. Perhaps someday, the flawed nursing home structure that we know today will be a relic of the past.

Nursing homes have a long way to go, and if things are to ever improve, then there are a lot of battles still ahead.  Still, the fact that a place like Hogewey exists gives me hope for future.


This article was also published on Medium.

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