Giota, a Living Symbol of Resilience

Article Contributed by Guest Author Patrick B. McLaughlin M.A., M.Ed.

‘Films that Transform’ is a series of documentaries whose stated purpose is captured in the outline: “The journey toward growth and transformation on the life journey is marked by both promise and pitfalls for each of us.”

The film presented most recently was ‘Giota’s Journey’, the story of a 48-year old Montreal lady born with cerebral palsy, unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair.  However, Giota is a living symbol of resilience; she may not be able to speak but she is able to communicate.  Unwilling to accept remaining imprisoned in her own isolation, Giota, using the Bliss system, named after its creator, is able to reveal her dreams, her joy, her disappointments and aspirations through movement of her eyes in the direction of non-visible dual columns of numbers allowing a trained interpreter to verbalize her thoughts.

In the case of such a multiple “handicapped” individual whose very existence depends on the ongoing presence of family and external caretakers, is it possible to recognize any semblance of ‘Personal Power’?  However, rather than floundering in a morass of self-pity, Giota courageously reached beyond the limitations of her condition and is currently enrolled in a Psychology programme at a Junior College.  I would presume that it is not her intention to one day work in this area.  The ultimate goal is irrelevant; that Giota would even contemplate such a journey is a demonstration of the “Personal Power” factor which incited her to fully utilize her intelligence rather than allow herself to spend her life under a cloud of self-rejection and isolation.

In spite of Giota’s very apparent physical and neurological limitations which quite possibly may initially stimulate negative reactions, it is evident that her courage, determination and optimistic personality may serve as a wake-up call to lead one to appreciate that the external image does not define who the other person is.  Giota’s “Interpersonal Effectiveness” skill may sow the seeds of reflection in appreciating differences.

In a later conversation with Dr. Tom Hutchinson, professor in the Medical Faculty of McGill University, a reference was made to “Interpersonal Effectiveness” as an essential quality among medical practitioners.  I asked him what impact this documentary would hopefully have on young medical students.  He expressed a hope that the experience of seeing someone who, at first glance, appeared so ‘different’ would encourage aspiring caregivers to see the ’whole person’, not simply the health issue.  In other words, medical practice would be greatly enhanced by the development of “Interpersonal Effectiveness”.

Dr. Hutchinson is in charge of the ‘Whole Person Care’ programme whose mission is to ‘transform western medicine by synergizing the scientific advances of modern biomedicine with the potential for healing in every healthcare encounter.’

A later blog will cover the conversation which I had with Dr. Hutchinson in which we looked at the value of Social and Emotional Intelligence awareness in the next generation of medical practitioners.

One Response to “Giota, a Living Symbol of Resilience”

  • Patrick, thank you for your blog post. As you point out, the practice of medicine would, in many cases, be enhanced not only by enhanced Interpersonal Effectiveness, but with self and other awareness competencies as a start. It would be interesting to look at whether the lack of these competencies is due in part to the training by some medical schools that seek to anesthetize their students from the emotions of their patients (and those of themselves should they lose a patient) or if some of those drawn to medicine lack these competencies, or to a combination of factors. I remember reading recently that several medical schools are now including instruction on Social and Emotional Intelligence, so that would point to the fact that this issue is gaining recognition.
    I look forward to reading your follow-up blog post.