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The Biography of Stephen Hawking: History of Diagnosis

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In 1963, Stephen Hawking is a normal physics PhD student at Cambridge, who enjoys parties, rowing, and hanging out with his friend Bryan. Stephen meets languages student Jane at a party. The two are attracted to each other and they attend a May Ball. Stephen overcomes his shyness and dances with Jane. Unfortunately, one morning he suffers a terrible fall on campus. Doctors examine him and determine that he has motor neuron disease. They tell him his muscles will deteriorate and he only has two years to live.

Motor Neuron Disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) happens when specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called motor neurons stop functioning properly. Motor neurons control muscle activity such as gripping, walking, speaking, swallowing and breathing. As the condition progresses, people with this disease find these activities increasingly difficult and eventually the person may be unable to move. They may find that communicating, swallowing and breathing may also become very difficult. (NHS inform)

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Stephen is devastated by this diagnosis and pushes Bryan and Jane away. However, Jane continues to pursue him. Jane pushes Stephen to play croquet with her and that is when she sees how truly physically challenged the disease has made him. Stephen is once again devastated, but Jane still wants to marry him. Stephen’s father tries to dissuade her from marrying him because he’s afraid that it would be a devastating loss for her.

Still, the couple happily marries and soon conceive two children. Stephen passes his PhD and works as a lecturer and his research is gaining admirers. Unfortunately, his physical condition is rapidly deteriorating. He cannot speak fluently, walk, or eat on his own. Looking after him exhausts Jane but Stephen does not want to get professional help. Seeing how stressed out she is, Jane’s mother suggests that she joins a church choir. There she meets choirmaster Jonathan who recently lost his wife and is lonely. Jonathan quickly becomes a family friend, but this is frowned upon by Stephen’s family. And for good reason, as Jane and Jonathan eventually decide to step apart from each other because they have developed feelings for each other. But Stephen convinces Jonathan to return.

Stephen decides to go to a concert in France. However, there he falls ill with pneumonia and is put on life support. To save him, doctors operate on his throat which completely takes away his ability to speak. Meanwhile, Jane and Jonathan were becoming closer on a camping trip together. Jane agrees to the surgery and Stephen must eventually learn to communicate using a spelling board. The couple’s life gets harder from this point. Stephen is appointed a trained nurse, Elaine, and she is able to communicate with Stephen with ease. Later, a computer app soon helps give Stephen a voice to his thoughts and he forms a fun relationship with Elaine.

Meanwhile, Stephen’s work is getting him global accolades. He tells Jane that Elaine will be going with him on a lecture tour to America. It is at this point that Jane realizes their marriage is over, but the couple remains friends. Jane eventually marries Jonathan. When Stephen is invited by the Queen to be honored, he invites Jane and their children as a token of their friendship.

The storyline essentially follows the personal life of Stephen and Jane and how they build a life together despite extreme physical and emotional distress. Stephen is a husband and father, but his condition makes him completely dependent on Jane. She leaves school and any chance at a promising career in her field to devote all her time and energy to Stephen and being a house wife.

Jane’s religious background may have influenced her unwavering devotion to Stephen. While her love for Stephen is what made her stay in the first place even though he probably only had a few years left to live, I believe that her faith in the Church is what caused her to continuously support and take care of her husband even when she initially found herself falling for Jonathan. As a Christian, Jane would had viewed taking care of Stephen and being a devout wife as her Godly duty. In fact, even when both Jane and Jonathan finally acknowledged their feelings for each other, Jane wanted to step away and repress those feelings out of love and respect for her husband and their marriage. If Stephen had not left her for his nurse, I would not be surprised if Jane would have stayed with him until death did them apart, just off of the strength of her faith.

Stephen’s disability had a profound effect on his spirituality as well. When Stephen met Jane, he was a textbook atheist, believing in no higher power. The fact that his prognosis was death within two or three years, and the fact that he was able to surpass that by decades, caused him to confess to Jane that he does think that there might be a creator; a higher power that goes beyond science and research.

Stephen actually goes through all 5 of the major themes in regard to disability and spirituality: purpose, awareness, connections, creativity, and acceptance. Prior to his diagnosis, Stephen didn’t have much purpose or meaning to his life. Fearing that he only had a few years to live, Stephen threw himself into his work and really focused on getting his PhD, furthering his research and making a difference in the world. This can also serve as an example of sublimation: transforming impulses into something constructive. (Wilderdom) Jane also showed signs of sublimation by joining the church choir when feeling stressed out by Stephen’s condition.

Further, Stephen’s condition caused him to be aware of his inner strength and human being’s overall ability to endure. When a student asks Stephen about his philosophy of life, he says life is about hope, courage and human endeavor, to which there is no boundary. Stephen didn’t necessarily join a church, but he was able to connect with Jane on a deeper level by informing her of his new found belief in God. Their marriage still deteriorated, but their friendship definitely grew stronger from this. Creativity comes into play when considering the methods Stephen used to communicate once he lost his ability to do so: a spelling board, then a computer application. Although his body was mostly non-functioning, he learned to live with it and still find ways to give voice to his thoughts and share these thoughts with the world.

Lastly, Stephen ultimately learn to accept his physical conditions but maintained that no matter how bad life gets, there is always something you can do and succeed at. I think that this movie was accurate in displaying the numerous obstacles that people with disabilities and their families face. While the story focused mostly on Stephan and Jane’s relationship, it also depicts how disabilities can affect other familial relationships. Their children were affected as the oldest was essentially one of Stephen’s caretakers. Stephen’s parents were insensitive to their situation: they offered no help and scolded Jane for searching for outside help. At one point, they invited the couple to their farm home which was not wheel chair accessible at all, making it very difficult for Jane.

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