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Are You Driven to Fix

Nurses, physicians, caregivers, and family alike tell me that they often feel helpless, hopeless, and useless at the end of a patient’s life.

When we change our focus and our goal from fixing to connecting we realize the potential to make a difference in any challenge and any circumstance. Whether it is companioning during the dying process or listening to someone’s grief, we can be helpful, hopeful, and useful with our compassionate presence. As Naomi Rachel Remen teaches so eloquently, service is what we are, not what we do.

When we go to someone in need with an open heart and our belief that there is potential for peace…when we believe in the patient’s ability to grow, and in our ability to be present…when we participate, instead of fix, we companion a fellow human being and that, indeed, changes the experience of illness, dying, and grief.

In what ways have you been able to relinquish the “drive to fix” someone else in their time of pain? What did you say to yourself that moved you to be of service and present with your loved one? How would you be willing to offer intimacy and connection at the end of life, and restore the patient’s sense of autonomy and control?

I came across this piece written by Lani Leary called The Power of Permission and I think she captures so many truths about the essence of serving people at end of life. (Source: www.psychologytoday.com)
Tom was 84-years old and widowed. His adult children lived several hundred miles away. His closest pal did not want to remember his old friend in his decaying state, and so did not visit him. The only traffic through Tom’s hospital room was the changing guard of shift nurses, interns on rounds, and his doctor.

I was sitting quietly with Tom for a morning one weekend and I took quiet note of the lack of touch and eye contact that Tom was given. He told me he felt tied to his bed and at the mercy of other people’s schedules; he was regularly woken in the middle of the night despite informing the charge nurse of his difficulty falling to sleep. I noted how rarely he was addressed by name and how cursory human contact became.

Tom needed human eyes to look into his. It only takes one moment to connect if we are mindful, centered, and intentional. Tom wanted to be seen and to have the feeling that someone else knew he was still in the world. He told me that he craved the warmth of genuine, deliberate human touch that might silently confirm for him that he was not dirty, ugly, or decaying. He needed the touch that communicated to him that he was a valuable human being and still mattered.

I was there as the volunteer hospital chaplain. I saw myself as a professional listener and companion through the mystery of illness, decline, and dying. I served at the invitation of the patient. I asked for their permission to enter the room; I inquired if they would like to see me; I would not assume that they wanted to talk with me. The invitation was crucial to their sense of personal power, control, and boundaries during a time when the circumstances of their life were taking all of those qualities away.

There were times in my work when I questioned what my presence had accomplished, but I always knew that I had given patients back a sense of control and choice because I asked for their permission to serve. You can do this too for your loved ones as they decline or face medical crises.

Our high-tech modern hospital is a revolving door of acute care, and patients often tell me they feel like a number instead of a unique personality, or are identified by their disease rather than their name . If that experience causes them distress, how can we change it for them? Family members, hospital staff, friends, and volunteers can all assume the posture of a humble servant, asking permission to enter a patient’s room. We can demonstrate, through our attitude and actions, that the patient’s needs are the priority over our plans and agenda. We can openly inquire, listen, and give the patient more control over the circumstances of care.

What would that look like? It means inquiring about a person’s needs instead of assuming, giving the patient more determination in the who, what, when, and how concerning his or her care. It means not expecting one patient to be like the last, or assuming they need the same things as others in a similar situation. It means not expecting the person to have the same needs, feelings, or perspective that they did the day before. It means inquiring what and when a patient would like to eat. It means using their name, and looking them in the eye. It means asking permission to touch, and then holding their hand from underneath rather than above, so that they can determine when to let go.

Thank you, Lani, for posing these profound questions.  They are worth a moment of pondering.

This blog was originally posted on Ann Catlin's blog Compassionate Touch®

Guest Article by Ann Catlin OTR, LMT, who is an acknowledged expert in the field of massage therapy in elder care and hospice, as well as a Pedagogy author. Visit Pedagogy to see the courses she authors through our site.

Posted: 11/4/2013 1:48:47 PM
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