Friday, December 17, 2010

Old Movies

I was channel surfing the other day and stopped for a few moments on Ellen. She was talking about old black and white movies and how the people talked so fast. She imitated them and I snickered; I didn't remember them talking fast and figured she was just exaggerating for a laugh or two.

And last night I dug through my two month old pile of DVD's from Netflix and found one that fit the time slot I was trying to fill: and hour and a half..Title: Brief Encounter. I scratched my head after I read the description, wondering how I ever ended up with this in my watch list. Ah, yes it all comes back to me now, this was recommended by AW, a hospice patient of mine..months ago!

The movie was released in 1945, is black and white and takes place in England or some place similar. It is about the accidental meeting and subsequent whirlwind ' almost' affair of two previously happily married people. It was very moving and well portrayed.

I am so sorry I did not watch this movie immediately when I ordered it, when AW was still functioning and able to share her dreams and insights. She is almost vegetable now and I will never know if suggesting this film was the beginning of a deeper sharing of her life experience. She always had some very personal and interesting stories to tell and none of them were ever of regret. I guess that is what made it special. So now I can only hope for a moment of lucidity and that she can fill me in on the details that will otherwise remain a mystery to me.

And YES, they talk very fast in the old movies!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Do You Want to Hear a Story?

The first time I went to visit with her, she was laying rigidly with arms straight under a blanket pulled up to her chin. She looked straight up at the ceiling and would only talk when asked a question and then would say only yes or no after some hesitation. Her eyes never moved from the ceiling and she never moved her body. Her son was there trying to talk with her but got these short responses. It looked like it was going to be a difficult 'visit' for me.

I tried asking some questions like how is the food? Nothing. Is it good? Pause...Pause...yes. It went on like that until I ran out of questions (very quickly). So I chatted a bit about the weather, the facility and the folks who work here; she seemed to listen intently. So I took a chance...I asked if she would like a story read to her. Yes.

I carry around several books from the Chicken Soup for series; I pulled one out of my bag and scanned the index for a topic that might somehow fit the situation...I couldn't find anything. So I went with what my gut and heart told me, they usually never fail.

The title of the short story was "Amy Graham" by Mark V Hansen. It is the story of a young lady diagnosed with terminal leukemia...she had three days left. As part of Make-a-Wish foundation she wanted to attend this healing service held in Denver, Colorado. Mark Hansen is a motivational speaker who was to conduct three services and one prosperity consciousness workshop. He was surprised that a 17 year old wanted to spend her last time doing this instead of some fun visit to Disney.

He was so moved by her desire that he asked the full house if they wanted to learn a healing process that may serve them for life; it seemed every hand raised. He explained the process, they did it and aimed their healing energies toward Amy. She returned home and two weeks later called to inform him that she had been discharged and was in total remission.

I finished the story and looked her right in the eye, she seemed to have a little spark there. I took the instruction from the process in the book...rub hands together vigorously and direct them toward the patient with loving thoughts. I held my hands several inches above her body and waved them from her head to her toes and back again. The little glint was still there. She said thank you.

I will pray for you tonight I said as I left. See you next Saturday. Yes.

Next Saturday when I got there I perused the chart that lists patients. It indicates the most recent changes in their condition whether it be up or down or if they have passed. I was shocked to see that she had moved from the worst classification to a full step higher...she is functioning much better! She may be relocating to a rehabilitation center and away from the Hospice House.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's the Little things

One of the things that I like best about volunteer visiting for Hospice is that when I least expect it, I come away with something that affects me profoundly. Now, you are probably thinking that it is something that I say or do that impacts my patients life but you would be wrong. It is something that my patients say to me that makes those bells go off in my head.

Guess it would be best to give you an example of what I'm talking about. Lately I have been doing a lot of chores around the house; just maintenance sort of stuff, nothing esoteric or exotic! So, while I am visiting my folks the conversation will inevitably turn to the question " so what have you been doing lately?"

I always make it a point to avoid talking about myself and my interests, but sometimes it's better to just answer the question. It often leads to another story or remembrance that they feel like sharing. I found myself in just that predicament today. " What have you been doing lately?"

I replied:

I've been treating my fence with a waterproofing application and then as if that is not enough I tell them that I am refinishing the chairs from my dining room set. Usually discussion about either of these two things would result in a comment like: "that's nice...what else is new?"

But not so with these folks. They invariably say:

" I wish I could do that!"

Gratitude for even the mundane things in life is real.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's Called Respect

One of the folks I visit weekly has Parkinson's Disease...this is a nasty one that gradually (sometimes not so gradually) takes away one's ability to do anything. One of the obvious signs is an uncontrollable shaking of the limbs; but the symptoms go much further than that, eventually they will inhibit the ability to walk, eat, talk...well, I think you get the picture.

Anyway, this lady has moved along, as this disease has assaulted her dignity in so many ways, accepting whatever it hands her and making the best of it. I noticed that she had an adult potty standing against the wall in her bedroom; it was a new fixture. I asked about it and she said "It just appeared. I didn't ask for it and I don't want it but there it is."

Here is what one looks like

She went on to ask what she was supposed to do with it. She can still manage to get up, with help and the REAL toilet is only about four steps further that this portable thing. Is she honestly supposed to get help to get to the adult potty so she can then smell the after-effects for the rest of the night (or day as the case may be)? She is rather adamant about it. She wants it gone. It is not only a matter of pride and decency but using it (in her mind) means...the end. Don't they get it?

I heard her lament and down inside somewhere I was cheering for her. Good for you I was saying. You are still a person that deserves respect. You've got mine. Then the conversation moved on to other things. This was even more distressing.

She doesn't get many visitors; when she does is it her children (just a few years younger than me) and it seems that with each visit she gets more and more upset. They come for the obligatory visit and spend time in her living room with her. So what is the problem, I ask. They come with their computers and hand-held gadgets. They are physically here but they spend all their time on those blasted gizmos. So I let her go on about it. I know what she means; I see people out for dinner and everyone at the table is pushing some buttons or yakking into a cell phone...everybody wants to make a connection, but not with each other. I had to confront someone on the way to visit with her. They were obviously texting while driving, swerving all over the road. I decided that it was safer to stay behind them at 55mph in a 70 mph zone than to be in front of them.

So, you're feeling that they are rude and being insensitive toward you? Yes, that's is exactly it. Well, I know what you mean but I am afraid I don't have any answers for you.

Oh, by the way, I won't be here next week I am taking a little trip. She says, while you are at it see if you can find someone in need of the potty...I want it out of here!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Me? Fragile?

There have been two elderly ladies in the Hospice Home where I visit for several months without having shown any significant decline in status. Both of these ladies have opted to transfer/move to rehab/nursing centers. The thought is they can better mingle with other folks and get a little more physical activity.

Both exhibit a depth of determination that underlines their vision. This is not what one would call a rally. This is a festering of life wanting to be lived. And so they moved.

Each to a different facility; each on the same day.

I visited the 97 year old on Wednesday evening; I remember she has commented that the nights get really lonely. The shock on her face when I knocked on her door and entered the room was palpable. The grin flashed quickly and grew as much a humanly possible. I was very clear to me that the move was very scary and once in place...the new place, very lonely. Just to know someone cares; it is written all over her face...the gratitude. It is the unexpected love that shocks you the most I think. The rehab hasn't started yet but she is hoping it will soon. She wants to walk again.

Then on Thursday I visited with the other lady. When I got to her room she was visibly emotionally drained, curled up in bed and in the much as could be in a semi-private room. When she heard my knock on the door she turned a little to see what was going on. Then the relief of seeing a friendly face overtook her. She was weak and crying. I hugged her and then hugged her some more, clearly this is the medicine she needed just then. We talked about the move and the settling in process, we walked to the solarium and talked a bit more. But really, it was the hugs that she really needed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

She's Doing What?

I've been visiting weekly with a 97 year old Hospice Home patient for over two months; you start to develop a relationship when you can see them for that long. Anyway, I've discovered that as people knowingly approach dying, they reveal some 'wicked' sense of humor, as only they can because of their obvious circumstances. I was amply rewarded Saturday.

We were chatting about what happened to be news..I mentioned that there was a big celebration for the world's oldest man this past week...he was 114 and lives in Great Falls, Montana. She agreed that she had read about it and yes it was really something. Then she asked did I know that there was a woman right here in the Hospice Home that was 101? She tilted her head a little just to see me reaction. I said "yes, I know about her". (I did not add that she had died). What she said next really shocked me...

She said: "she put in a garden this year!" and then she paused and threw her head back and laughed!

Here is someone who is ready for both life and death.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How to Find a Man

During my visit with a woman who is on the right side of 80 and still going (somewhat) we got on the subject of men. In particular, finding one. She gave me this sage advice:

"What you have to do is get yourself a couple of bikinis, then go on down to the lake. Throw your blanket down (any which way) and lay down on it. When a man comes you might be interested in, say: "Excuse me sir, would you straighten out my blanket (with a smile and a wink of course!)" "

There you have it!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Elephant in the Room

I was probably forty or so the first time I heard the expression "an elephant in the room" meaning that there is something VERY BIG and most likely PAINFUL to talk about. We all know it, we sort of allude to it but no one actually says "it". We keep dancing around the topic and never bring it up. Then after some time has gone by, we all somehow feel more comfortable having said nothing about what is really looming on the horizon.

Often that is what a visit with a hospice patient is like. So instead of hearing or sharing some profound thoughts about death I get something like: "It is important to keep your legs working, without them you're in trouble." Then the real evasive stuff is always wrapped in some comment about stuff from the past: I had a friend who always named her bird "pretty boy." As soon as one died, she got another and called it "pretty boy." There is always the old stand by, "I'll probably be going home soon, I wish someone would tell me what's going on."

This past week on one of my visits it was apparent to both the patient and myself that the end was coming very soon. Again no conversation about it but the eye contact was way more telling than in the past and that hug goodbye, well, it might have been.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting Older but not there yet

Here is a funny video I got as an email but is also located on You Tube. The lady talks about "stuff" related to getting older. I think she is right on. She has a fabulous sense of humor. I include it here because as we approach death, we can still enjoy life and have some fun. It is not as scary as we make it out to be in our minds.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Second First

When I saw her for the first time, she looked so very fragile. No matter how many times I do this, it is always a challenge to my comfort zone…meeting someone for the first time on this deeper (what I call) spiritual level. Her right eye was cloudy and the eyelid a bit crusty. I doubted if she could see any longer through that eye. The left eye looked clear but stared off into space.

Gently speaking her name, I greeted her. Only a few seconds passed before the left eye blinked into a kind of recognition. Blink. Blink.

I offered her a warm smile and said I came by to let her know she is not forgotten. She smiled just a little. She was so very weak. I soothed her with some caring words and she listened and blinked occasionally.

Then quite unexpectedly she raised her left arm straight up off the bed from the elbow. I reached over and held her hand. With a very gentle squeeze she held my hand for several minutes; then just as unexpectedly, she dropped it.

I scanned the room and discovered a soft stuffed rabbit and placed it near her. She responded by holding and squeezing it, all the while becoming calmer. Then she let it go of it too. I left it there for her to hold when she wanted and told her she should rest some. I promised I would be back next week, if it was okay with her.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Yes, until next week then.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My First, First

It often takes time to begin visiting a new patient. Just making contact can feel like a major breakthrough and we need that before volunteer visits can begin, so that the patient can agree to visits and tell us when to visit.

When we can’t make contact, we sometimes just make the first visit a “drop in.” We can do this because we have been assured they want visitors, we just can’t set up a pre-arranged time.

My first “drop in’ was to a lady who was located 25 miles away. When I signed in at the assisted living center, I asked where the room was. “Upstairs to the left at the end of the hall” they said. I went there and noticed the numbers go all the way up to the one before the room number I was looking for, then the area turned into a screened outdoor sitting space.

I wandered around the second floor and found the room that I was looking for at the opposite end of the building, The numbers were totally out of sequence; it was as if they stuck this one room there as an after-thought. I knocked on the door but I knew the lady could not speak above a whisper, so I stuck my head in and hoped for the best. I stepped in and made eye contact; then began to introduce myself.

It is hard to tell if you should continue at times.

I walked to her recliner and tried to have a conversation but I seemed to be failing miserably. After a few excruciatingly long minutes, she said ”I’m having a bad time right now.” I figured I better stay just in case things really took a turn. That did not happen.

A few more minutes passed, not as bad as before and there was a knock at the door. Her priest had come to give communion. So in this very short time we established that she was having a bad episode, but it would pass. Every Friday at 11:00 she gets communion before lunch, yes she most definitely wants visitors and I better come back after lunch on Fridays.

Some things you just cannot do over the phone.