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.