Since my attempts to visit my (now former) patient at the nursing home were scuttled every day by the vicissitudes of my work-life, I simply went there today after work. I'm often exhausted on Fridays at 5, but seeing her before the weekend felt like an absolute necessity. Over the last few days, the tearful calls from my patient's daughter have been numerous, a great deal of my already busy days interrupted by panicked calls. Learning that she is now considered a hospice patient increased my need to pay a visit.
The nursing home visit was enough to reestablish our heart connection. I entered the room to find daughter, grandson, grandson's wife, and one-month-old great-granddaughter visiting my significantly skinnier patient. Although she denies trouble swallowing and is receiving daily radiation to her upper chest, I have no doubt that the realization of her terminal state is sinking in, depression becoming the underlying factor behind the loss of appetite, or at least the desire to eat.
After the family took their leave, we sat on the bed holding hands, the three other women in the shared room all sitting in their small spaces watching their separate TVs. This institutional room is cordoned off into four sleeping areas with those ubiquitous and oh-so-ineffective "privacy curtains" found hanging from the ceilings of hospital rooms everywhere. It's sort of like being in a dorm room with three roommates, but none of you are studying, you all have some chronic illness or illnesses, and the activities scheduled for the "students" leave much to be desired, as does the food. The smell of urine is as ubiquitous as those flimsy curtains, and many residents simply sit in wheelchairs with empty gazes, marking time between meals. The lucky ones are visited by family members who bring homemade food, flowers, crossword puzzles, and books. The less lucky residents simply languish and make the best of an inadequate situation.
Meanwhile, my dear patient and I sat looking into one another's eyes and breathing together. I told her in Spanish that our connection is one at the soul level, and that I would keep her in my thoughts and visit as often as I could. As expected, despite her suboptimal circumstances, she inquired after my wife, son, and dogs, and was genuinely interested in the details of my response. We blessed one another and verbalized desire to see one another on Monday "si Dios quiere" ("God willing"). I playfully tapped the tip of her nose and left her with a wink, her smile fading as I reached the door.
Listening to Bob Marley's "Exodus" CD on the way home, I was reminded of the lyric I had heard this morning on my way to work: "Ooh when the rain falls it don't fall on one man's house". Although Bob was then referring to the eventual fate of the "downpressors" who oppress the poor and covet the riches of the earth for their own gain, I took it at that moment as signifying the fact that any of those people in that nursing home---my patient, or the woman in the wheelchair who was sitting and staring into space---they are all me, my brethren, my family, my mother or father. It was yet another moment of seeing the bigger picture, the forest for the trees, the life taken for granted, the gratitude for life so easily forgotten. They are only a reflection of us, as we are of them, no more or less deserving of love and compassion. It was a truly human moment, a reminder of so many gifts. I smiled and continued down the road towards home.
One Love, One Heart.