,My mom is fine. I'm fine. A friend is not.
Once upon a time I worked as a standardized patient (an actor) at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The job of the program at MSKCC was to teach empathy skills to all staff and medical personel with dealings with patients and their family. In some scenarios, there were those times when people (patients, their family and friends) were told there is nothing more medicine can do other than treat any pain and keep the patient comfortable until the end came. But the end was expected to come.
I did this job for about 2 years. It was illuminating in terms of making me wish more personel would emphasize the necessity for empathy with patients and their family and even friends. Too many of us have had experiences with those who work in health care and lack any semblance of empathy.
My friend is, today, in a hospice attached to a hospital in the Bronx, NY, and is receiving palliative care. The people are amazing. There was no check in, find my friend's name, give me some hideous sticker to attached to my clothing that may or may not fully come off. My first day there, walking through the metal detector (sign of the times), the police officer pointed the way to hospice care. Following his directions, after the third turn, a nurse walking down the hallway, pointed to my next turn at which point I'd take the elevator from there. Once off the elevator, a cleaning lady asked me who I was there to see and pointed out his room. At which point, a nurse walked in introduced himself to me, told me it was okay to sit closer to my friend asleep while getting his respiratory treatment. Another nurse would walk in later to introduce herself to me and told me to let me know if I needed anything.
I'm just a friend of his. I'm not family.
It's nice of you to visit him. Let me know if you need anything.
What can I say about my new experience. As an actress, digging deep into my imagination to imagine what it might be like, and pulling up those ideas and emotions, it was scary as all hell. Today, it's not so scary. I don't know if it's because my imaginative experience prepared me, I'm older now and have had other life experiences that prepared me, or the warmth I experience at the hospice within the hospital. Or maybe it's all of the above. My friend has come to understand he is really sick. His lungs are quickly failing him and have begun to exhaust his heart. His brain is alert and he is fully aware of his circumstances. That part is a bit scary. But I learned that one of the medicines he is given makes him sleep a good bit, and that one day he will go to sleep and will not reawaken.
I am not sharing this to gain sympathy, but to say thank you to those men and women who so faithly and lovingly worked in palliative care. The nurse I talked to this week told me she had worked in palliative care for 8 years. How amazing is that. A part of me, a tiny little part who seems to be herself fading away, thought how could you do work for so long with people who are dying. But then a new part of me arose saying death is inevitable, and for those who are dying, let them have the best life possilbe while they live. That seemed to be the mantra there at hospice care. At the hospice care the patients can have what they want, and it is given with love.
Thank you to those doctors, nurses, palliative care teams, and hospice staff who make the environment so warm for the patient, their family and their friends.
I'm just writing to keep from losing it.