“Sometimes, while in the mountains, we see on the edge of a precipice a tree whose trunk and branches are oddly twisted. This tree has had to withstand bad weather, and the struggle is reflected in its trunk and branches. In the same way, in life we meet people whose faces are tortured and asymmetrical, but what gifts, what talents! This proves that they too have had to endure very difficult conditions, which they have overcome. But in order to do so, they have often developed their mind and will to the detriment of certain qualities of the heart, and these efforts, these tensions, have eventually deformed their faces. Beauty in human beings speaks more of the qualities of their heart than of their intellectual faculties or their will. This is why very beautiful people are often predestined to be victims. Because beauty, true beauty, has a much greater affinity with goodness than with intelligence, they often lack adequate means to defend themselves against the desires their beauty arouses in others. To ‘stay young’ has now become an ideal, and yet our contemporary culture teaches people to age as rapidly as possible. Oh, not physically, to be sure! Everyday, quantities of products and methods are invented to keep the body fit, to maintain the figure, to smooth away wrinkles and so on. But inwardly, psychologically, men and women age earlier and earlier, because it is earlier and earlier that they forsake simplicity, spontaneity and confidence to become suspicious, calculating, blasé and dull. Do you want to stay young? There is only one way: remain young at heart, forever alive, loving, interested in everything, quick to forgive, delighted by the slightest thing, and ready to forget insults, sorrow and failure. Maintain a heart that is always ready to love and embrace the whole world, a heart that does not shrink and grow cold. As long as you maintain a warm heart, you will never grow old. …We all like to give or receive flowers, to put them in our houses and plant them in our gardens. We go to admire them in parks or in the countryside and are enchanted by their forms, colours, and scents. But we consider flowers primarily as decorative elements which help to make life more agreeable, and as such, our admiration remains superficial, and we gain very little from their presence. In actual fact, flowers are living beings with which it is possible to relate. Yes, a flower is not simply a morsel of coloured, scented matter, it is the dwelling place of a spiritual entity who has come to speak to us of heaven and earth. If we know how to look at a flower, how to create a bond with it, we enter into relationship with the forces of nature, and with the entities who work to render it such a vibrant and poetic presence.”
– Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov
LENGTH OF VISIT: 10 minutes
MARITAL STATUS: Widow
RACE: African American
RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE: Baptist
ADMITTING DIAGNOSIS: Pancreatic cancer
NUMBER OF VISITS: 1
WHICH VISIT IS THIS? : 1st
CONSULT PLAN: This encounter happened during one of my cold-call visits. I asked the clinical manager for a list of patients she thought would like a visit, this patient’s name came up. Usually during cold call visits, I often visit the patient first and then check the chart afterwards. Most of the time I usually do not know what is going on until I get there.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (FAMILY, STAFF MEMBER, CHARTS)
The patient had her daughter and granddaughter present when I entered the room. Her attending nurse later told me that the granddaughter, who must be in her early 20s, has literally been there beside the grandmother the whole time.
I was surprised to learn that the patient is 83 years old because she looks unusually youthful, I would have guessed in her late 50’s or early 60’s. She was extremely alert and other than the tubes in her arm, she looked quite vital, robust and healthy. The granddaughter was in the corner observing and listening to the visit while the daughter came in as I was leaving.
EER: Ms. Smith?
Ms. Smith: Yes (she nods)
EER: Hi, my name is EER, I’m one of the spiritual caregivers here, I’m just coming by to see how you’re doing…
Ms. Smith: Oh, Hi! Thank you for coming by, come in…how are you?
EER: I’m fine thanks, but more importantly, how are you?
Ms. Smith : Oh, I’m doing fine (smiles) ….(slight pause) Now, did you come here on your own or did someone send you?
EER: (I smile because I know what she’s getting at) No, no, no Ms. Smith, No one sent me here, it’s part of my job to go around and see how patients are, we’re mostly here to offer and provide support to patients and their families.
Ms.Smith: Oh! (Now, she and grand-daughter both chuckle heartily)…I thought someone may have sent you to tell me “something” because quite frankly, I feel just fine.
EER: No, no, no. I’m not the harbinger of bad news. I’m just here to see how you are and what I can do to help.
Ms. Smith: Oh, good. (she settles into her bed and pillows a little more) Now…what religion do you practice?
EER: (This one always is a test to answer so I try to give one that’s as diplomatic as possible.) Well, it’s not so much religion that’s so important here, the caregivers here come from all faith traditions and we try to address the needs of all faith traditions, so you can kind of say it’s non-denominational. That’s my approach also.
Ms. Smith: Why, that’s lovely because I believe in the same.
EER: You believe in a non-denominational approach?
Ms. Smith: Yes, you see I grew up Baptist but what I really believe in is in the beauty and hope of God and that it extends to everyone.
EER: (I realize that she may be a bit of a universalist but continue listening.) That God is for everyone?
Ms. Smith: Yes…you know, most people think that God and religion is some building but I really think faith is something inside (touches her heart area). All our journeys, our paths, our reasons are different which is why I don’t believe in denominations and all that. What I believe in is beauty and that we are all to share in it. That we should live for and in beauty. What I really enjoy is talking about it with people who understand. You know… most people don’t get it…
EER: (I nod)
Ms. Smith: I can tell that you get it, you’re very beautiful, that understanding is in your face. You can tell, especially in the eyes.
EER: (I smile) How?
Ms. Smith: Well, life experience mostly, you know 83 years ain’t just a snap of the fingers… I’m no spring chicken…. You see lots of things in that time…. you learn over time from folks and from things…. You learn over time we’re like different flowers… different colours, smells, shapes and all, but still… flowers.
EER: (I smile) It’s a beautiful thought. (I’m thinking about her present illness and wondering what does this illness mean to her). You seem to be a very strong lady. (Here, her grand-daughter just chuckles and nods). I guess what I’m curious about is how does this illness fall in with your faith?
Ms. Smith: What? This? (points at the tubes) It just one of those things you have to go through in life. You get old, the body breaks down. It doesn’t affect my faith too much… I know I’m in the palm of God’s hand, I’m only here because of His will. I feel fine… I feel safe…(And indeed she speaks this very peacefully and knowingly, I don’t detect any fake bravado or sense of dismissiveness.)
EER: You sound very peaceful with the whole thing…
Ms. Smith: I am.
EER: You also seem to have the support of some good people around you (motion in the direction of the grand-daughter)
Ms. Smith: (Smiles) I do.
EER: I can see that you’re a woman of faith… If there’s anything we can do, the nurses here know me, they can call me.
Ms. Smith: Thank you (she takes my hand). Really, thank you. I really do appreciate you coming up and seeing me and for your concern. Thank you.
EER: Thank you for letting me listen. I learned something new from you today (she leans over and hugs me, I hold her hand and gently squeeze it and take my leave)
I experienced this visit more as an exercise to just listening to a person and of being present. I think what made it easier was that this woman is an uncommon Baptist and holds a more universalistic stance theologically than those of her brethren. The patient was initially hesitant and suspicious of me but once it was clear that I was not being sent to her to tell her something bad, she became very forthcoming with me and that made the visit easier.
I experienced the visit as initially amusing but listening to her was encouraging in several aspects. She really did seem at peace with the whole illness and she seemed so abnormally alive and alert, it served as a testament to faith bringing peace, true peace in the midst of physical and medical turbulence.
I’m not sure if the visit did anything for the patient but I tried to echo back to her what I was hearing. Maybe somewhere along the line having that reflected back to her, that maybe something encouraging was heard but I could not tell.
With respect to inclusiveness, the patient and I are both members of visible minorities and both of us are female. The patient is suffering from pancreatic cancer. The patient is a Baptist, however she is not active in her church or faith tradition. I consider myself more of a secular Muslim. Perhaps because of some of these inclusiveness issues, she was able to open up very quickly with me. She definitely changed in demeanor and attitude when she learned that I had a more non-denominational approach.
My main concern was to listen to the patient and help her be aware of our presence here in the hospital. As the conversation between us developed, I was able to see that this woman lived her faith. This woman’s spirituality was not based on a single figure or book or label, but rather, was based on a theme of respecting differences and seeing the beauty thereof. The interaction between us was very open and jovial.
I think the peace the patient was feeling came in the realizations she has made during her long life and that these realizations are no doubt assisting her in her present circumstance.