reading Richard Westcott’s “Bright is the Ring of Words,” in the Spring 2107 Field Notes was the watering for that seed of idea that encourages us to always listen to the story of a patient or person we are facing.
We are eye-witnesses in our capacity to behold both outer and inner landscapes. What we contemplate intentionally becomes part of our inner landscape. The mudflats of my childhood became my body–self as well as the landscape of my soul. Eyes, even in illness, become planets, gifts from God in their beauty, their elegance, their flaws and imperfections.
In Sarah Shirley’s poem ‘Wernicke-Korsakoff’ (Intima, Spring, 2017), she elucidates the dilemma of caring for a patient who is angry, non-compliant, inarticulate, hostile, confused, or otherwise “difficult”. How do we reach across the barriers that such patients present, to find an opening through which we can glean from them the information we need to take care of them, and to establish mutual trust?
This truth became inescapable when I began my nursing career on a cancer and hospice floor. Oncology care is fraught with the observation of suffering. The desire to find meaning in pain converges with the harshness of reality. Why becomes a pervasive and agonizing question.
Life and death, as blatantly simple as they may seem from a purely physiological standpoint, are rather complex phenomena. Healthcare practitioners witness life and death a countless number of times. They are taught the intricacies of the human body: how to optimize its function and how to declare it deceased. Yet, nothing can prepare even the masters of this trade to face their own demise.
I first discovered I had Minimal Change Disease, the mildest form of nephrotic syndrome, when a routine insurance urine examination came back with higher than normal protein. Up until then, I assumed that foamy urine was a by-product of what I’d eaten or had to drink. In Sarah Safford’s poem, “A Cute Kidney Failure” from The Intima Fall 2016 issue, she asks the same question, “Kidneys, shmidneys, who thinks about them.” After my initial diagnosis, I did. A lot.
No one, not even someone you love, can fill the hollowness. Still you cannot walk this alone. You need a witness, an errand goer, a soft presence, a light in the hallway. Someone who brings you tea or clean clothes, whose eyes will look back into yours.
When I looked up from all the waiting rooms, I found a communion of once-strangers waiting to help me