There is this general ethos in contemporary healthcare that physicians should remain neutral, impartial, objective, and detached. To some extent, this seems fitting so to prevent burnout and enable doctors to see so many patients with a plethora of dramatic conditions and circumstances.
However, sometimes this goes too far and is detrimental and dehumanizing not only for patients but even for the doctors themselves.
One thing a former patient shared with me in this regard struck me. She said it was greatly reassuring for her when her doctors would preface their medical judgment or recommendation with the words, “If you were my spouse…” or “If you were my daughter…”
This indicated to her that the doctor truly had her best interest at heart. If he was willing to advise something in the case of his own loved one, then it was clear that he was making his recommendation very sincerely and had considered it seriously.
And so, this leads me to reflect on how we really want to be treated by others not only as they want to be treated but also as they would want their own loved ones to be treated.
I think doctors extending this kind of empathetic imagination to their patients can be an excellent form of accompaniment and help in having crucial conversations in the meeting between doctor and patient.
This evening my friend who is a doctor shared with me an anecdote from the past week.
She had a 90-year-old patient named Laurence who was admitted for recurrent falls and who may not be able to return to independent living in her own home because she lives alone.
Laurence never married and does not have any children, but her nieces and nephews help her out with cooking, shopping, and managing her finances and appointments.
During the hospitalization, my friend had a few conversations with Laurence and, many times, she would ask, “Why hasn’t God taken me home yet? I’m 90-years-old now. I’m sure I will go to heaven, and I don’t know what else to do here.”
My friend noted that Laurence had mentioned on a few occasions that one of her defects is impatience.
“All I do every day is pray the rosary again and again,” Laurence said.
My friend thought quickly about how to help Laurence to see the value in her continued days.
“Maybe God is not taking you home just yet, because there’s something in which you’re meant to still grow – your patience.”
She gave a smile of compliant recognition and replied, “Yeah, maybe.”
Later that afternoon, as Laurence was leaving the unit to be transferred to another hospital, she said goodbye to my friend and said, “I know what my mission is now – to work on my patience!”
What a beautiful encounter of helping another to discover a new mission, even in her old age.
This evening I was speaking with one of my dear friends who is a doctor.
She told me, “I know you’re looking for uplifting stories for your blog, but lately I have been seeing a lot of elderly patients who have had bad falls. Since many of them live alone and are not able to get back up by themselves, sometimes they are not found until the next day or two. When that is the case, the person may be found sitting in their own feces or urine, profoundly helpless, until a support worker or relative comes to visit.”
Of course the best situation is when a vulnerable person can live in a family home so that their presence and wellbeing is continually and naturally monitored by their loved ones. The next best thing for the elderly would be to live in retirement homes where many services are provided and there are attendant nurses. This, however, is quite expensive and not within everyone’s reach.
On hearing about this from my friend, I remembered a recent conversation I had with a senior buddy of mine with whom I have been having weekly phone calls throughout the pandemic.
He and I have never met, but we have sure gotten to know one another through our Wednesday visits.
This gentleman with whom I speak just turned 90-years-old. His wife passed away last year and so he lives alone. Some of his adult children who live in town visit him and each week he brings his 88-year-old sister some shawarma.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s longtime secretary, was in Rome today marking the occasion and remembering cradling the pope as he felt “his body slip as if paralyzed and fall into my arms.”
The cardinal also reflected, “Today, 40 years after that event, and 16 years after his death, I think with fear of what it would have been like if we had lost him in St. Peter’s Square back then. How poor and different the world and our homeland, Poland, would have been without his witness of faith and doctrine, without his indications and his warnings in the face of the dangers and turmoil that can threaten us in today’s world.”
My aunt Danielle Hall (on the right) is a dual citizen who was born in Calgary and now lives and works as a hospice nurse in Chicago.
She traces her interest in working with the dying to when she was just five years old.
“I think how it started, when I reflect back, is that since my mother would often get headaches, she taught me how to rub her head to relieve them,” Danielle reminisced. “My mom would lay on the couch and I would stand behind her, rubbing her head with my fingers in circles around her forehead, and that’s when I first realized that I had a healing touch.”
Surveys consistently indicate that the majority of people would prefer to die at home instead of in a hospital. However, a minority actually do.
Cicely Saunders International just published You Matter Because You Are You, an action plan better palliative care, in which the charity explores the key challenges faced at the end of life.
The report notes that “Too many people with life-limiting illnesses – as well as those approaching death – spend long periods of time in hospital, in part due to a lack of social or community care. Meanwhile, hospital
admissions are rising to unsustainable levels across the country, something that was made all the more apparent as parts of the NHS risked being overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Most people want to die at home and most hospital workers would be in favour of much greater home care.
Some of the main obstacles to this include: the weakness of social and familial ties, lack of “coordination and information sharing between health and social care providers”, and inadequate emphasis on professional palliative home care.
It would be understandable if, upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, a person were to retreat, to withdraw.
But that’s not Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka’s way. Instead, as ever, he continues to show leadership, to give example, and, above all, to generously go outside of himself for the good of others.
It seems that every time there is a tragedy or crisis, particularly in which his community or he himself is implicated, Rabbi Bulka has something to say with humility, sincerity, and gratitude.