The poet Peter Levitt spoke at our spiritual care conference recently. He remarked on the contribution hospice workers make in facilitating moments of intimacy. Today I noticed an example of this intimacy, probably one in a hundred. Around 3 pm a call bell rang and I noticed a nurse gesturing from a patient’s room. Being the one nearest, I noticed a man, lying on his bed in apparent discomfort, arms and legs contorted every which way, covers flung aside, nightgown riding high on his body, face in a grimace, breathing laboured.
Please help me reposition Mr. O. We carefully rolled him first one way, then another, in order to slide a strong pad under his frail body which, once in place, enabled us to cradle and move him into a more comfortable position. As we did all this, my face came within centimetres of his. I noticed strong features, his expression signalling distress, perhaps fear. With my lips close to his ear, I spoke calm words of reassurance.
Once he was in position, while nurse checked his catheter and adjusted blanket and pillows, I placed the flat of my right hand on his chest. Feel my hand, breathe out, slowly, I probably said. With hand, words, and my own breath I wished him to be at ease, assuring him of our presence in this moment of utter helplessness. You’re not alone!
A little later we sat across a table making notes in the man’s chart and my nurse friend thanked me for assisting her. Thank me? It was I who was grateful. [And to think that nurses do this kind of work day after day, for 12 hours at a stretch. May they be blessed … and paid in gold coins.]