What if we started with soul care? What if we said that it is inhuman to make a dozen people sit and listen to the same CD play repeatedly for four hours while we change their bed sheets? What if we said that it is cruel to let one person cry while you get water for another person? What if we stopped putting food ahead of kindness?
What if we hired aides on the basis of their kindness, not their muscle strength? What if we immediately fired anyone who called an elder ‘darling,’ or ‘sweetie,’ or ‘honey’ or anything except their rightful name? What if we gave back identity to those who have been turned into objects?
What if we honored the fact that these old, sick people on palliative care are suffering and we put their mental, spiritual and emotional suffering ahead of their physical needs? I am not saying ahead of their physical suffering; I am saying ahead of their physical needs.
Instead of mopping the floor, take the person outside to see the sun and feel the wind. Instead of dressing people, sit quietly beside them and sing or croon or listen. Hold hands. Of course, in the best of all possible words, both things would happen but this is America where money is what we care about most, so stop spending money on bodies and start caring for souls.
And for God’s sake, stop lying to people! You don’t tell a 98-year-old woman who is crying for her mother that you’ve called her mother and she’s on her way! You ask her what she needs her mother for and then you meet her need! Or you simply understand that she needs her mother for comfort and then you provide the comfort.
It’s called “palliative care.” These people are years from dying. They are lying in beds carefully covered with handmade quilts and they are alone. There is no one offering “comfort care.” There are aides taking care of bodies while souls are suffering.
We are not our bodies; we are our souls. We are here for a moment, lodged in a clay vessel, then we return to wherever we came from. We move on to some immortal home. Our bodies do not have souls. Our souls, for one brief moment, have bodies, so why are we investing so deeply in caring for bodies and not giving a ha’penny for soul care?
Don’t you get it? It no longer matters what you do to us physically; it matters what you do to us spiritually. Care for the invisible part of me. What people in nursing homes need more than anything else in this world is comforting touch. Like newborns in a neonatal unit, we need physical contact. We need the feel of human bodies.
When our minds are gone, when we no longer can know, then we still can feel. They move Cora and she screams in pain and they tell her to stop screaming. For the love of God, stop hurting the woman! If you can’t medicate her out of physical pain—which you can do, you certainly can do, why won’t you?
Are the aides not telling the nurse’s that she’s in pain? Are the nurses not telling the nurse manager? Do they not care? Is it not important to them? Why isn’t the nurse manager calling the doctor? Why isn’t the doctor seeing the patient? SHE IS IN PAIN: WHY AREN’T YOU RELIEVING IT?
But why are you moving her if it causes her pain? Why aren’t you letting her lay still? Do you really think that cleanliness is important enough to cause someone to scream? Think about what matters here.
She is supposed to be receiving comfort care. DO YOU KNOW WHAT COMFORT IS??? And this is about HER comfort, not yours. Learn new skills. Learn how to love. Learn how to empathize. PAY ATTENTION. Don’t zone off in your own little world, pretending this isn’t what it is.
It is the absolute degradation of the human body. Deal with it. Be honest, be present, and find the soul in the damaged body. Speak to the tormented soul in gentle touch and soft croonings and hymns. There is no reason or rationale. There is only loneliness and lack of love.
In these, the final years of the suffering human, act with loving kindness. Admit your absolute helplessness to heal the body, and instead heal the soul.