You learn a lot from staying in a geriatric ward while being in comparatively good condition (i.e. relative to your fellow patients, who on average are 2.5 times older than you). There is a lot to observe, be encouraged by, stay wistful about – just by being silent and watching all that happens. Fly-on-the-wall.
The stillness and quiet of a geriatric ward can be very recuperative – not just for the physically ill, but also for the weary soul and spent mind.
Continued my reading of Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey. Covered his entries from 12-16 February 1996. In those entries, he described in painful detail, the process of dying for his friend Adam Arnett. Adam was 34 when he died, having suffered from severe epilepsy his entire life – a life that “has seemingly been limited because of his many disabilities”. For “all that he had brought to us in his great physical weakness and incredible spiritual strength”, Henri Nouwen calls Adam “my counsellor, teacher and guide, who never could say a word to me but taught me more than anyone else… the most vulnerable of all the people I have ever known and at the same time the most powerful.” Those still living were filled with grief yet gratitude, for “in his great weakness, Adam called all those who had shared his home to a life of reconciliation, healing, and unity, and thus had become their peacemaker”.
It was a powerful account of a clearly deeply personal and private relationship/life event. I couldn’t help but think – it is special to read about the process of healing and of dying while sitting up in a hospital bed. I didn’t plan to – it was just where I last stopped in Henri’s journal of his final year alive. The account did not depress me. On the contrary, it moved and strengthened me to reflect:
The process of healing, like the process of death, is paved with reconciliation, remembrance, learning & teaching, glimpses of God, and paradoxes. Paradoxes… of thanksgiving & grief; weakness & strength; brokenness & wholeness; captivity & freedom; solitude & community/togetherness; struggle & peace; adversity & miracles. Lesson 17.
Furthermore, I begin to think that whether you see perils, paradoxes or promises in the processes of healing and dying, does depend on who you believe God to be, and who you think you are in relation to Him.
This fly-on-the-wall has seen paradoxes and promises in this ward the last 3 days. The incessant cries of half-conscious elderly patients, answered by the immense patience of nurses and allied health workers. Especially the foreign nurses and allied health workers, who sometimes don’t understand the groans and mumbles in Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese, and valiantly ‘hanthump’ till they get it right… The ‘shame’ felt by patients at not being able to move, feed or clean themselves, overcome by respect and meticulousness of the same staff. The sadness/confusion worn on weathered faces, met by careful repetitive explanation and genuine cheer/optimism of doctors and nurses alike. Even the allied health workers joined in light-hearted banter, lifting lonely spirits. I am proud of all of them.
In the midst of it all, a few giggles.
“Everything is ok?”
“As good as it gets. Auntie next to me still trying to get someone, anyone, everyone to help to switch off her fan… (then switch it on again)…”
“Should help her to make a signboard “please switch off the fan” and she just has to hold it up.”
“If she has the strength. What if she needs to ask for help to hold up the sign?!”
“Ha, you can help to hold up her hand while you are there. Then tell the nurse to entrust the task to the next patient occupying your bed…”