Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Simple Beauty of the Human Spirit

On the hospital unit I work on we had a lovely elderly lady who was, unfortunately, very confused.  She was on our unit waiting for a bed to become available in a long term care facility. Often she would talk to someone we could not see.  And at other times she would be incredibly frightened, curling up into a little ball and cringing at whatever she perceived was clawing at her.  It broke my heart to see her so terrified. 

Amazingly, she responded well to touch--the gentle stroking of her hair, or caressing of her hand, covering her in a warm blanket, and telling her it would be okay.  Her faded grey eyes would light up, she would smile and sometimes say, "I wondered when you would come."  We sat her near the nursing station in a reclining chair, so staff could keep a close eye on her and give her the comforting attention she needed.

Another patient on our unit was recovering from a severe stroke and also waiting placement.  The stroke left this elderly man wheelchair bound, but he became very good at shuffling his feet to move his wheelchair around.  His face was permanently contorted into a mask; open droopy mouth, tongue swollen and protruding, drooling, and speech mostly incomprehensible.  Regardless, the kindness and wit in his sparkling blue eyes was remarkable.

On a hectic Friday afternoon, unknown to staff, our elderly lady was having one of her terrifying hallucinations.  When the buzz settled down I looked up and saw our gentleman holding her hand, looking into her eyes and nodding reassuringly.  She smiled contentedly at him and grasped his hand in both of hers.  He stayed with her until supper came.  We were all moved by the sight, and thanked our patient for being a true gentleman.  Some joked about love being found on the unit.  But it really wasn't that.  Rather, it was two lonely souls touching each other at a very raw, uncertain time. 

Looking back on that afternoon, I am not sure who was most blessed that day:  the confused, panic-stricken lady who was instantly comforted, the elderly man who felt needed despite his frustrating disability, or the staff, who were reminded of the simple beauty of the human spirit. 

Some days at work can be very draining.  But afternoons like this make it all worth while. 

In the end, only kindness matters.

~From "These Hands" by Jewel~


Too often we underestimate the power of a touch,
a smile,
a kind word,
a listening ear,
an honest compliment,
or the smallest act of caring,
all of which have the potential to turn a life around. 

~Leo Buscaglia~