" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

November 12, 2007

Her Hands

For a year I volunteered in the cardiac ward of St. Paul's Hospital as a one-on-one patient visitor. That meant I basically walked into the Cardiac wards on 5A and 5B, walked into rooms, looked around and picked someone to talk to. I just started chatting with the person. At first it was really intimidating - as if my first words weren't mine, barely audible.

I learned a lot during those visits. I learned that sick people are not defined by whatever has brought them into the hospital. I learned that I really like listening to people. I really liked helping people. That on some days just getting someone ice for their water was more fulfilling than what I'd done at work all day and my job at the time was quite fulfilling.

I learned that sometimes strangers can tell a stranger what they can't tell their families. That hospitals are so boring just about anyone to talk to is an improvement over staring at the ceiling. I learned that the human spirit is a social one even when it's in pain. And, after 2 or 3 hours on the wards, after talking and listening, and really looking deeply into someone's eyes, making the connection, I'd walk home down Robson street and it was as if my own heart had been healed a little bit at a time. I didn't think it was a coincidence that I'd chosen the cardiac ward. Love's disappointments had impacted my own heart the kind of healing it required could not be bestowed by surgery.

Sometimes I'd make a strong connection with just one person the whole evening and the other chats would be superficial and light. Sometimes I'd talk to several people and with each one of them it would feel like we had touched upon something of significance to them. A worry had been eased, they'd been distracted from their fears. I'd heard about family estrangements and each night I was reminded how insignificant life's problems are if they weren't life threatening. On some nights, there would be no significant interactions. I also learned that heart surgery, while huge to us on the outside is actually quite routine.

So, as I visit my mother in the hospital as she has chosen to end dialysis and is on the journey towards the end of her life, it feels a bit like getting at the pulpy middle of a squash; slashing through the hard exterior to discover a stringy vulnerability or a treasure chest where all the secrets are hiding.

I'm grateful that a specialist by the name of Dr. Mohamud Karim, a nephrologist, was exceptional in his ability to communicate with us and with her. I liked his gentle manner. I liked his calmness. I saw how he focused on my father during a family meeting, his hand squeezing my father's arm when the emotion began bubbling to the surface. The tone of his voice. The choice of his words. His bedside manner was impressive and humane. And, I think too many people have had the opposite experience. I saw how he talked to my mother after he talked with us. I felt the respect.

I have never experienced a birth, giving birth, seeing a birth. And, I have never really been up close to death except for when my sister slipped into a coma on her last day on earth in a cabin on Shuswap lake before she was taken by ambulance. I remember sitting on her bed and holding a cold face-cloth on her forehead for a reason I now can't recall. She was wearing a T-shirt that said Life's a Beach. And, that was the last time I saw her.

I'm reflecting on how different that experience was to this one. That was scary. That was overwhelming. That was emotion that had no where to go. I had no faith then. I had no spiritual beliefs then. I didn't know who I was then. That was so many problems ago, now overcome; transformation of every cell kicking and screaming through the sorrows to the other side.

I feel blessed that I am not working. I want to visit with her every day. Although we have not had a close relationship it has been complex in its emotional distance as relationships always are.

I want to photograph her hands because her hands are buried in my memory. They are gnarly hands with one permanently bent finger on the right hand that has never been right ever since she sliced a tendon as a young girl.

The veins on her hands have always been raised and crooked and strong like roots that have wound around a base of a tree. I see her fading blue eyes looking at me intently. She isn't saying much but it's as if she's looking at me for the first time; really looking and I wonder what she's thinking. I wonder about her regrets. I wonder if she's afraid. I notice how even now in what could be considered now or never time she doesn't verbalize what is going on for her.

I feel how everything is in the being there.

They say it takes less than 7 days to die once dialysis has been stopped. But, I really hope she's still there tommorrow. Just another day. One more day! I want to capture a photograph of her hands that says everything to me there is to say.

1 comment:

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