Power of Voice

I was matched with a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She was not very verbal since our first meeting. I spent most of the time just sitting with her and holding her hand. I did not talk to her a lot since I found it to be very awkward to hold a one-way conversation—I am not chatty either, which made it more difficult for me to even initiate a conversation. She did sometimes call out to names that I did not recognize. She mostly said, “Come (name)! Come (name)!”
I did learn some things about her preferences without even communicating verbally. For example, on my second visit, the nurse suggested me to try massaging her hand with the essential oil. When I tried to put the essential oil in her hand, she always tried to grasp the oil bottle and pushed it away from me. She then just took my hand and held it. We just sat there, holding hands, for the rest of my visit.
There were lots of times when she was not feeling too well and drifted off to sleep for most of my visiting time. I sometimes questioned whether she actually acknowledged my presence and whether she did want me to be there. How could I ever be sure that I was a good company for her when she could not even tell me? Whenever I visited her room, I could not help but gawking at her picture when she was young. She was smiling radiantly; she was beautiful.
One day during my visit, a lady came over to us. When she looked at me, she said, “Oh mom! Is this the girl that you’ve been talking about last week?” I did not quite understand what she meant. The daughter explained that her mom was calling out for “girl” during her last visit. Her mom was not feeling quite well during her visit, but she kept calling for “girl”. I could not believe what I heard. I took that as a sign that she did want me to be there. I ended up spending quite some time to get to know her daughter and how her mom was like when she was younger. Her daughter recounted how her mom loved to cook whenever she could. I could not help but wonder what a great mother she must have been to her children.
It was an honor to know her. She taught me that sometimes the deepest message could be conveyed without full conversation. She showed me how she is still herself and she is still worth of love and attention—even though she could no longer cook or take care of herself. She also showed me how important it is to have someone who understands you truly—understand your wishes and desires. They would be the ones who would be your voice once you no longer have it.
This experience had changed my perception about death and dying. Death and dying need not to be grim, unspeakable thing—it is our natural cycle of life. When I become a physician in the future, I would wish to encourage my patients to address their wishes to their loved ones.