I only knew Mrs. T for a short time before she passed. My knowledge of her was constrained to such a small context.
I knew Mrs. T as someone who enjoyed sitting in the sunroom just by the nurse’s station, as someone who was not afraid to ask for a hug, and as someone who wanted to stand up to escape the confines of her wheelchair. Mrs. T was always quite, so my memories of her are of her nuanced facial expressions, from a raised eyebrow when presented with a logical paradox to a subtle smile while listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I hope that her memories of me had been equally as pleasant, and that I was able to connect with her on a meaningful level.
But I also know that Mrs. T was so much more than I could ever see through my visits. I had the opportunity to meet her daughter, which made me realize how little I really knew about Mrs. T. She was an Irish immigrant who had come to America early in her life. On the website legacy.com, I am able to see that she stills has friends in Ireland who remember her. Also, Mrs. T had actually worked in a nursing home for a significant portion of her life. That same day, I also learned that the peacefulness Mrs. T displayed around her daughter was punctuated with bouts of anxiety and distress.
My interactions with Mrs. T from that point on were always colored by what I had learned about her. How much else is there about her that I don’t know? How can I really connect with her?
What I took away from the experience is that every patient is a full-time human being, with just as many experiences, thoughts, and desires as the people I am close to and I. This is something I will always remember in my future interactions with patients.
After the departure of her daughter, Mrs. T wheeled around the room with tears in her eyes. She directed my attention towards the corners of the rooms, but I could not understand what she wanted from me. As I watched her cry and tried to unsuccessfully comfort her I felt powerless. It was a crushing moment for me. Reflection upon that experience has led me to ask myself questions. Was there anything I could have done? Was that the limit as my powers as a volunteer? Even if I was a nurse or another medical practitioner, could have I done anything?
These questions have marinated my mind for quite some time after my time with Mrs. T, and they still arise in my mind whenever I visit my new patients. I’m not sure I have good answers to them yet, but I will continue to ponder them as I continue my journey in healthcare so that I can learn to practice medicine with effective compassion.