dana b eisenberg
Reading your medical chart, I wondered how you would be: You had jumped from the second floor in response to the news that you were being moved from a place you’d grown to love. Whatever might come next must not have seemed worth it. You’d been in the hospital for a few weeks — fractured this and fractured that. With the hopefulness characteristic of a nursing student, I greeted you with a smile and watched the disinterest pool in your eyes. We got you out of bed and helped you shuffle to the chair where your breakfast waited. You said it hurt too much even to hold a fork and though your voice trembled, your body’s movement betrayed a physical strength that seemed no longer to matter much.
In my past life as an educator, Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy of assisting the child to independence filled my days. In the stillness of our shared solitude, I remembered … give just enough aid to help him on his path toward physical autonomy — do too much and you become a hindrance. All of a sudden, the most important element of care became reminding you of your capability and preserving your dignity while we re-educated that muscle.
Drawing back the plate cover, the aroma of sausage and pancakes in syrup and butter rose to meet you. A glimmer of hunger flickered across your otherwise expressionless face. Cutting your food into small bites and placing the spork in your hand, I departed to fetch fresh linen. From a distance, I observed: Tentatively, you moved toward the sausage and ever so slowly brought the piece to your lips. Ah Ha. And again. You eyed the coffee, sizing up the strength required to hold the cup and raise it. Half hearted attempt at that aborted, you turned again to the salty sweet.
Quietly, I stepped back into your room and set about changing the bed. You remained transfixed by the slow mechanics of moving food from plate to mouth. Your nurse arrived and medications and directives broke the spell. The food was forgotten and you returned to your implacable self. No you could not get up. No you could not hold a cup to take your pills. No you could not imagine walking down the hall, assisted or otherwise. With a cup held to your lips by hands other than yours, you swallowed your pills while averting your eyes. With a hopeful glance backward, your nurse departed, leaving us to our work.
In silence, we began your bath. As the wash cloth passed from the basin to your dry skin, you sighed. An arm reached out to be bathed, then a foot, and when it came time for brushing your gums you nodded in agreement. There must have been something in all that warm water and fresh linen that inspired hope. I uncovered the still-steaming cup of coffee, adding the cream and sugar to your liking. Taking your hand, I wrapped it around the cup and wrapped mine around yours. Together we lifted the cup to your lips and you took a long, slow sip. The next time my touch was lighter and eventually disappeared all together. No words were spoken. They were not necessary.