Privileged Presence and palliative care
The story below, She Sang Him His Life, from the book Privileged Presence- Personal Stories of Connections in Health Care captures my sense of reverence for working with patients and families.
Palliative care seems to be a place where anything goes. On our unit, the hours are completely open; people come and go as they need; pets visit. Staff pay attention to so many little details of comfort. There’s a tenderness and kindness on the unit that’s extraordinary. By comparison, when I visit someone on another floor, it’s impersonal, and I feel assaulted by noise, unpleasant smells, and a sense of crowdedness.
One night, I arrived for my regular volunteer shift on the palliative care unit and found the staff in a very emotional state. This was not entirely unusual, but I sensed that something special had happened that day. I was right.
A young man, in his early forties, had been on the unit for several days. His wife had been with him almost constantly. This husband and wife were both from the same tiny village in Newfoundland. They had grown up together, become a couple, gotten married, and lived there all their lives. And now this man, her husband, was dying.
She knew that the end was near and asked the nurses if she could get into bed with her husband and snuggle. And the answer was, “Of course you can, dear.”
And then the singing started. It went on for well over an hour. This woman, as she cuddled her dying husband, slowly and gently, sang him his life and their lives together.
When the singing stopped, her husband was still alive. She then sang him permission to leave.