Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Thanksgiving Panic November 23, 2011

Had a moment of panic in Trader Joe’s today.  By the very fact that I was in Trader Joe’s, the ultimate Bobo store, it would seem I’d have no reason to panic.  Yet I was overcome with “doing Thanksgiving.”  I want it to be lovely–the house beautiful, the food delicious, everyone relaxed.  But instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, I want to crawl under a rock.  Even though Todd is a great cook, and I have help cleaning, I found myself oppressed by the distance between what I want and what I am able to do.  To add to that, I’m coming off a really tough treatment for CFIDS, which has left me dizzy and my digestive system a wreck.  How am I going to pull this off?  How am I going to be the relaxed, gracious hostess I want to be?  And then, to really crank up the misery, I think, my table will never be as elegant as my mother’s.  At my age, I will have failed Womanhood 101.  Again.

There is absolutely nothing to be done about myself in this state but to take a walk.  So I get out the leash and Maisie, my overweight labradoodle, is at the door.  We step out into an absolutely gorgeous fall day, unseasonably warm.  There is a light breeze and golden leaves eddy around me.  A Japanese maple blazes a deep red across the street.  I tell myself to just breathe, to be in the now.  Bombs aren’t falling, the earth isn’t trembling.   The holiday is supposed to be about thanks, you idiot, I tell myself.  And so I start saying thank you to the leaves, to the sky, to the clouds, to the heavy orange persimmons hanging from a neighbor’s tree (that I’d like to steal).  And it helps, a little.  Let go, I keep saying, let go.

Then I meet a grandfather strolling with his 5 month old granddaughter.  His wrinkled face is lit up like the trees.  I look at the baby, Elly, and she gazes back at me with enormous blue eyes.  She looks intently at me , and then smiles.  I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I continue on my walk, my step quickened.  I start to make my way towards a small park, and see an old friend checking her mail.  We stand and talk in the sunshine.  Her son is disabled, and has serious issues with his neck.  A former middle-school teacher, Marianne’s life now is largely that of a caretaker.  She tells me her sisters want her to have more of a life.  “But Taylor is my life,” she says.  Not the life she would have chosen, but the life she has.  I think of the book I’m reading, Radical Acceptance, and how she exemplifies the principle of accepting what is, rather than moving heaven and earth to make reality more to your liking. Marianne is funny as hell, too, and you don’t get that kind of funny when life has been a bed of roses.  “I’m convinced,” she says, “that life would be 100% better if I could lose weight.”  We laugh ruefully.  Who doesn’t believe that?

We part, fortified with hugs.  I start to make my way back.  The leaves swirl around me.  I do feel in the moment. For a moment.  I feel at peace, enjoying the sun and the breeze.  The moving leaves remind me of a movie we saw on Netflix several nights ago, Cherry Blossoms.    In it, a middle-aged man’s expectations are totally upended, but in the process, he is transformed from a grumpy, closed character, to a man with a fully human face, a face alive to the world, in all its glory and sorrow.  In the final scenes, cherry blossoms quivered and fell.  Watching this film, I felt a renewed sense of life’s beauty and mystery.

I would like to say that I have been able to maintain a sense of peace and calm and that also my house is picture perfect and my silver polished.  I have not.  I am hiding out in my study, hoping the elves will come. But as soon as I turn off this computer, I’m going in there and putting on some music and making my stuffing.  I hope I will look out at the falling leaves, and remember life is change.  Live only this moment.
I hope I remember to be grateful.

 

What’s Wrong with this Picture??? October 15, 2010

I usually have one, two or more nurses-usually retired, working nurses don’t have time for writing–in my classes.  I’ve heard for years about the crying closet–usually a supply closet a nurse can go into to grieve privately when she/he loses a patient.  I’ve heard the story of a child dying in a young nurse’s arms, and how, as a mature woman, the nurse is still carrying the grief of the death with her.  I’ve known a student nurse who had severe stress after working on an oncology floor, but who had no way to process that stress.  We talk about caring for the caregiver, but when are we going to do something about it?

Yesterday, a working nurse told of how she cared for both her dying parents while a myriad of other disasters  befell her.  She had always, she reported, been known for her skills.  But when she asked her superior to give her some leniency, as she was grieving, she was told that she didn’t have the “luxury” to grieve, and to get back to being the high-functioning performer she had been.

Another retired psychiatric nurse, told of being put in an ICU unit.  Overwhelmed by being in a position she wasn’t trained for, she was later scolded for not–I repeat, not–letting a patient (who was an addict) bleed out.

Both nurses were taken to task for spending too much time with patients.

Hospitals today are under tremendous financial stress which translates into worker stress.  The question is–can overburdened caregivers give quality care to patients?

Arts experiences are one way hospitals can address the stress of caregiving.  Art at the bedside–writing, art, music, even dance, relieves the burden of care for nurses.  And weekly arts sessions held for nurses provide a way for them to help heal themselves, bring themselves into balance, and create more compassion for themselves, their patients, and each other.

One of the best sites to read about arts in healthcare is Marti Hand’s site:http://creativityinhealthcare.com.  A nurse and painter herself, she has done extensive research on how creativity heals.  In her latest post, she quotes David Bohm, “Creativity is fundamental to human experience. ”  We need to bring more humanity back into the healthcare environment, and arts interventions can be an important part of that effort.

Someday, there may not be a need for a crying closet.

 

 
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