Word Medicine

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

Confusing Times September 7, 2017

Filed under: aging parents,Grief,stress — saratbaker @ 8:35 pm
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“By yielding, we may obtain victory.” –Ovid

Do you know the term “at sixes and sevens?” That sort of off-center feeling of not quite knowing what to do next, a subtle disorientation? That is how I’ve been feeling lately. My mother is experiencing memory loss, and has been for some time. This was brought home to me in a dramatic way recently, when I saw how confused she was in a large store. I realized that we had turned a corner–we are in deeper waters than I had let myself realize. Things are changing quickly. My role is changing, and this woman who has always been so fiercely independent, is suddenly reliant on me in a way I never expected. It is bittersweet—sweet because she now allows me a kind of intimacy we’ve not had before, and bitter because I don’t want to lose her. As a friend of mine says, “life is a series of not-totally unexpected blows.”  Nothing about this is unexpected, but facing into the lived reality feels vertiginous.

Not long after our trip, I went to Earth Fare. I did a few errands and sat down to gather myself together and write a to-do list. It was pleasant to be in the neighborhood store, and I felt less alone with my own thoughts. I realized that I was holding my breath. So I tried to just breathe. There was nothing I could do about my sense of confusion, so I tried to relax into it. (The operative word here is tried.)

The-Queen-of-Hearts-S As I flipped through my tiny note book, I came across this line in a poem by Pamela Wilson: “Not knowing, even confusion, when met, reveals itself as wisdom in its potentiality, pure intelligence.” The poem was from a workshop by Johanna Royo on Heart-Centered Living during a one-day conference, Healing the World through Art, at the Georgia Museum of Art. Johanna described an experience of deep depression and loneliness in her life which led her to her practice of Heart-Centered Living. She said that at the very worst moment, she sat on the floor of her kitchen and it seemed that a huge black hole opened up. And then, instead of resisting it, she fell into it. And came out laughing. She realized that was the resistance and fear that were keeping her stuck.

Sitting there in Earth Fare, I saw an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while.  We chatted, talking about family, when she asked about my mother. She had known and loved my parents for a long time. Not only that, her husband had dementia for twenty years, a fact I had forgotten.  As I described my grief and fears, she nodded with understanding. It was a relief to talk about it with someone who didn’t shy away from the reality I was facing. She gave me good practical advice, and she also described the unexpected gifts that came from his illness. She said that over the course of his illness, he became much more affectionate. They shared an intimacy that in some ways was because of the illness. She described their last anniversary, which was celebrated in the hospital. Because the illness had made him blind, she had to describe the pureed food she was feeding him. They laughed about how when they married they never could have imagined celebrating their anniversary in such a way. She also described how, at the very end, when they thought nothing could reach him, a nurse singing a German folk song caused him to “wake up” and sing along with her in German. It was an unexpected gift of having him back, however briefly.

In a way I could never have orchestrated, I talked with the very person I needed to talk with that day. I left the store feeling lighter, clearer, and less afraid.

Note to readers: I have not posted since January. It was in January that my life felt upended—we had just inaugurated a man I feel is unfit to be president, my mother’s memory issues intensified, and I was under tremendous pressure to sell my book—which meant acquiring a whole new set of skills. My body protested. I am feeling on a more even keel now, and plan to post more frequently.



Has My Ship Come In? March 31, 2011

Below is a piece a participant in my writing workshop wrote.  It has a lot to say about the difficulties of working in healthcare, and about how a good metaphor can be a bridge to opening up understanding.

I always remember hearing the phrase,  “Has your ship come in?” or  “Maybe your ship will come in”  all meaning some time when your good fortune arrives.

I was sitting in a place at my work, a spot that I go to whenever I can because it has a huge window facing the western sky.  In a large multi-storied hospital, a window like that , where I can sit and work for a bit is at a premium.  So, one day I was sitting there working and looking out at the sky.  People were in and out then a nurse sat down beside me.  She is one who is usually a bit gruff, straight-faced and a no-nonsense woman, friendly but not especially warm.  You just know she means business, all business.  And really, nurses these days have to be all business.  There’s just not much time for anything else.  Complete the task and move on to the next one.  Have a discussion about your patient being homeless  or unable to buy their medicines as you go down the hall to the next task or standing at the medicine cabinet or over lunch.  You know, that half hour quiet time you’re supposed to have in a 12 hour day.  No time for teasing or joking or even breathing.

So, this nurse, the no-nonsense one, sat down beside me and I commented on liking to sit there because of the view.  I went on to say how beautiful the clouds were and how some even looked silver-lined.   She immediately said “I want that cloud, the silver–lined one.”   I quipped back, “Is that your cloud coming in?”  making metaphorical reference to the ship of good fortune coming into her port,  tying up to her dock, anchored, all her’s.   She laughed out loud and said , yes, she thought it was her cloud coming in.  It was unexpected, her laughter, and I felt the shift in our exchange.   I felt her heart open.   When I came around to face her , I found a blazing smile and her head cocked to one side as if in question of what had just happened.  I smiled back and held her gaze to let her know I’d  felt it too.

Each time, now,  that I see her, her openness remains.   I sometimes feel a little hesitation but then she opens again,  gives me a smile and looks into my eyes.  I felt then and now with each encounter as if my ship or silver-lined cloud has come in , also.   I am also reminded in difficult encounters with others how little it can take to shift the feeling, make the connection and travel on that ocean liner to a different place.  Cruise ship, skiff, river canoe, pontoon boat, any boat will do.  It’s the water, it’s the flow, it’s the clouds floating by.                                                                                                                                                                           Sandra Scott  RN


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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