This afternoon I went to see a new patient who was admitted over the weekend. She was in her eighties and dying in a nursing home. That was pretty much all I knew. I had received a voice mail from my supervisor telling me that the patient’s family was struggling with the impending loss and was not able to be bedside during the day and could I please go out to see the patient.
So around noon, I drove in Greg’s little green Honda to a nondescript nursing home in a nondescript Illinois suburb. Inside I was directed to the third floor and on my way to the patient’s room the elevator doors opened onto a view of the nursing station, around which were seated in wheelchairs over a dozen of the home’s residents, most of them nodding their heads in slumber or simply staring, open-mouthed, at an undetermined horizon. Muzak tinkled out over the scene from speakers in the ceiling.
I quietly walked past all of them and down a hallway where I found my patient unconscious and unresponsive and alone in her nondescript room. She was dying and her breath rattled with each rise and fall of her lungs.
I took off my coat and put down my purse and I pulled up a chair and I simply sat with her. I looked at her face and I gently placed my hand on her arm and I wondered at the kind of life she had led. I wondered who she loved, who she cared for. I wondered what the best day she ever had was and I wondered what moment in her life she was most proud of. I looked at the wrinkles in her forehead and the curve of her lips and I tried to imagine what her smile was like and what the exact moment was in her life was in which she felt most loved.
After a while I just closed my eyes and breathed in and out. Just being.
We are not these bodies.
I’ll say it again. We are not these bodies.