On my way to Lillian today, I met an older woman in the elevator ride up. After the doors shut, we looked at each other, I smiled and we began a small chat. She mentioned that the elevators were indeed quite slow at this particular facility, most likely because the residents were very slow, and needed more time getting in an out, in wheel chairs and walkers. And it prevented them from getting bumped by the closing doors, and moving anywhere too quickly. She made me laugh and I appreciated her sharp wit. I asked her if she liked it here. There was a long sigh, and her mouth tightened up a bit. She then said “…it’s okay. This is my fourth retirement home. They always sell them with such glamour, and then there are the disappointments that follow. I’m working on my expectations she said”, with a smile. Her eyes, however, looked both resigned, and sad. I could feel my heart, and how I wanted to make it better for her. Perhaps we could share a cup of tea, and she could share with me some of the grief in her heart. This didn’t seem to be how she had planned on it going.
Lillian is 90 years old this year, and is in severe pain after a fall she took in May. She landed on her back and hip, and refuses to take pain medication. She is wrapped up in her over sized flannel shirt and standing in the middle of her bedroom, leaning on her walker. It is over 90 degrees out, but she is in pain, and feels cold. “Hey Lillian” my face I am sure is beaming pure joy as I smile at her. She is not one for grand displays, but I see a grin emerge at the corner of her mouth. I love meeting with Lillian. She is so honest and sincere, that I usually tear up when I am working on her, when I know her eyes are closed, as she is resting.
Today her daughter, who is up from California since her mom’s fall, mentions that Lillian has been awake for almost 3 nights due to the pain. She, Fran, looks exhausted and worn to the bone.
I lay Lillian on her side and very lightly, start massaging the channels of her body. I start on her arms, and gently stroke the triple warmer channel, and then work on her back, hip and leg. Part of my ongoing challenge in working in hospice and palliative care, especially in people’s homes, is how to position my body so that I am not stressed to hold a posture. I want to be close to her, yet i can’t help her much if I’m in pain. So, I kneel in front of her and place a needle in Bladder 62, to open up her spine and GB 41 to open up her side and hip. As I so often do now with my elder and dying patients, I spend some time gently touching her hair and head and back of her neck, and then finish lightly touching her face. I want my hands to be as soft as they can possibly be. She then makes the tiniest of murmurs, and I trust that it is coming from a place of relaxation in her, and not discomfort.
I wonder if the reason we share such a closeness is from my work on her head and face, and the way it links us in an unspoken way. I do not know.
Since the bed is up against the wall, and her back is facing that direction I decide to climb up onto the bed and position myself behind her so that I can cradle her a bit, and work on her back directly. It is intimate, and yet I want to feel close to her, and I want her body to feel the caring that I have for it, and that it can lean into me. She doesn’t seem to mind, and I just softly lay my hands on her back and right hip. There is this instant where I begin to move my hands just above her body, first along her back and then along her leg and hip, and finally over her upper body and face. I have not done this before on her or any of my clients but I know it to be a medical Qi Gong technique and it is what feels precisely right at this moment. This space directly on or right about the surface of the body is where our Wei Qi resides, it is a protective layer. As i move my hands, her entire body begins to feel animated and then completely softens. I feel very connected to Lillian at this moment, almost as if where she stops, I begin.
I often get uncomfortable at this moment. I get scared that I will somehow disturb her being, her health, increase her pain, act irresponsibly. It is hard to know if any of that will ever be an actual outcome but I do know for certain that the softness I felt happen in her body was real, and that my love for her is steady.
As I am gathering up my things to leave, Lillian awakens and is calling for her daughter to help her to the bathroom. She had fallen asleep and is surprised, i think, to see me still there. She looks so beautiful and says with utmost tenderness, “ thank you for the divine break from my pain; it feels so nice, I wish i had started this so long ago.”