I have often wondered what is taught about giving patient care beyond the medical treatments someone receives during a battle with a major illness like cancer. During Carrie’s battle we met many health care professionals from many fields as we dealt with the varying issues associated with her cancer. Nearly everyone we encountered appeared to be interested in us as people not just as a patient and her husband. From the doctors to the nurses to the food service people we felt engaged. From my perspective, this is of paramount importance to the medical treatment a cancer patient receives. This type of engagement is part of building optimism into the treatment plan of someone battling a horrific disease such as cancer.
There were many occasions illustrating this idea but one stands out in my memory. In the months before Carrie died she lost weight that presented a problem with her tailbone that, in turn, made it difficult to sit comfortably. In an effort to make her comfortable, I altered cushions and pillows with varying success. Over the course of a couple of doctor visits, we mentioned this problem and our attempts at a solution. At the next visit the nurse gave Carrie a gift. It was a special shaped pillow that she found while shopping on her personal time. The pillow worked great and Carrie found a lot of relief from that thoughtful gift during the last few months of her life.
This act of generosity, of encouragement, of patient care was incredible and meant so much to both of us. In a thank you note I tried to express so many of these thoughts. This is what I wrote:
“Dear T. ,
We’ve endured so much together since we first met several months ago. We are far from finished with this battle so much more will be written concerning our journey together. We wanted to take a moment to convey to you how much your efforts are noticed and how much you are appreciated.
You have shown great compassion and sensitivity to our needs. You have communicated a sincere interest in our best interest. You have demonstrated an “extra mile” attitude that has inspired us in this cancer battle.
Your gift of the “tushie cushie” gave a tremendous boost to morale. This thoughtful act transcends mere interest in others but a genuine partnership in the journey.
You have been an essential part of making us feel as though we are visiting friends who are using their medical expertise to treat our cancer instead of medical experts who act friendly. Trust us; there is a world of difference.
Thank you for being a difference maker in our lives.”
It is my hope that this illustration might encourage those tasked with working with cancer patients and might also encourage patients and their caregivers to recognize and acknowledge the caring attitudes and efforts of those around them.