One thing I’ve noticed after working in the hospital for the past five weeks, especially on my Oncology unit, is that I often have no words for patients.
One particular afternoon I walked into the room of a patient who was severely suffering from Crohn’s Disease. Because she was on Contact Precautions, I had to wear gloves and a gown. As I walked into the room, she barely lifted or turned her head to look at me. I introduced myself, asked her a few of my normal “intro” questions, but she wasn’t saying much. I walked over and sat down in the chair next to her bed and tried asking a few more questions. She still stared straight forward, looking at the blank wall in front of her bed. The TV was on, but she was clearly not watching it. The only things she said were, “I’m so tired — I’m just so tired. I’ve been here so long…I’m so tired.” Clearly asking her questions about how she was doing was not the right technique. And although I know the ministry of presence is often a stronger and greater need than questions or dialogue, I still felt like I should be saying something to try and “help her.”
But there were no words. I couldn’t think of any – and after a few minutes, I became more comfortable with that. I asked her if I could hold her hand, she nodded, and I sat there with her for 5 minutes, in silence. Just holding her hand, but not trying to squelch the silence with words, with scripture, with condolences, with empathy. Just silence. And human touch. And she began to cry.
Now, it wasn’t my goal to make her cry – but something was touched within herself, and she was able to connect with her own sadness and she was able to “feel.” No amount of questions or anything else would have helped her get to that place.