As I study and attempt to apply the whole idea of presence and mindfulness–a full time quest–to my personal and professional life, I find so many treasures of connection. For many years, rounds were more of an inquisition or an interview. A series of questions, all good ones, but almost teaching patients to our test.
Now, I just greet and listen to their story. Whatever story it is, their stay with us, their life in or out of our care, whatever is on their mind.
Eunice is a soft-spoken, petite, perfectly mannered, self-educated, adorable lady who has spent 91 years on this planet. She sat in her chair, a blanket wrapped around her waist. She was just finishing her lunch. He hair wrapped in a knitted cap from her daughter. She proudly pointed it out to me as she turned and smiled at her daughter sitting on the couch by the bed.
With almost a century of story with her, she has seen a lot. We spoke briefly of her experience through the hardest times. Physical trials through times of extreme poverty. Emotionally through the toxin of racism. And now, spiritually as she confidently and peacefully addresses her mortality. Yes, all of that in about 30 minutes.
I asked, “What have we done right for you? What can you tell me that will help us improve?”
She touched the napkin to her lips. Eunice cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me,” as she shifted to sit up a little straighter in her chair.
Her voiced raised a bit as she said, “It’s been wonderful!” She turned her view to the nurse assistant and the nurse who joined us in the room, pointed her finger at them both and said, “Because they make me feel loved.”
The room was silent. Smiles beamed from ear to ear on the faces of our beautiful caregivers.
There was a little more chat and we offered our best and thanked Eunice for her time. I leaned in and we exchanged a hug.
I shared this story in a meeting the following day. There was clearly a mix of positive energy and some tension in the room. I opened up the dialogue. One colleague asked, “Don’t you think ‘love’ is a little much?” The question opened and thoughtful conversation about the nature of compassion, empathy, and yes…love as an expression of our care. We landed in a soft place of openness to the possibilities, the responsibilities, the burdens we share for our patients, and the privilege of caring.
I can’t say whether our two nursing staff loved Eunice or not. That is theirs to offer. But Eunice felt loved. Love transcends customer service; it offers a degree of commitment and trust; it is an unexplainable connection at the level of the heart. Who is to say what rules or boundaries there are to love? There isn’t a protocol or a clinical pathway. No service standard or guiding principle. It is something in me offered to you. Something in them offered to her and in return.
I would hope that true empathy, the kind that comes from a compassionate spirit goes so far as to make those suffering feel…loved.
Eunice, may you continue to bring the joy you do through your smile and words and gentle presence both here and in the next places. Thank you for spending time with me and our team. To Kristen and Charise, thank you for doing what so many of our amazing people do…lead with the heart and heal so beautifully.