I have lived in-between for most of my life. I grew up between two cultures; the Chinese at home and the Eurocentric outside of my home. Later in University, I was part of the local Chinese Group but felt more comfortable as part of the newer Asian immigrant group.
I have a lot of experience in bridging between two different cultures which are different in many ways and may think they have little in common. Palliative Care lies in between the usual medical culture of active treatment and the culture of death and dying. Was that what attracted me to Palliative Care? Are we there to bridge the gap between cultures?
I had much in common with a patient that I cared for some years ago. We were both of Han Chinese origin. His surname was written in the French alphabet. Mine was written using the Portuguese alphabet. The Chinese Diaspora and accidents of birth had led our parents to be born in different places. We were both members of the Hakka people, ‘the guest people’ the most diasporic nomads of the Han Chinese. Our ancestors lived different lives, in different places which played true to our heritage. The Hakka people were sometimes driven out of town by the non-Hakka people so it was not unusual for them to set off on major overseas migrations. They settled all over the world in places like Hawaii, Tahiti, and East Timor to name a few.
My patient looked as Chinese as I did, but he spoke English with a French accent. His temperament was also more like a Frenchman’s, full of emotion and bluster. No whispering, when a passionate monologue could say so much more. He had been a Tai Chi master and had taught martial arts for many years. He had a special relationship with his cancer, the illness that was killing him. He did not fight it and was not trying to destroy it in a war. He said his cancer had grown as part of him. He could not go to war with himself. Instead, he loved his cancer.
How can you be calm if you are accepting as collateral damage, the destruction of the non-cancer parts of yourself? There is something wrong with fighting yourself. Self-harm damages not only the physical aspects of a person but also their psycho-social-spiritual aspects as well. He treated his cancer with care and respect as if it was a good friend. He felt that by doing so he had not suffered as much. He would speak to it with compassion. It seemed to work as he stayed alive longer than most people with his cancer would have.
Palliative Care can provide a bridge and guidance to people who may soon be crossing over from the land of the living, into the land of the dying. What price is the trip across the River Styx? What will you pay the ferryman? What are you willing to let go of to support this journey?
We are not here to judge you, we are here to ferry you across to the other side in a supportive manner. Travelling between life and death. We aim to make it as smooth a journey as possible, as the currents may be rough as we make our way across. Bridging the two worlds, whenever shall the twain meet? That’s the problem, people think that they are just two unrelated entities rather than waypoints on the same journey. You want the final trip to be smooth and comfortable. Clear communication is required to ensure comfortable travel along the continuum between life and death.
Bon voyage mon ami.
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