It was three weeks before Christmas and she asked me to visit her in Wellington, preferably before Christmas. I was leaving for India the following week and no cheap flights meant it was not possible. I phoned her and told her I would visit when I returned from India.
Whilst in India, my Teacher got an email saying she had been admitted into hospice. I was unsure that I would get back in time. However, my Teacher was confident that it would be okay. At least I was in one of the holiest places and attending a prayer festival. I sponsored some group prayers for her as well as doing my personal prayers for her.
I met the Tibetan family that my friend sponsored. They were very grateful for her kindness and generosity and very sad that my friend was terminally ill. They requested me to take a beautiful woollen shawl back to New Zealand for her.
Within a few days of arriving home, I flew to Wellington to see her. She was out of hospice and back in her own home, being well cared for by one of her sons and her sister. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a much thinner version of my friend who was still quite mobile due to the loving care of her son and sister. I stayed two days with her.
I was working on the liaison psychiatry team in my final year of medical school. I went to meet a patient that had self-referred, which was unusual. Psych liaison provides psychiatric input for patients who also have medical issues that have brought them into hospital. I went with the nurse specialist to see the patient, an Englishman in his mid-thirties.
Work had brought him and his Latin American wife across the world. He was a nature documentary maker and had been based in the lower South Island filming the local wildlife. Just before Christmas he became unwell with a severe nosebleed, which required hospital intervention. Simple blood tests revealed grossly abnormal results. Acute Myelocytic Leukaemia (AM bloody helL) was the shocking diagnosis which destroyed their plans for Christmas and life in general. An urgent admission was arranged to our hospital’s Haematology department, which served the entire region. Harsh chemotherapy needed to be started otherwise our patient would’ve only had days left to live.
She was a solicitor used to dealing with other people’s problems and separating the emotion from the facts. But today she looked tired, worn out, and close to tears.
“Noticed your not your usual self what’s the matter”? I asked.
“I’m caring for my dying mother at home and have been doing it for the last two months. I need to get home as quick as I can”.
“Do you have anyone helping you”? I inquired
“Sometimes my sister helps but she has three kids. Mostly it’s just me and mum, I had to move in with her temporarily to take care of her because she couldn’t manage on her own. I’m not sure if I can manage. I sleep in the armchair next to the bed”.
“Would it help if I sat with her while you do your work at home”?
A smile fleetingly replaced the stress on her face. ‘Here’s the address she said and my number if you get lost”.
“Ask your mum if I can come and see her, phone me if she says yes, no problem if she says no”.
Later that evening she phoned confirming it was okay.