Bedside Lessons – 11. Is healing possible at the end of life?

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

She was unwell, and needed to come in for symptom control. She had been sick for many months but the pain had worsened to the point of intolerability. This was one tough lady, and she liked to show just how tough she was by being in your face. This is how I am, and who I am, and if you don’t like it, go to hell. That’s what her outer shell showed anyway, when she arrived she was feeling too unwell to put up her usual shields. She had always had trouble letting people in, and it took a bit of work in order for us to establish an useful rapport with her. Once we did we were able to help with her physical symptoms but no matter what we tried we could not penetrate her deep sadness and her feeling of being unloved.

She had moved thousands of miles from her birthplace, away from her blood family members. She had made a new life for herself over the 20 years that she had lived in New Zealand, but it was away from her family of origin. There seemed to be something from her past that kept on hurting her, even more than her end-stage cancer was able to. Physical pain we managed to get on top of, but her emotional pain we weren’t able to shift at all. Our counsellors, social workers and spiritual care advisor all tried their best but something was held back, which she could not share. Some things just hurt too much to be revealed, even to total strangers.

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