It all started over a cup of tea, that was when they first met. They were at the local dance hall almost 60 years ago. Introductions were made over tea and biscuits and then they danced together for the rest of the evening. He was a gentleman and delivered her safely to her parents’ home. That was the start of their courtship and four years later they were man and wife. They moved overseas and enjoyed the big city life for several years. They toured the whole country and had adventures in many places, even visiting a famous underground city. They made their way home and settled down once the first child was on its way. Followed soon by number two.
They bought a house with a garden in which she planted her favourite camellias. All sorts of colours and she tended the plants with care. Nourishing them with her efforts over many years. The children started school and she could start work again. She worked as a secretary making sure everything ran smoothly in the office, putting her natural organization skills to good work. He organized his workshop well, he liked things to be well planned out. Their strong organizational abilities were another thing they had in common, their children were never late for anything.
English tea was her preferred beverage. There was nothing like a nice hot cuppa to warm you up in Winter. It had always been her favourite drink right from childhood. She wasn’t surprised to find out that tea plants were a type of camellia. She had always wanted to visit a tea plantation to see for herself how similar the plants would be to her camellias, but life was too busy. Everything went according to their plan, their children grew up and left home. Then the grandchildren arrived and the good life improved even more.
The organized couple’s plan worked out well, retirement plans had been worked out long in advance and many days were to be spent in their beloved gardens. The camellias never looked better and responded well to her increased presence. What they hadn’t planned for was for cancer to disrupt their well-considered plans. She became unwell and lost a lot of weight. She needed more help with the gardening as her energy had left her.
Sure it’s great to ease suffering of some sort be it to dampen down someone’s pain, or to improve their nausea, or to help them with their breathlessness. Taking away a negative feeling is a good thing to do. Making a bad situation less bad is a worthy thing to do.
What if you can make someone’s situation better, even momentarily? That’s what I enjoy doing the most, having a laugh with my patients. Sure they may be critically unwell and may only have days left to live but they are still human beings and still want to be treated like a person. Finding something that can make them smile or make them laugh may just let them escape for a few seconds. A short moment of enjoyment is something worthy of pursuit.
My patient was dying of recurrent aspiration pneumonia. His swallowing had been compromised for weeks. Food and drink would be aspirated into his lungs, causing life-threatening infections. Even when he didn’t eat he would choke and aspirate on his own saliva. He was constantly breathless as his illness had stopped his breathing muscles from working. This situation could not go on. The nurses asked what we should do if was to aspirate further. I said, “We’ll keep him comfortable.”
I asked him if he felt like eating or drinking anything, and encouraged him to do so. It would not make things any worse, but might give him a small amount of simple pleasure. I suggested he could have anything that he wanted to drink, including alcoholic beverages. As I was working I couldn’t join him but said that he could have one for me. Through his non-invasive positive airways pressure ventilation mask he chuckled and his whole chest shook.
He wanted to drink Coca Cola, and to eat ice-cream. I told him to go for it, hey why not make it into an ice-cream soda? It wasn’t going to hurt him, and if he enjoyed it even better.
I’d be keen to know what was the best thing you did today?
She was 80 years old, terminally ill and had loved gardening all her life. She filled her yard with beautiful flowers and an abundance of vegetables. She enjoyed the peace and satisfaction it gave her. Only using what was needed, she usually gave away the vegetables to family members or visitors.
When I told her I had a job as a part-time Backyard Garden Coordinator, she suggested that it might be nice to have a vegetable garden. When I reminded her of the promise I made to myself when I was 10, about never being a gardener when I grew up, she said to me, “darling things change, that was then and this is now.”