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Volunteering on the Palliative Care Floor

That week, I saw two new names on the patient list: two Caucasian ladies both in their fifties, in the rooms on each side of the hallway. As soon as the nurses saw me, they said, “Please offer a foot massage to the lady in the room on the left side. We are all worried about her.” It seemed the sudden transfer to the “palliative care floor” had shut her down. 

The staff had held a long discussion on how to help her – physically, mentally and emotionally. How to relieve her shock, stress and fear, and make her bit more peaceful. They tried many ways but nothing seemed working. 

I knocked on her door. No reply. She was curled up with her back toward the door, her head buried in her pillow, and under a blanket. The message felt clear: “Leave me alone. Let me just die. No hope for me.”

I gently offered a foot massage, which was flatly refused. She didn’t want any visitors, or help, even medical help. As the lady in the other room showed a striking contrast to her, – open, welcoming, and even joyful – her closed, desperate and abandoned attitude concerned everyone on the floor.

Her former social worker on the floor she’d been transferred from came to visit to follow up. He seemed to have anticipated this situation, and wanted to see what would help her. He asked many people; doctors, nurses, orderly, house keeping staff and even volunteers to find out what faith she had, or hadn’t. He was probing for any clue to open her up for any help.

Some time later, someone finally got some information about her. “That lady doesn’t have any religion; she is not Christian – not Catholic, Protestant, or any other kind of Christian. Not Jewish, or Muslim. Not Buddhist either. But it seems that the only thing she believes in is Kwan Yin with thousand hands.” The social worker was pleased and walked toward her room.

I bumped into him in the hallway. He asked me to show my hands. “Oh you have the hands of God”, he surprised me, and continued, “please stand by near here, I will call you.” He smiled and disappeared into her room.

Almost an hour later, he appeared from the room, smiled and said, “Now you go and give her a massage. I told her that I know someone with one of those 1000 hands.”

As I had once been refused, I timidly offered a foot massage. She nodded and closed her eyes. I lifted the lower part of the blanket to expose her feet, covered one foot with a towel, spread some warm oil and started rubbing her foot gently. I saw her body slowly and gradually sink into her bed. I was relieved and continued with all my love.

I finished one foot, and covered it with a towel. She opened her eyes and said “Vous êtes fée tombée du ciel.” (You are a fairy fallen from the heaven) I was touched, and honored.

She was more relaxed with the other foot. When I finished, she again said “Vous êtes fée tombée du ciel,” with a slight smile and lowered her body.

I left the room very quietly so that she could fall asleep. Warmth spread in my heart.

It was my first and last massage for her; I was off on my vacation for a few weeks, and when I returned, she was gone.

I learned from the volunteer coordinator that she changed from that day; she opened up herself to the world around her, accepted medical help, and welcomed visits from the volunteers. She was loved by many and she responded to the love. She transitioned at ease and in peace. 

This made me extremely happy. I felt honored. Not because I was able to comfort her, but because I was a part of the great team of dedicated people who really care, who are full of love, who go extra miles to look for even a tiny clue to ease the pain and suffering of patients. I was grateful to the the social worker who had changed my ordinary hands into a means to convey something much higher.