From The Under 35 Project: “The Dharma is in the Medicine”

The Under 35 Project Stacy Chivers writes about working with sick people and offering them “love, patience, and compassion.”

Stacy Chivers
12 September 2012
Photo by Hush Naidoo

I work as a respiratory therapist at a small community hospital nestled by the ocean in southern California. The hospital sits next to a very large retirement community. The majority of the patients we take care of are elderly. Serving the elderly in the hospital setting can be difficult. I have brought my dharma practice into the hospital and it has helped my patients and me. Every day at work I use the disciplines of patience, compassion, mindfulness, and understanding.

Dementia is rampant in the elderly community and it is an ugly disease. The patients can be very mean and sometimes physically abusive. When a patient rears up to hit me while I am stopping them from getting out of bed I use my calmest voice and try to reorient them to where they are. I see them as a confused individual that is not meaning to hurt anyone. They are victims of a disease that causes them to act out. I use compassion. I will hug them. Sometimes the simple act of telling them that you understand, and touching them lightly on the arm brings them back… Sometimes not. I just try every time to treat them with love, patience, and compassion — as if they were my Grandpa or my Grandma, but confused and scared. We all need a little love sometimes.

Last week I had a patient who has Parkinson’s disease and it was a really bad day for her. She was shaking all over and was having a hard time walking. She came to my hospital for an outpatient arterial blood draw. I got a wheelchair and wheeled her to my lab. She kept apologizing for her Parkinson’s and I listened to her and reassured her that it was fine. She was embarrassed and nervous. Instead of getting irritated and annoyed that this was taking so long and I was going to miss my break time, I sat with her. I got her some ice water and crackers and talked with her. I explained what we needed to do and why. I gave her a minute, told her to take a deep breath and relax. She smiled and her shaking eased up a bit.

I used my practice of mindfulness and really listened to her. She told me she has a needle phobia and was afraid of having her blood drawn. I tried to get the sample, but she was shaking and crying so hard that I missed the artery. She kept crying and telling me how embarrassed she was. I told her that everything was alright and that it was no problem. I helped her focus on her breath and come back to this moment, then told her I would call the doctor and explain what happened and take care of everything for her. I wheeled her back down to the lobby and helped her into her husband’s car. She reached for my arm and pulled me close and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. Thanking me for being so kind to her. That practice of mindfulness and compassion shines through everything I do.

I love every patient I take care of. I often get to call them Grandpa or Grandma. They love it. I love it. They feel comfortable and happy, even in the cold hospital. The patients will comment that everyone who works at the hospital really acts like they love them. I tell them it is true. We DO love them! Even the hard-to-get-along-with ones. They’re just confused, scared, and sick.

A challenging aspect of work life for any type of job is relating well with your co-workers. I am a naturally easy-going person and tend to get along with everyone. Well, almost everyone.

I have been moved into a different area of the hospital to train into a new position. The girl who is training me is proving to be a challenge for me. Instead of asking me to do something, she will bark at me all day as if I am her child. My other co-workers ask why I don’t put her in her place. My answer is simple – she is a confused individual and talks like that to everyone. If I yell at her and drop down to her level I am just perpetuating the hurt and not solving anything. Hurt people hurt others. I use patience and understanding to see who she is inside and let her barking and shouting just fall away and not let it bother me. Like Bruce Lee said, “Be like water.” I have to train with her for another few weeks so I will ignore her brash behavior and meet her with kindness and love.

Once the training period is over I will take her aside and let her know her actions are not beneficial to anyone and maybe she doesn’t realize how she is talking to others. I don’t know what is going on in her life. Maybe she is stressed. Maybe her children are acting out. Maybe her divorce paperwork is causing her depression and anxiety. I don’t know. But I will meet her with kindness and love, not let her actions affect me and carry on. If she really gets on my nerves I will excuse myself to the restroom and take a quick five-minute breather to center myself again.

Patience, compassion, mindfulness, understanding, and love. I use them at work, at home with my 14-year-old son, and with my friends and family. It makes life easier. It helps me get over the hurdles in life with grace and dignity. Letting the love shine on others and make their lives a little better. Be a shining sun. The light will keep moving and growing. It’s contagious. Try it.