Sam and I did hospice over the weekend and I came away with a gnawing and unsettled feeling in my gut. Not the sadness of someone making peace with death but something more than that. With the kinds of technology we use all the time, I wondered, have we lost a bit of our humanity through the sphere of anonymous modern day life?
We are given a rare opportunity to visit with patients and we probably do a whole lot more people watching than even we realize. The more visits I make, the more I really observe people and this weekend was no exception. We met all kinds, the sick and well, from all walks of life and experience and this Saturday was no exception. Observing them provides a window into their world.
While making rounds, I came across a patient who was conscious and chatting with visitors in his room. That’s somewhat rare since most hospice patients are barely awake. I asked if they’d like a visit with Pet Therapy and both he and his wife enthusiastically said, “Oh yes, definitely–we love dogs!” They introduced me to their daughter and granddaughter who were in a corner. We made with the pleasantries of greeting and they commented on how handsome Sam was and how glad they were to see him. Then a few moments later, the daughter and granddaughter resumed whatever they were previously doing on their cell phones. O-kay, I thought. I know we’ve all seen people in restaurants texting to each other or to mutual friends and while kind of pathetic, it’s just not surprising anymore. Yet, when someone is in hospice, they don’t have a whole lot of time left. Their time is short, it’s precious and you’d think visitors (especially family members) would be more inclined to actually spend it visiting rather than being plugged in to some mobile device. The patient and his wife were insistent that we come in and told stories about dogs they’d owned, or knew…you know, the usual small talk. They were warm and gracious, the kind of people you admire for being genuine, humble, down to earth and Sam was particularly drawn to the wife. Whenever we visit patients, I know this goof-ball dog will first go to the person who needs him the most. He has a knack for sorting out people’s energy. He’ll visit with them all eventually, but he always goes to the one who needs him the most…first. He hardly sniffed at the two feverishly typing away on their cell phones. He instinctively knew they were totally disengaged; it just took me a while to realize that. I kept thinking surely they’ll make some comment or recall a happier shared time. But they didn’t. Sam couldn’t get enough of the wife though. His tail wagged furiously and he tossed his head proudly. We laughed because his tail looks like a Swiffer wand dusting away. The same vigorous tail wagging was shown with the patient as Sam got close enough to get petted by him. He smiled and spoke softly to Sam who watched him intently, hanging on to his every word. They both commented on how soulful his eyes were, yet the daughter and granddaughter were MIA in the moment and never so much as looked up. It mattered not to Sam, he completely believed everything the patient said. But here was a man whose family didn’t take into account he would soon not be with them. I felt so badly for him and his wife. Maybe they were used to it, just like I’m used to seeing people texting at restaurants over a meal. I certainly didn’t have any insight into the family’s dynamics, but it seemed as though this is somehow accepted as normal human response. How could we let this happen and is there anything we can do to stem this cavalier approach to being human. When I saw the patient getting tired, we bid our goodbyes but as I walked back down the hallway toward the nurses station, I couldn’t shake those feelings of loss–the loss of our humanness toward one another in general. It especially made me realize the importance of solid eye contact, the power of physical touch in a handshake or hug, of making the people we visit the only thing in the world that matters for as long as they want to share their time with us. I was melancholy by the inescapable lack of being as in some people not being truly involved when a patient or other loved one probably needs it the most. Do humans have a duty to really be there in the moment…at the end?
The pet therapist’s job is to provide a measure of comfort and peace. We all know what a difference it makes for the sick to receive a visit from these special creatures, how a few moments can reduce blood pressure, and perhaps even speed up the healing process and a patient’s ability to feel better even for just a few minutes. Certainly if I’ve learned anything, it’s that we all need to treat one another better, especially when we’re sick or dying. To be loved, to be genuine and engaged, especially at the end when we don’t know what’s on the other side. We need to keep our humanity intact and not let a text or email interfere with those connections.
So be nice to each other, ok? Stay engaged and be there when someone needs that comfort. We will all need it at some point, especially in the end. In the meantime, don’t you want to stay in practice? <3
Monika & Sam
16 thoughts on “Hospice and humanity”
The staff folks are beyond incredible. They have my complete admiration. Those who don’t seem to know how to communicate…not so much.
Thanks for the reminder to turn off my stupid phone and ENGAGE. Sometimes I can’t believe how much time I spend on the damn thing. I feel like a junkie sometimes! (And yes, I’m writing this on my phone. Gah!)
Yes, but you’re on the high speed train, not hospice! There’s a time and place for everything, hospice and texting seem pretty opposite.
Every time I read one of your comments or emails, it just makes me smile. I’m so fortunate to know you. Thank you for your support, friendship and good humor. I’m going to work on the cat thing. 🙂
People seem to be using their phones more and more to escape potentially awkward or difficult face-to-face situations. It’s just so incredibly sad in this case. Have you discussed it with other hospice employees? I wonder if they see it a lot. Side note: When my dad was in hospice, the employees were absolutely amazing. Your/their work is invaluable.
Loved your story of the recent hospice visit. While I try to always give people the benefit of doubt, I also wonder what people must be thinking (or dealing with) themselves during times of grief and suffering. I pray that the family members were posting a story for everyone to read about a sweet visitor who came to help and heal somehow. Sam (and you) are bringing love and thoughtfulness to those in need, I admire you and thank God for you. God Bless you!
Thanks so much. In this case, I’m sorry to say, they weren’t posting a story for others to read. It was meaningless drivel about even more meaningless stuff. I got the impression it was related to school stuff. 🙁
Just so you know, Sam does all the hard work, I just drive. Love you!
Monika…Thank you for this. I’m going to share it with a friend who works as a hospice social worker. Rita
Thanks so much for the kind words, Rita. My deepest admiration for your friend. It’s a very tough environment to work in, those people are absolute angels!
I love this post! I hate it when people are constantly texting on their phones. I think we owe it to each other to be more thoughtful, more caring, etc. What you and Sam do for others is awesome! Thanks for visiting our blog!
Thanks, the whole texting while the dad is in hospice really bugged me and I had to ‘reflect’ on it out loud. Sam does all the hard work, I just drive. 🙂
Monica and Sam–thank you for the insightful piece after your visit to the hospice. I, too, am out of sorts with the constant telephoning and texting that goes on around me all the time. I think those who are so engaged are missing out on all the wonders going on about them. I know “everyone does it” but I’m content to enjoy life as it goes on about me and be a real part of any conversation or even a simple “hello” from a passer-by. Kudos to both of you for the joy you bring to others.
Blessings to both of you, Nancy Fischer
Thanks, Nancy. I’m with you about this topic in case you couldn’t tell 🙂 The idea of “social network” seems misnamed. There’s a time and place for everything but I’m not sure hospice is it when it comes to so-called social networks. 🐾 That’s my two paws worth on the subject.
Okay so now that you’ve made me cry….. I agree, I’ve wondered at the lack of humanity in humans and chalked it up to getting older but can’t shake the feeling that our devices made to connect us are really, in fact doing the opposite. I have long stated that our animal companions are truly the only source of unconditional love on this earth. Wasn’t it Ghandi that said you can tell the state if society by how well it treats it’s children and it’s animals?
Thanks, Cheryl, I think you’re right on the Gandhi quote. I’m just hoping people stop and think about their interactions. Sadly most people think they are multitasking. We should all take a deep breath and savor our loved ones with the same commitment. Seeing it really play out at the hospital has been an eye-opener for sure. At least Sam can bring a smile to someone, both on their face as well as in their heart. And that’s what it’s all about!
Monika, wonderful observations on our in the moment connections, or lack there of. As a society, and especially for this generation coming into adulthood, there is a real loss in that ability to sit and be present with someone. There is a huge fear of being “out of touch” and the impressions that might give to the world in general. Some people lose the ability to be present in person, living relationships primarily thru technology. The next generation is not as comfortable relating face to face and admittedly how they behave and talk thru technology they would never do face to face. Such admiration for the humanity and love you and Sam provide thru your time, touch, and attention at hospice!
Thanks, Nat! It is ironic that the technology we utilize to ‘keep in touch’ seems to be one of the biggest factors for our lack of engagement on a personal level. The anonymity definitely makes for socially stunted humanoids.