Monday, May 04, 2009


What do I say to you when you open your eyes to me, blinking?

What do I say to you, as you stare to the right?

What do I say when you can only utter faint noises in response to my questions?

What do I say to you when I see those crumpled hands grasping the sheet below?

What do I say to you now that a triple-lumen catheter’s in your leg?

That pinned hip will help you now, won’t it?

Are you in pain?

Are you hungry?

Are you thirsty?

Are you warm enough?

How do I know?

What does one say, to a 96 year-old like this?



Not knowing not what to say.

Except, perhaps, I’m sorry.



Anonymous said...

You may not know what to say, but never underestimate the power of your touch.

Christian Sinclair said...

great post. I have felt the same before. Thanks for putting it into words.

SeaSpray said...

This was very moving Dr Wes.

I worried about my mother not being able to consistently speak up for herself these last few months.

I wondered what she was really thinking...and feeling.

And I wondered if the nursing home staff or the doctors took her seriously when she did speak... or did they brush her off as just another elderly lady with dementia?

And I wonder if she was in real pain the last couple of months.

I agree...the power of touch can speak volumes.. more than words can...especially when one is in such a vulnerable position. Leaving your hand with a firm touch where ever it feels appropriate...perhaps clasping a hand while you talk with compassion... is healing and transcends words. Especially with the elderly who often seem to be forgotten.

And even tho you may not be getting an appropriate response... your words may be understood.

I've told this story before. One night and elderly woman was brought in from a nursing home and by all appearances she was what they referred to as gorked. She didn't speak or respond. I don't recall why, but the ED doc thinking he was funny, made fun of her. he actually was a good doctor and so I don't know what got into him. That little old lady never spoke but she had tears falling down the side of her face as she lay there on the stretcher.

I think anytime compassion is extended... it will always do what it was intended to do..even if we don't see the results...and that goes both ways... for the patient and the person extending it.