Palliative Care

How quiet it is here. And the room is uncluttered.  The metal scaffolding that held fluid-filled plastic bags and various other paraphernalia are now missing. There are no tubes connected to ports that led into her small-framed body. No beeping, no clamor in the hallway. Instead, a meditative stillness.

Mary Jo lies there, seemingly in a peaceful slumber.

A colorful quilt lay on top of her, pulled up to just below her shoulders. Her hands lay atop the covers, freshly manicured.

Her thick, black Phillipino hair had recently been brushed. I tiptoe over to the bedside and detect a rhythmic movement, a slight swelling and releasing of her chest. Effortless, finally.

So this is palliative care. The sole mission is simply comfort.

I feel a spontaneous sigh of relief that surprises me a bit. Thank goodness.

This beautiful, special person deserves to rest now.

I scan the quilt and see that it has been made by her patients and co-workers at the private boarding school where she worked as the child psychiatrist. Their names and letting-go messages are hand stitched on the colorful patches of fabric. Candid expressions of love. They will surely miss her.

I reach for her hand and hold it in mine. Does she know I’m here? I begin talking anyway, softly, slowly. “Hi, dear friend. You look so beautiful, so peaceful. Same as always now that I think about it. You’ve always exuded that tranquility.” My voice is now of a normal pace.

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t always feel that inside. We both struggled with all of the bureaucratic infighting when we worked together at the practice. But in meetings with others, your face never revealed distress. You could maintain your calm voice, express yourself at an even pace. And they listened to you. Do you know how helpful that was to me? You are my role model for dealing with BS from administrators. What would Mary Jo do? I ask myself. And I try. I really do.”

I suddenly feel somewhat self-conscious. I have interrupted the quiet, betrayed the solemnity of the space, not for her benefit but for mine. I hold her hand for a few more minutes. I watch her breathing and I remain quiet.

Finally I whisper, “I will miss you Mary Jo. I love you. Peace be with you.”

I gently remove my hand and kiss her on the forehead.

My tears don’t come until I leave the room and see the Exit sign at the end of the hallway.