Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Off the Couch, Out the Door

Nature brings healing, even to patients' sunset days.

A few posts back, I wrote about the healing power of nature in my own life.  During my years as a nursing assistant for Hospice, I witnessed this power in the lives of others, as well.  Let me tell you about two of these folks.  While it's true they both eventually died, I know that their final days were enriched by getting them off the couch and out the door.

Dan, a Polish-American retired paper mill worker, wanted nothing to do with me.  No, he didn't need a shave.  No, he could shower without my help.  No, he didn't want to chit-chat.  "Just siddown and be quiet.  I wanna watch 'The Price is Right'."  Now, to spend an hour doing nothing was bad enough.  But to have to spend it watching "The Price is Right" -- torture!  So I busied myself making his bed and nosing about for something to read.  And there on his bookshelf were several field guides for mushrooms.  I interrupted his program: "Dan, do you like to hunt mushrooms?  You know, we could go look for some."  It was late autumn.  There might be a few late fruiters.  Click!  The TV turned off.  "Could you really take me?"

Indeed I could.  We drove to a site where he knew some oyster mushrooms might be found. While he sat in the car, he sent me off into the woods.  It must have been angels (plus Dan's good directions) that led me right to them.  A whole bunch.  I gathered a gallon or so, and you know, it might have been gold I laid in his lap, he was so delighted.  And after that adventure, off we would go nearly every day until the day he died.  He'd sit in the car with his oxygen tank (he had terminal heart failure), and we'd drive along the Hudson and Hoosick Rivers, visiting all the haunts of his youth. We found where he used to hide his canoe.  We found where wild asparagus grew.  He recalled how his father was gassed in the war.  He remembered his mother's struggles to run their tavern.  He confessed how he started drinking young, and how mean he had been to his wife when he was drunk.  And he found at last the courage to ask for his wife's forgiveness before he died.  And he died in her loving arms.

* * *
Then there was Eleanor.  I'm not sure what Eleanor's illness was.  Terminal crankiness, probably.  She lived in an assisted living facility, very nice, lots of social events, classes, good meals.  She never left her room.  She wanted her meals sent up.  She wanted her shades pulled down.  The one pleasure she allowed herself was to sit on the porch  in her wheelchair on pleasant days.  One day I rolled her down the ramp: "Some blue-eyed grass is blooming near the parking lot," I told her.  She reluctantly consented.  She had never seen (nor ever cared to see) blue-eyed grass, but that day her eyes were opened.  A sea of radiant blue covered a vacant lot, studded with bright yellow sundrops and snowy wild strawberry.  "Oh my! How pretty," she said (in spite of herself). 

The blue-eyed grass that opened Eleanor's eyes

All summer we walked and rolled, on into the fall.  If the day was rainy, she waited for me in her raincoat.  She couldn't get over the beauty of blue vervain ("How can that be a weed?") or the tiny pink blossoms of northern willow herb ("Wouldn't they make a darling dollhouse bouquet?") We picked gorgeous bundles of panicled dogwood (burgundy leaves, waxy white berries on hot pink pedicels) mixed with the dark maroon seed sprays of curly dock.  Then we got in trouble for bringing in armloads of goldenrod.  Her daughter threw it all out: "Get those weeds out of here!  They're dropping pollen all over!"  I heard that cranky tone and marvelled: that's how Eleanor used to sound.  She didn't anymore. 


corin said...

very touching post. sometimes we need hard proof of the healing power of nature. the only angel in that mushroom story was YOU!

Allan Stellar said...


NatureGirl said...

Your story of Eleanor made me smile. The healing power of nature!

And if you ever see her daughter again, tell her from me that goldenrod pollen is sticky, so it does not drop all over the place. The culprit for allergies is ragweed.

NatureGirl said...

Okay, I read Eleanor's story first. The mushroom tales are also very good - brought tears to my eyes.

Because of you, and your work with hospice, I want you to know that when I received a donation request from High Peaks Hospice this week I sent it in with a donation! People like you are so valuable! Thank you for your good work!

Woodswalker said...

And thank you, Nature Girl, for your contribution. Hospice depends on donors to help provide services to those who don't have insurance. All services -- medical directors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, volunteers, equipment, medical supplies, medications -- are provided without cost to Hospice patients.

Anonymous said...

That is actually very cool grandma,
what my dad calls you, Saint Jackie, is very suiting