Sometimes, just being there can make all the difference. It really is one of the best ways we can alleviate the suffering of another. The feeling of another soul, bringing warmth to our own, is something that cannot be bottled and sold like a drugstore elixir. Human nurturing, consideration and care can sometimes produce clarity and comfort better than the best medicine. We see this when a premature infant thrives, just by holding her close and swaddled in her parent’s arms. We see this in terminally ill patients, although can’t be scientifically proven, who seem to live longer because someone brought them companionship in their last days, months or years. Being there can be the moment when your presence erases the worries of another. It could mean that your companionship gave someone else enough room to breathe a sigh of relief.
That desire to feel warm and loved has been familiar to us and needed since our earliest childhood memory. We can all remember just how good it felt, when your mother would enter the room when you were sick as a child, sit by your side, and stroke your hair with a kind hand. She didn’t need to feed you medication, or offer scientific answers as to why you were sick. In fact, much of the time, even without any verbal expression, she was capable of bringing some solace to your worried mind. You knew why she was there – and that in some way it was helping to heal you. For some reason, parents just know that being alone and facing an illness is scary, and they did the one thing they could to help our fears subside. And, we never lose this need to have someone there for us.
On July 11th, Samost JFCS had a very special visitor, Dr. Edward Viner of Cooper University Hospital. And, despite the fact that he is a hugely accomplished physician and revered expert in the field of internal medicine, he came to speak about the power of this one “medicine” you cannot get from and IV bag or hold in your hand. Dr. Viner was speaking to volunteers-in-training of the newly-established Patient Partners program, telling them how invaluable their presence is to someone terminally or critically ill. The reason he knew of this power is because at the young age of 34, he nearly died from surgeries and complications stemming from a tumor in his liver. Even though he was a doctor at the time of his illness, he remembers the best “medicine” came from those who would simply talk and share and be his companion as he stared at the real possibility of losing his life and missing his young family. The advocates he had by his side who lent an empathetic ear, calmed him when he was distraught, offered reassurance or helped him navigate the terrifying prospects, were key to his survival.
Many of us can relate. A staff member was reminded recently of sitting by her father’s bedside in the months before he passed. Day in and day out – she would sit with him. She didn’t bring medical books along to explain away the hurting; she didn’t smuggle in her purse the latest break-though treatments. What she brought was a familiar face and a willingness to listen. They would talk about news, family events, share some laughter and even sometimes cover the issue of death and dying. She knew in her heart the end would soon come, but it helped her father just the same. He told her on numerous occasions he thought her visits were helping him to live just a little bit longer. The companionship meant just as much to her, as it did to him.
The power of being there cannot be underestimated, and it is a real and poignant journey each of our volunteers of the Patient Partners programs will be taking with their patients. They may sit with a person through a doctor visit. They may offer a reason to smile to someone scared and anticipating test results in a waiting room. They could just help make sense of the confusion that accompanies a lengthy treatment plan and the road to recovery, because sometimes the fear of the unknown is as debilitating as a life-threatening disease. It is hard to believe, but true, that a remedy to the paralyzing effects of illness, treatments and the uncertain journey ahead, can be as simple as your presence.
We all know there is no cure-all that can bring us peace of mind, health and happiness in one fell swoop. There are no quick fixes to complicated and layered issues. And, unfortunately groundbreaking treatments and pills can only take us only so far in healing. The reality is, sometimes we don’t have any answers or concrete solutions to offer at all, and that’s because there is nothing we really have to say. It’s in those moments when just being there is the most important thing we can do to help heal a hurting soul.
Please contact us at 856-424-1333 if you need a Patient Partner, or if you want to be there as a Patient Partner for someone in need. For information, visit www.jfcssnj.org