Healing is a journey that may begin with a diagnosis and ideally, end with a positive outcome. The twists and turns that accompany it could be dizzying. In the case of Ondreah Johnson, RN who I have written about in previous articles, the voyage began when she detected a lump in her breast on Christmas night, 2016. She is open to considering it “another gift.”
As a home care nurse, she was accustomed to being the one offering the advice and instruction to her patients for most of her professional career that spans 37 years. Matter of fact medical care blended with compassion, has been her way. She is good at what she does. I would certainly trust her to take care of me and anyone else I know.
Now she is on the other side of the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I am writing this as I am sitting in her living room, listening to the gusts of wind woosh through her open living room window on a rare late February, but feels like Spring day. The winds of change are certainly blowing through her life.
We went to the hospital this afternoon for a check-in and a Neulasta injection that helps to boost her white blood cells during chemo; (second round yesterday) one of the first steps as she has boarded what she calls the ‘C-train,’ refraining from using the actual word. She is using modalities both mainstream medical and complimentary including dietary change. supplements, modalities such as Reiki and sound healing. At the moment, she is experiencing a distance healing from friends via a Skype call. She has asked local friends to stay with her for the day of and few days following her treatments. This is my weekend. Although she is doing well, in the grand scheme of things, side effects have come to call that include GI distress and the beginnings of hair loss. A week or so ago, she preemptively cut her already relatively short hair even closer to her head, to make the transition smoother and less of a shock to the system. Today, a small clump came out in her hand.
As a medical social worker, I too have offered support, comfort and guidance to those facing life changing and challenging conditions. When I am on one side of the treatment team, I have a sense of professional objectivity. On this side of the equation, I am witnessing my friend going through the process and it isn’t always easy to maintain that state. Today, as I sat with her in the sterile looking room at her local hospital, we were chatting with the oncology nurse who was validating the experience that Ondreah and many patients have with the side effects. It occurred to both of us, that as caring as this woman was, she and her patients could have benefitted from some of what we brainstormed about as we sat at her kitchen table sipping home-made chicken soup afterward.
Many on her treatment team are curious and even fascinated by her requests that they come closer when talking to her, and sit at her level, rather than towering over her. She encourages them to make eye contact and use the verbiage that she is comfortable with. One medication was referred to by the nurse as “the red devil,” while Ondreah called it “the red rooster”. She is an anomaly who brings items that make her comfortable during her treatment process. Crystals, prayer icons, a picture of one of her spiritual teachers, water, snacks (in case she is there longer than expected), two colorful shawls; one for her shoulders and another to wrap around her head, music and angel cards accompany her. Although this might seem like “cosmic foo foo,” a study conducted by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) lead author Heather Jim, PhD. indicates, “In our observational study, we found people who found feelings of transcendence or meaningfulness or peace reported feeling the least physical problems.” Each of these items are part of her everyday life, so they provide comfort amid an otherwise stressful experience.
Medical facilities are offering complimentary therapies that stand side by side with mainstream practices.
We contemplated having her create a program for medical schools and treatment centers by which they would offer much-needed services that (equally as important as what the rest of the oncology team does) meet the patients where they are emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. The treatment rooms could have music piped in, or encourage recipients to bring their own to ease the effects of the chemicals flowing through their veins.
Reiki practitioners could offer their services during infusion and/or in surgery, since it has been shown to make a difference in pain and comfort levels. An assessment would include their spiritual practices and what they believe about the dis-ease that is impacting their lives. Do they fear it is a death sentence or a detour along the life path they thought they were traveling? Is it something from which they can learn and grow? Can they use it as a springboard for creating a new life? Could it offer them freedoms they had not allowed themselves prior? What is their belief system vis- a ‘-vis the God of Their Understanding and the role of faith in healing?
Such an amenity could put the human in human services, knowing that any health care professional is one medical test away from being on the receiving end of treatment.