daily prompt: singing the blues

I was in the process of composing this post (dementia + cancer = hearing the diagnosis for the first time (again)) when I discovered that it fits with today’s daily prompt: We all feel down from time to time. How do you combat the blues? What’s one tip you can share with others that always helps to lift your spirits?

Here’s my advice (with a story to preface it)…

I’m currently working with a patient who has moderate-severe dementia. Although Speech-Language Pathologists “treat” dementia, I’m working with him to improve his weak swallow. I touch upon cognitive tasks but it’s not my focus as he was referred for swallow therapy. Impaired swallowing is so dangerous in that it can lead to aspiration pneumonia (lungs fill with fluid and bacteria due to food/liquid/secretions going into the airway instead of the stomach) which can be life threatening. It also decreases one’s quality of life. Two weeks ago, I noticed a decline in his overall affect…increased lethargy, increased fatigue, delayed processing, and decreased cognition. I spent one week away for Spring Break and upon my return, I noticed his skin looked drier and he looked frailer, like he had lost a few pounds. After our session, his caregiver delivered the news…his previously localized lung cancer was probably spreading. And they have elected comfort measures only, which means no more testing and no more treatment.

Even more heart wrenching than the news itself was my patient’s reaction to the news. He slowly looked up at us and the one word he uttered pierced me straight in the heart… “Cancer?!?” I positioned myself behind my patient and mouthed to his caregiver, “He doesn’t know?” with this look of utter shock on my face.

Due to his dementia, my patient seemed to not remember the cancer diagnosis he received back in 2009. So hearing this news was like hearing it for the first time (again).

The look on his face changed from questioning to confusion to disbelief to fear. His caregiver consoled him, “You’re okay.” I rubbed his back.

I will never forget the level of emotion I felt in those few minutes. As a seasoned Speech-Language Pathologist (going on 11 years),  empathy and compassion are second nature. My heightened level of awareness and observational skills contribute to my ability to determine when something isn’t right. I’ve also been around death and dying. But this moment was one I had never experienced before and it left a lasting impression on me.

Today’s daily prompt asks how we combat the blues and asks for a tip to share that always lifts our spirits. As a therapist, I’m exposed to a lot of good and a lot of celebrations… but along with the good comes some not so good. One could feel emotionally drained from the daily exposure to pain, disability, hardship, disease, frustration, death, etc. Or one could learn from it and be humbled by it and realize that there are other people out there who would give anything to have what we have. The “small” things that can sometimes drag me down are really nothing compared to the medically complex diagnoses some of my patients are dealing with. I can be a source of joy for them, someone they look forward to seeing, someone who listens, someone who understands, and someone who genuinely cares, wants to help, and hopefully does help.

However, little do my patients know that what they give to me is so much more valuable than what I give to them. I am the privileged one they are allowing into their lives.  Among a list of things, they teach me gratitude and grace, they teach me perspective, and they humble me to the point of realizing that my own blues are actually blessings I should be cherishing as they indicate a “normal” life. Each and every time I interact with my patients, my spirits are lifted.

The amazing thing is that you don’t have to be a therapist to experience this spirit lifting. You just need to be a compassionate human being. And if you feel you don’t quite know how to be one yet, just being around others and listening to their stories and allowing yourself to be humbled by them should be enough to start putting everything into perspective. Even if you’re not the social type, reading blogs and watching the news will expose you to others who are in more desperate situations than yourself.

Oh, and on a high note and as an upside to moderate-severe dementia… when I saw my patient yesterday again (after the heart wrenching experience two days prior), he was back to his “normal” self again. No cancer confusion. No cancer disbelief. No cancer fear. Just my patient being present in the moment, laughing (again) at the mouth exercises I was reviewing with him (again) as if it were the first time he was seeing them (again).

daily prompt: singing the blues

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19 thoughts on “daily prompt: singing the blues

  1. Pingback: How Not To Suffer | Views Splash!

  2. Pingback: Singing the Blues | Lead us from the Unreal to the Real

  3. Dearest Liane Your post brought tears of sadness and tears of joy to me. Life lessons and reminders are needed as we navigate the deep oceans of life. So much to learn but really very simple and very basic–we all need one another. Someone to listen to us,someone to hold our hand, to smile and touch us with love .. It is all very simple yet at times mysteriously complex. I love you very much Mom
    Sent from my iPhone

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  4. Pingback: Daily Prompt – Blues | The Wandering Poet

  5. I want to send you a thanks from your patients. My partner needed help from a speech therapist last year due to a severe sudden illness that caused her to have to relearn to swallow. I’ve never seen a bigger smile on anyone, than the one she had after her first swallow of mashed potatoes with gravy.

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    • Thanks for your comment and for stopping by. And thanks for the thanks but, really, no thanks is necessary. The patient’s motivation level is one of the key factors in progress/recovery and eating desired foods is such a huge motivator that patients themselves contribute more to their progress than anything/anyone else. I’m so glad to hear that your partner’s first swallow of mashed potatoes with gravy resulted in such a huge smile! I hope she (and you) have recovered and are doing well.

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      • People who see her today and had not heard her history cannot believe that she spent two months in an ICU. She is not fully recovered, but no one but I and her doctors can see the steps that are still needed. I have great respect and gratitude for all in the occupations that are there to help critically ill patients become whole again. My thanks may not be necessary to you, but it is too me. Be well.

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  6. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Singing the Blues | Nola Roots, Texas Heart

  7. Pingback: Singing the Blues | Alexia Jones

  8. Pingback: 10 Tips for Beating the Blues (+ an Amusing Picture) | lynnesartandsoul

  9. When my mom broke her hip last summer, she had an excellent Speech-Language Pathologist from the nursing home where she was doing rehab work with her. She is in the early stages of dementia. It was helpful for my dad as well, he learned a lot being present during the therapy session. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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    • Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. I’m so glad your experience was a positive one for your Mom as well as your Dad. Caregivers (spouses, children, etc.) are an integral part of recovery and improved quality of life. Best wishes to you and your family.

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  10. Pingback: NEVER ALONE | Hastywords

  11. Hi, I enjoy your blog! My mother has alzheimer’s so I understand how forgetfulness can sometimes be a blessing. Looking forward to reading more during this A to Z month (and after).

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    • I do get exposed to compassion and perspective on a daily basis from both my patients and my own children. They’re much needed reminders and help to ground and humble me. Thank you for stopping by. I very much enjoy your blog!

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