If not for the moment when our training took over, last week would have seen me hugging a comparative stranger in a mutual, teary embrace. But I am a recovering family physician, and she an active occupational therapist, so the impulse was lost as we carefully evaluated body language. Neither of us wished to be the cause of an unwanted intimacy.
I would have enjoyed that hug. Since I can’t go back and tell propriety to stuff it, what I can do is unpack the magic of that occasion and see what lessons it contains for writing.
We two had been brought together by a senior citizen.
“Agnes,” a once-proud, fiercely independent woman was dealing with declining health and mobility issues. In recent months, she had come to rely upon others for help with meal preparation and dressing. She struggled to walk a few feet to the washroom, meaning that her life revolved around her bladder’s shrinking capacity. She routinely refused minor pleasures, like a cup of herbal tea or a bowl of soup, out of fear that she couldn’t reach the restroom in time. The result was a state of mild dehydration which had implications for her drug levels and mental alertness, and probably played a role in several worrisome falls.
Agnes had tried a cane with only modest success and resisted a walker out of the belief that it would create another physical dependence, weakening her further. Also, though she sidestepped the issue, I suspected a financial barrier.
Enter the occupational therapist and her dented, untrendy, gorgeous loaner walker.
Enter the moment of truth: Agnes’s tentative steps. The disbelieving smile with her first pain-free movement in years. Her burst of speed as she did a circuit of the house. Agnes’s tears when she understood that because of the kindness of strangers, this moment would cost her precisely nothing.
While I can’t be certain what the OT’s tears represented for her, I can extrapolate based upon my past, comparable professional experiences.
First, I believe she was in the grip of what I’ll call a Peak Moment of Meaning (PMoM).
Of the OT’s past 2000 clinical encounters, I’m willing to bet that most of her clients were too well, too stressed, too preoccupied, or too entitled to appreciate that moment as a minor miracle. Agnes’s obvious joy, on the other hand, probably had the OT thinking something like this: Now this is why I trained for six years and accrued a mountain of student debt. This is what it’s all about.
The second component of that scene is what I’ll call a Peak Moment of Gratitude (PMoG).
For as much as the OT contributed to that moment, she was but the final, visible step of a cumulative process. Were we to unspool the list of necessary preconditions to Agnes’s freedom, we could easily name a thousand components. The most obvious: that we live in a peaceful and prosperous country that has the luxury of caring for its senior citizens, at least in part; that I had sufficient education—again, partly funded by my country—to know what was possible for Agnes and advocate for her despite her resistance; that the OT’s salary was provided by my provincial government and she was an engaged, compassionate individual; that the Red Cross had enough donors to accumulate a pool of loaner walkers; that Agnes values her independence enough to grasp the moment’s import.
All this made me think about writing—about whether we have access to equivalent moments (PMoMs and PMoGs) in this world, and whether they can be similarly noticed and cultivated and celebrated.
Why bother, you ask? [Read more…]