Debra Sue Kelvin|
Zen Hospice, San Francisco, CA
June 15, 2002
Over two months have now passed since I first met Danielle in the large bedroom upstairs at the Zen Hospice. As a recent arrival, Danielle, at 28 years old, was sitting on the couch in front of the window visiting with her sister and friend. Entering the room, I had no idea who the patient was. There she sat, solid in frame, wearing a baseball cap, sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, smiling and relaxed. I observed that this look was somewhat of a uniform for her, frequently repeated in photographs with friends. Danielle was never anything but very down to earth.
Though only a few years spanned between our ages, she was handling death with a grace that exhibited great wisdom. I felt like a rookie here with her. "We're here from the Chinese Medicine School, Danielle. Are you interested in acupuncture?" we asked. With an easy gaze, she raised her arm and gave us a thumbs up. No needles, just acupressure, she strained to express with obvious determination and concentration. Danielle's speech had been severely limited by the brain tumor now winning the battle. My supervisor, Kaylah, already quite skilled in this setting, asked Danielle some questions that were difficult for me to form. In the most natural way she asked her, "Danielle, are you afraid to die?" To this Danielle turned her head left to right. No, Danielle was not afraid to die.
This was the beginning of our relationship. Now it is June, two months later. I have returned from a month in China. And though I have been working one afternoon a week at the Zen Hospice since my return, in my absence Danielle's care was transferred to Barbara, another student intern. I have enjoyed weekly reports of Danielle's well-being and included her in my prayers from week to week. Now Barbara has left for China and I have returned to Danielle's bedside to offer my care in her last weeks.
Now much smaller in frame, like a child, Danielle lies on her back with eyes in an unfocused gaze, darting back and forth in short, staccato rhythms. She is wearing a diaper, having lost control of her bladder and bowel function. She is suffering from seizures with greater frequency, some lasting five minutes, which wear her out completely. She has ceased eating and drinking. Danielle takes approximately six breaths per minute.
Her favorite female vocalist is singing on the CD player, while her sister Mila and her mother sit nearby. We reach out to hold their wonderful Danielle, who is leaving. It is palpable in the room. She is still so beautiful. Once in a while, she sighs, ever more slowly than before. Her left arm rises up as if to touch, to make contact, but I am not sure she is conscious of this act. We have reached a new place of administering care. I am not asking her questions, trying to decide how to treat her today. I am offering her my humanity, my loving-kindness and compassion. She seems to be leaving under my fingertips. I place my hands on her head at Du 20 and Yintang, administering acupressure on the equivalents of her third eye (6th) and seventh chakra. Moving to Ren 17, I place my hands on her centerline near to her heart, to soothe her loving heart as she prepares to let go of this part of her journey and move to the next. Laurie is holding her feet at Kid 1, to nourish Danielle's roots and give her strength to leave without holding back. I trust Danielle will not hesitate when the moment arrives. She has been no stranger to adventure.
Kaylah has whispered to Danielle, "It's okay to let go and be free, Danielle; that's right, you can fly when you're ready." It is obvious that Kaylah's voice has a strengthening effect on Danielle. I think to myself that Kaylah has provided a space of unconditional love, a space where Danielle can truly let go freely.
These moments transcend my textbook knowledge. I know I am skilled in Chinese Medicine. At this moment, I am bearing witness to the process of life and death. I cannot leave this room unchanged. This is inevitable.
guest book *
in her own words *
in memory *