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Lessons from Patients


April and I first met when she was 90 years old and hospitalized for dehydration shortly after her husband died. Now aged 92, she is petite with bones that creak when she moves, yet her smile and pleasant disposition light up the room. The health care services she receives from our office is ongoing every three months, so I have gotten to know her fairly well since that first encounter.

April and her beloved husband lived a peaceful life in a rural area of Montana. They raised two sons they are proud of. She is a rarity for her generation as a woman with a college education. Her love is literature, and in fact, she has a master’s degree in American Literature. There were many changes in her life after her husband’s death. She moved to the big city of Bozeman into an assisted living facility. Rather than become despondent, she compared the hub-bub of activity outside her room to being similar to when she lived in her college dormitory. She enjoys retreating to her “dorm room” to reread Thomas Mann, a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. She read his work in college and enjoyed it, so was going back to enjoy it again.

Very soft spoken, yet mentally sharp, April’s stories have been good lessons for me. In addition to her resilience to changing circumstances, two stories, in particular, have warmed my heart. Shortly after moving to her new home, she told me a “secret.” She said from the balcony, she could see all the “mushrooms” popping up all over the valley, meaning new buildings/homes. Yet her “secret” was that if she sat in her chair, the railing around the balcony blocked out all the “mushrooms” and all she could see was the beauty of the surrounding hills and mountains. It is in how we see the world that we can find our own happiness wherever we are.

During another visit, April shared how interesting it can be in the mornings when she and other residents check the white-board of their home to see what activities are planned for the day. She mentioned what she thought when some might complain there was not enough to do in a day. She wondered why they did not know about a phrase she knows well. She then taught me about the Sanskrit Greeting (salutation) of the Dawn, which she abbreviated and could recite by heart. I jotted it down and use it as a good way to start my day now as well:

“Look well to this day, for it is the day of days. Within its brief span are all the wonders of existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, and the splendor of beauty. Therefore, look well to this day.”

As April approaches the end of her days on this earth, she still has many wonderful lessons to teach those of us able to hear her message. It is a privilege to care for her.

By Rachel Rockafellow, MSN, RN, BCCCN
Board Certified Continence Care Nurse

The longer version, which is much harder to remember, but you may enjoy, is:

Salutation to the Dawn
By Kalidasas(2500 BC Sanskrit)

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life,
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty,
For yesterday is but a dream
and tomorrow only a vision,
but today well lived makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn.

Categories: Simply Healthy