It’s Hard to Cure Stubborn

“I’ll give you six minutes . . .”

70-90% of the population is right-handed. I’m one of them. When recovering from carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist back in 2013, various mundane tasks became a tad challenging:

  • Being on or near a toilet (I’m keeping descriptions G-rated).
  • Zipping any zipper.
  • Tucking in my shirt.
  • Brushing my teeth.
  • Washing my left hand.
  • Putting on my dog’s collar.
  • Taking a shower.

All activity seemed an ever-changing obstacle course of once simple gestures and decisions. Fortunately, I have a wife willing to lend a hand. Unfortunately, I am a stubborn guy. She offered to help with my shirt-tucking endeavors. No way! Can I help you zip that zipper? I’ve got it! I relented on the shower. There’s only so many hours in the day and who wants to spend significant clock time air-drying rather than using a towel wielded by a different set of hands?

My ordeal lasted barely a week.

After the surgeon removed the bandages and stitches, I began to reclaim my ability to accomplish all the easy, thoughtless stuff part of each day (and every minute). I quickly returned to being privately stubborn, a two-handed dude who could take care of himself, thank you very much.

But this is not the case with many hospice patients.

Unlike my brief time of dreading trips to the bathroom or adding ten minutes over the usual one minute of dressing for work, hospice patients arrive at a point where most of the so-called “daily activities” require help. But like me—and I’m guessing like you—hospice patients are frequently stubborn. Without doing any research, I’m confident that the percentage of stubborn people is significantly higher than the percentage of right-handers.

Being human is being stubborn. I’ll do it myself! Leave me alone! If you want it done right, you have to take care of it on your own! I don’t want your help and, anyway you . . .

(Choose one or more)

  • scrub
  • brush
  • clean,
  • wipe
  • fold
  • tuck
  • zip

. . . the wrong way! Being human is being independent. Being on your own. Being large and in charge of your own destiny.

But there comes that day.

I listened to a group of hospice home health aides (HHA) talk about their encounters with patients. One of the HHAs had a patient that really needed a bath. The particular patient hadn’t bathed in a long time. Yes, there were token “sponge baths” and other minimal efforts, but the patient resisted anyone doing anything to her, for her, with her. Finally, after several visits from the HHA, the patient relented.

Slightly.

“You can wash my feet. I’ll give you six minutes.”

Was the patient stubborn? Of course. Did she want a “stranger” to help her? No way. Did she resent that her illness had made her so helpless? Yes, in every second of every long day.

The HHA said she finished washing, scrubbing, and drying both of the patient’s feet in less than six minutes. The time test was passed. The next visit included the HHA helping a little more. And then, a little more. And finally, after many visits, the trust test was passed.

We are choosy. We are critical. We are independent. Our way of _____ is the best way.

But there comes that day.

Most HHA’s I’ve known are like their hospice patients: they’d prefer to do everything on their own. But everyone, whether recovering from a low-key surgical procedure or facing the literal limitations of a life-limiting illness, will need help even while loudly claiming they don’t need help. All good HHAs understand that, because they are also wonderfully, beautifully, stubbornly human.

However, if that day comes for a hospice patient when zipping a zipper rivals climbing Everest or taking a bath feels more difficult than walking on water, give your HHA six minutes.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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Comments

  1. Hi Larry
    You brought out some very interesting points in your blog. I have given a lot of thought to the issue of “stubborn” residents who are having trouble maintaining their personal dignity in face of an overwhelming onslaught of compassionate caring people who “just want to help”. However “just wanting to help” involves much more than “DoGooderism” if it is to be truly effective.

    I attended a seminar once by Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov who is a renown educator in the field of Dignity Therapy.

    I refer you to his work called: “Dignity and the essence of medicine: the A, B, C, and D of dignity conserving care.”

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1934489/

    Also I came across this helpful checklist called: “The Patient Dignity Inventory” http://dignityincare.ca/en/toolkit.html

    Even if a volunteer feels that the complete application of Dignity Therapy is “way above my pay grade” it is still beneficial to understand both the underlying principles and the importance to the patients.

    In the vein of human relations, let me share a story with you.

    We had a hospice resident (patient) who had been the “Go To Mom”, the family fixer all of her life. She did everything for everyone. She did not accept help offered to her easily. Nothing changed in her final days. Our medical staff as well as the family expressed their frustrations at always hearing their beloved mother say, “It’s OK. I’m alright. I don’t need anything. I don’t want to be a bother” etc.

    One day, on a visit to her room I asked her if I could bring her something or do anything for her and of course she said “No thank you.” I persisted with the offer of a bowl of ice cream and fresh baked cookies. Finally she say yes.
    When I returned with the goodies I said to her, “Mary, thank you so much for letting me help you. It is very important to me.”

    She looked puzzled and I continued, “The reason that I volunteer here is that I love people and I love helping people. When I leave here at the end of a shift I am walking on clouds. No matter what kind of week I’ve had or what is troubling me, I feel comforted when I think to myself, “Well, that was nice of you Michael to reach out to that person with loving-kindness.” I get a real boost. It makes my day!

    “I know that all of the staff and volunteers here at hospice feel the same way – otherwise they wouldn’t be here. So you see, Mary whenever you allow someone to help you, to reach out to you in loving-kindness, you are doing them a huge service. You are allowing them to feel really good about themselves. When you don’t allow them to help you then you are denying them this gift of ‘warm, fuzzy feelings’. And I think that this might also apply to your family and friends as well, do you suppose?”

    In the weeks that followed, Mary and I got along famously. She always smiled and said yes whenever I offered help. I was told by others that they had noticed a pleasant change as well.

    Even though I am not a professional in palliative and hospice care – merely a volunteer, I have found that “thinking with my heart” always seems to bring me to the right place.

    “Always be kinder than necessary, you never know the burden that someone is carrying.” – unknown

    – Michael

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