Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reiki stories - not just for today

Every so often a story has to be told, not because of a thrill of competition or attainment, but because someone worked hard, bettered himself, and dedicated his life to compassion toward other people. And twice this week I found myself telling the story of a Nurse who died slightly more than 10 years ago, Gerald Smith of Station 1 at Forest Haven Nursing Home in Catonsville. Gerald Smith was an inspiration and a presence to those he worked with, and a source of compassion and caring to his patients.

When I first met Gerald he was a nurse's aide on Station 1. Everyone knew him as a person who was calm and slow to anger, who had dreams of bettering himself, of rising above the struggles of his youth. While he worked he went to school, and eventually became an LPN. We were so proud. He came back and worked on the same unit. And he kept going to school. A few years later he had completed his RN! And a few years later he was the RN Unit manager of Station 1 at Forest Haven. A kind and gentle man.

One day he came to me and told me that he had kidney failure, and that he had decided against dialysis. Many of us tried to convince him to accept treatment, but he was adamant, and he was taken from amongst us.

Every so often I would come across a GNA of intelligence and compassion, someone who I thought could better him or herself, and I would tell the story - but - for the last few years it had slipped from my grasp. Until this past week. And twice, I met GNA's who brought Gerald to my mind, and twice I told the story again.

Today, I was visiting Seasons Hospice patients at a nursing home in northeast Baltimore - and an RN saw me, ran over and said "are you Dr Bob from Forest Haven?" I had not seen this nurse in over 10 years, since Gerald's funeral, but she recognized me clear as day.

"Do you remember Gerald Smith?" she asked. And we spent the next 20 minutes sharing recollections. She had visited him the day before he passed away. This past week, she had felt as if "his spirit had been visiting" her.

There is no logical way I can account for things like this when they occur. But on a day when billions of people all over the world were placing their hopes on matches of athletic prowess, and on a day when people all over the world were willing to fight for one cause or another, we were remembering one man who had dedicated his life to the simple values of educating and bettering himself, and using that knowledge for caring and compassion towards others.

One wonders what the world would be like, if more people were like Gerald, and if people like Gerald were recognized as the heroes. If the moment that was remembered, as something to live up to, admire and dream of, was not "the shot" or "the goal" but the caring and the compassion.

Anneli Twan quotes Barbara Brown, one of the early Reiki Masters, in her book Memories of Hawayo Takata. " The five tenets are the spiritual side of Reiki and the only spiritual matter that is discussed at any tie during a Reiki class. They are really common sense ways of managing your life without having to refer to anything deep or anything mysterious or mystic. They are very beautiful standards of living."

"Just for today, do not anger.
Just for today, do not worry.
Just for today be grateful.
Just for today, do an honest day's work.
Just for today, be kind to all living things."

Gerald Smith of Forest Haven was a person who exemplified these concepts. That's why I shared his story in my Blog.

If you come across such a person, or such a story, remember it, tell it, share it, and keep the memory alive. Not just for today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reiki Focus - "Let me call you sweetheart"

It is almost a month since we were visiting Kuramayama, and yet today I was in Brooklyn Park, not New York, but Baltimore, in an old section of the city with poverty and middle class homes near the city's sports palaces. Some lives play in front of large crowds in endeavors that perhaps have enduring meaning, some lives play out with family and friends with no spectators, but may in the eyes of the creator have more significant meaning. Who am I to tell? I make home visits to Hospice patients, and my GPS has brought me here. I have called ahead, the door is open, no door bell, I knock and wait. It is near 100 degrees outside and perhaps just as hot inside. There is a small fan. And my patient, and her caregiver.

I sit down and we begin to talk. Mary is nearly 90, she has congestive heart failure and the specialists have told her going to the hospital won't help anymore. She needs care for all her needs, and Sally is there to help her. Why? Sally's daughter is the niece of the patient, who has no children of her own. The patient's sister's son being the father. When times were tough, and the father wasn't around, Sally's daughter's grandmother helped out, and so did her sister, and now Sally is "there for them."

If there are heroes in this world Sally is one of them. It is time for me to go, and I am still thinking about what can be done to help this family.

I am off to another home, it is an assisted living not so far away. It is air conditioned, I notice this fact - there are two patients to see, one suffering from dementia and one from severe Parkinson's disease. Hospice brings light - sometimes we bring medicines that help make life more comfortable, more livable. While it is not our philosophy to either shorten or prolong life, as long as we can make someone comfortable, we all try to find ways to help someone live just a little bit longer when we can. If medicines won't work though (and often in Hospice that is the case) - we bring other modalities, Chaplains, Reiki, and today - Music therapy. Seasons Hospice of Maryland now has 30 staff members or volunteers trained to Level 1 Reiki or above, and 4 full time Music therapists. Karen was visiting this home, she plays guitar and sings with a gorgeous voice, never with a very large audience, but people who are moved (almost magically) and are very appreciative.

And so Karen started singing, "Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm in love with you. Let me hear you whisper, that you love me too." I was examining Sarah, her neurologist had certified her as having terminal Parkinson's disease and she appeared quite "locked in." But hearing the music, I decided to put my stethoscope down for a minute and sing along, what harm could it do? I took Sarah's hands and sang along with Karen - "Keep the love light glowing, in your eyes so blue. Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm in love with you."

And she began to mouth the words, and then Sarah began to sing along. Karen played through the whole song again, and Sarah sang the whole song, and looking at me gave me this biggest smile. The other patients and the caregivers all started clapping for her.

At the office the next day, we had a meeting with our Founder and National President. Marcia Norman had started a new Foundation, and had raised money to be used "not for day to day operations," but to do special things to make a difference in some people's lives. Not people you understand, who we read about in the newspapers, just people who are struggling to live, and compassionate people who care for them. Marcia said, "we want to find projects that make a difference, maybe buy an air conditioner for someone who is suffering and can't afford one."

And my mind turned to Mary, fighting for her life, with Congestive heart failure, too ill for the cardiologists to do anything, and in a 90 degree row house, and Sally, who out of compassion was taking care of a woman barely related to her, who had helped her earlier in life - and people do that sometimes, they remember and they pay back with caring and compassion. And I said, "I have a patient who needs an air conditioner." And Marcia listened patiently to me (as she often does), and said, "OK Dr Bob, the Seasons Hospice Foundation will help that patient get an air conditioner."

It may be a long way from Kurama Yama, but the light that comes from compassion and caring from one person to another through Hospice, through Reiki and through Music Therapy, through Churches and Synagogues and Mosques and Temples and through nurses and doctors who come to people's home and witness their struggles and their lives - that light comes through to us.

For all those who participate in this work, volunteers, caregivers, healthcareworkers -

"Let me call you Sweetheart
I'm in love with you
Let me hear you whisper
That you love me too.
Keep the love light glowing
In your eyes so blue
Let me call you Sweetheart
I'm in love with you."

Your compassion is recognized and appreciated.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On keeping focus in difficult times

The past few weeks have been difficult times for physicians. Congress has failed in a promise to correct a methodology called SGR that results in an effective 21.2% cut in revenues to physicians.

Some physicians frankly, no longer trust Medicare, and wish to leave the system, or retire altogether.

How does one deal with this? How does one care for others - when one feels under attack and lacking security oneself?

Reiki has been a help to me in these times. I start with Reiki for myself each day, and a part of this is avoiding worry, avoiding anger, and being grateful.

Whatever I am paid, I have felt for many years that it is an honor simply to be entrusted with the care of people who are near the end of life. I see that my patients are facing problems far more challenging than the one's I face, and I am surrounded by volunteers, who are working for no salary at all - just as someone wrote me today "the opportunity to give back."

Nurses and aides work very hard, and are never thanked enough. I have felt the need to keep working hard, thankful to have the energy and opportunities I have been gifted with.

The Dalai Lama writes, "After all, what is the meaning of our life? In itself, there is no intrinsic meaning. However, if we use life in a positive way, then even the days and the months and the aeons can become meaningful."

Hospice workers make their lives meaningful by gifting compassion to other people every day they work. Volunteers in Hospice (including Reiki volunteers) do this without pay.

I came to visit a patient earlier this week. She is in the late stages of her struggle against cancer. Never married, her work has been her life. I walked into her house and knew immediately that she had been a teacher. "What grade did you teach I asked" (perhaps taking a chance).

"High school" she said. She taught math, and beyond that helped young people at a critical transition point in their lives. She shared some vignettes. "Once a teacher always a teacher." Now, near the end of life, teaching whoever happened to come nearby, even her hospice doctor.

Mrs. Takata taught us that Reiki is simple, "Hands on hands off" and "Reiki on Reiki off." Sometimes it can be even more simply than that. Near the end of life, finding a place of equanimity or peace, what we sometimes call Upekkha, can help with a critical transition from this state of being to another. We can do Reiki sometimes without a full Reiki treatment, or worrying about where the hands should be. Simple touch, one hand just touching another, and compassionate presence can bring so much. We are not trying to create attachments at this time, we are trying to release them, yet we want "no patient to die alone."

Another family I visited was terrified with the rapid decline of their loved one. They didn't know what to do. I suggested that they simply touch her hand, and let her know with or without words that they loved her. They told me, "it really helped, when we just touched her hands and she knew we were there, she was calmer and in less pain."

All of this month, I have focused especially on the five principles of Reiki- not to worry, not to be angry, to be grateful for the wonderful opportunities which I have had, to focus on working hard, and to give as much compassion as I could to those around me. I haven't had time to add up the "wins" or "losses."

The Dalai Lama talks about a sense of "which carries a responsibility so that you are willing to take upon yourself the task of helping others."

In fact, the basic premises of Christianity and Islam and Judaism and Buddhism all contain similar precepts. The mission in Hospice embodies the central tenets of all our major religions, it is at the place that they share in common. "when death finally comes," the Dalai Lama adds, " then your practice truly gives you some kind of inner gaurantee. After all, death is a part of life; there is nothing strange about it; sooner or later we all have to pass through that gate. At that time, whether or not there is a life after, it is very valuable to have a peace of mind."

And so all month, very important solemn promises have been kept by health care workers and volunteers all over America. Care and compassion have gone on. The real heroes continue to "give back" every day.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Reiki and Listening

This week I returned from a Journey to the source of Reiki light in Japan, and returned to my Hospice unit. We made rounds together Friday, and as so often occurs, while we tried to help a patient, she at the same time gifted us. I think my Japan experience was helpful in some ways, as was my Reiki inclinations.

Thelma (I will call her Thelma here - for the purpose of my Blog I rarely if ever use patients true names to allow for privacy) is living through the late stages of her battle with cancer, and she was sent to our specialty unit for pain management. It is always important to learn something about the person, and about their life before illness - so that we can look past a broken body and connect with the spirit of the person inside. They live with the memories of their relationships and their work. I always reflect on my own experience nearly 20 years ago, when I sustained a serious neck injury and had surgery, was in the hospital and thinking to myself "but I'm a doctor."

"Thelma, I want you to think of yourself as someone living this time, not as someone waiting to die, " I said. I sensed their was something important she intended to say, and added, "you have something important to say, maybe to your daughter and maybe to us, but we want to listen to you."

And she lied there in silence, her daughter sat in silence, and my team stood in silence. And we waited. Finally she looked at me, and slowly, began talking. She had a very responsible job, quite a bit of authority in health, and she shared some of that. But then she stopped and said very slowly and very clearly (I can hear her now) " L-I - S - T - E - N and then she slowly spelled it again and then finally said the word. Listen. "

She explained that she knew that we could not make her better (she is a bright person and understood her situation very clearly) - but that when she had come in, the first evening, our staff had not listened to her. She had attempted to talk about her fears and her concerns and her pain. And they just patted her on the shoulder and told her not to worry, "everything will be OK."

She didn't need to be reassured, or told "everything will be OK," she very much knew which way things were heading. She knew that we could not cure her, and she had forgiven us that. She had forgiven God for putting her in this situation at a young age, and she was not all that fearful, yes indeed she wanted medication for her pain, but what she really wanted was for people to
" L - I - S - T - E - N. " Not to respond, not to make up something, not to do something futile, in fact not to do anything at all, but simply to LISTEN. That simple act, listening, would give her a sense of respect as a person, and let her know that we really cared.

We sat in silence for awhile. And I said finally all that I could think of saying. First "thank you," and second, we would remember this ourselves and help our staff understand more, so that as a result of her sharing, future patients would have more of a sense that we listened, and that we cared, and that they were respected.

Thelma had a smile on her face. We had not increased her morphine, we had not cured her, we had not done anything at all .............except to listen.

The simplicity of Reiki has helped "attune" me to this. There is an interesting short book "Early days of Reiki, Memories of Hawayo Takata" written by Anneli Twan. It compiles memories of Mrs Takata, who brought Reiki from Japan to North America. It is only available through the author at - from this book page 22

One of the lessons that I brought back with me from a Reiki journey to Japan, is we need more "technicians" who can help "adjust antennaes." Health care needs people with clinical skill and scientific knowledge, but we can never forget how to simply LISTEN.

Thank you to "Thelma" and to Hawayo Takata