In September 2009, I began providing care for AIDS patients and their families. Initially, I was not involved with terminal patients, until three years later, when I was requested to care for AIDS patients who are in their last stages in life. Worried as to whether I was up to the task, I sought out an experienced care worker. She reassured me, “ As long as you approach your work diligently, I am sure you will do a good job.”
I started working at the AIDS Loving Care Centre of the Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Yunnan Province on 27th March, 2013. Our supervisor advised us to “take small steps”, i.e. start by attending to the regular patients, and then gradually move to caring for the terminally ill. As such, I learnt to be an understanding companion to the patients, to be perceptive to their inner issues, queries, and needs. There were times when I would be able calm their anxieties with a few well-chosen words.
Whenever I am able to put a patient at ease, I found my spirits being lifted; and my happiness with this type of work increased.
Mrs Chen was 63 and came from Jianshui county of Honghe Perfecture of Yunnan Province. Seven years ago, she contracted AIDS from her husband. Despite continuous medication, the disease stayed with her. Once, alarmed at the yellowish tinge of her skin, her children took her to the local hospital; but after a fortnight of unsuccessful treatment, she was transferred to our hospital. On 13th May 2013, Mrs. Chen made a request to return home, but our Director Wang refused. That night she had diarrhoea and became unconscious by the morning of the 14th, with a temperature of 40C plus. Director Wang led the team of medical personnel to respond to this emergency. I went to see Mrs. Chen the following morning. The room had a strong smell of excrement; and the patient was in an agitated state of mind. She was strapped to the bed with an oxygen mask on, and was inserted with glucose bottle and a catheter. The monitors showed irregular readings, indicating an unstable condition. The head nurse, with our help, proceeded to have Mrs. Chen cleaned up. She washed her, changed the diapers, brushed her teeth, and even combed her hair. I sat with Mrs. Chen whilst her son went out to buy some necessities. At around 2pm, the patient’s temperature was still at 39.8C. The doctor recommended using physical means to reduce the temperature. At his direction, I prepared a pan of warm water and bathed the lower parts of her body. I also assisted the family in disposing the urine, and noting the volume passed, etc. On the 16th, when Mrs. Chen’s family was ready to take her home, I helped them gather her belongings for the journey. The daughter thanked me saying, “Miss Wang, You are just like a member of the family.” Two days later, I received a message from the daughter informing me that her mother passed away 4pm that day. I texted back, “Do not grieve. You have done all that you could. Your mother was a gentle and kind lady, and God/Heaven will be watching over her now. Take care of yourself, and live a happy life.” She responded, “Thank you Miss Wang. Your words give me comfort, and I will follow your advice.”
In this world, all our lives have a beginning and an end. It is just that we don’t know the time of that end. Take the case of Mrs. Chen. She came to our hospital without realizing she had so little time left. I feel that our supervisor’s advice was correct – begin by looking after the regular patients; and later on, by working closely with the medical staff in tending to these patients and their loved ones, we will then be able to handle the more difficult cases - care giving to raise the quality of life for the terminally ill. This way we can help them travel the final leg of their life’s journey with a prefect closing, with no pain and in peace, comfort and dignity. At the same time, it is important that we should see to the physical and emotional well-being of the patients’ families. I am especially grateful to Casa Ricci Social Services for giving me the opportunity to work with terminal patients and their families. The work allowed me to value the passing of love, caring and respect between human beings as part of social interaction that are essential to maintaining one’s physical and mental health.
By Sr. Wang Xia