As patients we can participate in some aspects of our treatment and care. Here’s the story of one person who helped design her own healing ‘script.’
I am in the day-care section of a large general hospital in Arhus, Denmark. As I walk quietly down the vast, gleaming corridor, I glance to my left – into a door-less, four-bed cubicle. Three beds are empty. The sole occupant of the bed by the window is an elderly woman, lying motionless on her back. The intravenous infusion by her side informs me that she is receiving chemotherapy. Ah, she has cancer, I muse: a frail old woman – someone’s daughter; maybe someone’s sister, wife, or mother, with a serious illness – and she is totally alone. No relative, friend, or staff member is free to be with her. There is not even the comfort of another human being within call.
It feels so wrong! I exclaim to myself. How can we call this ‘treatment’ in anything but the most mechanistic sense? I know there is an alternative because my client, in a room close by, has just completed a quite different chemotherapy session.
Some days ago we’d laughingly concocted the name ‘Chemo-meditation’…and judging from her response when it was concluded some minutes ago this special type of treatment has worked – and far more deeply than I could have guessed.
If you have ever been admitted to hospital (or have been a hospital staff member), you will know of the dehumanization process that kicks in as a patient checks in. Discovering that we have a serious illness can be demoralizing in itself. Hospitalization tends to endorse that, as we transmogrify from a capable manager, caring mother, or cherished partner, into a ‘case,’ a disease; number on a plastic bracelet, the occupier of a certain bed in a certain ward, under the jurisdiction of a particular consultant and team of nurses. We are part of a production line, and the tacit agreement is that we will passively, unquestioningly, submit to whatever treatment is dished out to us.
Yet my feeling is that we optimize our healing potential when we actively participate in our own treatment. I am not suggesting we tell our surgeon how to operate. But by our intelligent involvement we can diminish our fear and enhance the benefit of any treatments. (And we should be encouraged to. After all, it is our body that is being treated, and it is we who will be living with the outcome of the treatment.)
For example, my client and I found a way of changing her chemotherapy sessions so that what had been a scary experience with almost unbearable after-effects became a positive, even uplifting one.
When I first met her, R– had already had two chemo-therapy sessions. They had left her so nauseous that she’d laid in bed for three or four days afterwards, feeling so bad that she wished she could die then and there (though she was having the chemo to prolong her living!). The side effects of the treatment seemed to her as devastating as the cancer itself.
A meditator of a few years, she instantly warmed to my suggestion that she actively use her next chemo session to help her body cope with the process of fighting the disease. During the week before her next session we worked on a guided meditation at home. Each day, with R– lying comfortably on her bed with her eyes closed, from my seat beside her I would induce a state of deep, aware relaxation.
Then I suggested that she imagine she was in her chemotherapy session; that she was aware of the needle being inserted into her arm and could continue to feel relaxed and comfortable. As the substance was infusing her body, she could visualize or feel it, in her imagination, pouring, like a soft golden light, into the infected areas, dissolving the cancer and leaving the healthy cells intact.
Towards the conclusion I suggested that there would be no negative side effects of the treatment and that she would return to full consciousness feeling light, refreshed, and joyful, and would continue to feel like this for days afterwards.
She enjoyed that rehearsal and we repeated it several times, so that by her next scheduled hospital visit, she was thoroughly familiar with what we’d done and felt nourished by it.
As was the nursing staff on the day ward, her doctor was only too happy that I be with my client. They understood how we intended to use her treatment for meditation, and that my client wished to be left undisturbed as much as possible. She was given a single room, and we put our home-made ‘Please -don’t- disturb;-meditation-in-progress’ notice on the door.
Once the nurse had the intravenous running and left the room, R– settled herself while I put on the music she had selected and made myself comfortable beside the bed.
In spite of the fact that we were now in the less familiar surroundings of a hospital, she moved into an even more profound state of relaxation than she had experienced at home. That was evident by her slow, peaceful breathing as she travelled into her inner world. Using the prearranged text that we’d composed, once I saw that she was deeply relaxed, I encouraged her to create a healing milieu in order to assist her body’s work.
An hour or so later, when the chemotherapy had run its course and the nurse had quietly removed all the trappings, I informed R– that the session was over, that she had done beautifully and could now open her eyes.
Moments later, she slowly sat up, her face quickly broadening into a huge beam as she exclaimed, ‘Maneesha, that was wonderful. I feel amazing! That ‘amazingness’ persisted: over the following days she remained upbeat, positively glowing, and she experienced no nausea or any other side effects. Because I could not be with her for her remaining sessions we recorded the guided ‘chemo-meditation’ so she was able continue it alone.
The whole experience was empowering for R– to realize that she could be proactive in her approach to being ill, that she could actually have a say in elements of her treatment. She transformed an otherwise impersonal and invasive procedure into a program that she herself had designed and by which she felt nourished