The on-going story of the recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has captured us all. I am fascinated by the way in which her remarkable comeback from the bullet wound to her brain seems to be fueled in equal parts by her determination and by the family and friends who have rallied to her bedside.
It’s an important lesson for all caregivers: your presence, just being there and doing small things, is important in the healing of the patient.
Let’s be clear that healing doesn’t mean the same thing as cure. Of course we would cure our loved ones if we could. We would restore them to their original state of health before they were injured or became ill. Healing is a different idea, meaning to bring about a wholeness, or a recovery of a portion of the patient’s self.
Congresswoman Giffords will probably carry the physical effects of her wound with her for the rest of her life, but she can heal from the effects of it. That includes not just the healing of tissue affected by the wound and surgery, but an internal healing as well. That internal healing is spiritual and emotional, and ultimately leads to acceptance of her life as it will be moving forward.
Patients need a loved one like you to support them, to cheer them on in their healing efforts, and sometimes, they need you just to simply be with them.
ABC Evening News ran a piece last year that looked at the role of loved ones in healing and recovery. The bottom line is that your presence, love, support and being with the patient, is key to the healing and recovery process.
Bob Woodruff, an ABC correspondent who was critically injured while covering the war in Iraq said that he is sure his remarkably swift recovery was due to the presence of his wife and family at his bedside. “I wasn’t able to respond, but I knew they were there, whispering in my ear, holding my hand, rubbing my feet,” he said.
I can see why a medical person, who must have measurable outcomes, might balk at the idea that the mere presence of a loved one by a patient’s bed would change anything. But I’m an experienced caregiver and I know how powerful the presence of a loved one can be, just being there for the patient.
So don’t wonder whether you should take time out of your busy schedule to spend time sitting with your loved one. Just do it! Whispered words of affection or forgiveness, a hand held, a song shared—these all are the tools of healing, which we can all use on behalf of our loved ones.