Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Price of Exclusion

I have been meaning to write about this experience for a while now . . .

When I was working at C-2, the old hospice ward at Laguna Honda Hospital, there was this woman, Gloria, who demanded a lot of attention from the volunteers. "Volunteer! Volunteer! Volunteer!" She summoned us constantly. At first, I didn't mind. I sat by her bed, listened to her stories, helped her with her meals, fetched her coffee . . . Whatever Gloria wanted, whenever, I would do for her.  This went on for a few weeks, until one day, my patience ran out, and I no longer felt like responding to Gloria's imperious calls. I started trying to avoid her. This was hard, since her bed was one of the first ones in the ward, and I had to pass her to get to the other residents.  I figured if I looked straight ahead, and moved fast with an air of purpose, I would be saved. That worked to some extent. Of course, walking back, I had to deal with the Gloria problem again. I found myself hoping that she had fallen asleep, or was engaged with another volunteer, or a nurse. She catched me some times, still. "Volunteer!" and I usually came up with some excuse. "I am busy with another resident. Let me get someone else to help."

An interesting thing happened meanwhile. The more I shut off Gloria from my world, the more space she took up in my mind. I started thinking about her often, and with great aversion. While on the ward, I could feel the constriction in my body, as I overheard her voice. "Volunteer!" . . . My heart was sealed shut, and I did not like the feeling. Of course, I could have taken action, and opened up to her again, but I didn't. The aversion had made too much of a dent, and had left a permanent mark. My heart was not so elastic, that it could bounce back to its original neutrality.

As I look inside, I find many such blemishes, some more recent than others. And I am learning a big lesson. That closing the heart is no longer an option, for the price of exclusion is simply too high. The solution lies in catching the first inklings of  'I don't like him, or her',  before they get a chance of  settling into the heart.

Keeping one's heart open, always . . . 


  1. Working in a busy ER for 20 years, I think it is almost inevitable to have to shut down. You can not sit down and hold everyone's hands. Maybe volunteers can -- they don't have deadlines, waiting rooms to worry about, folks dieing or screaming. It is a luxury to take time -- a luxury. A beautiful luxury.

  2. Yes, Sabio, as a doctor you may need to move fast and you may not be able to hold everyone's hands. I am not sure that means you have to shut down though. Do you know about Saki Santorelli's book, Heal Thyself ? It talks beautifully about boundaries and healing, and love, for professional healers such as yourself.

  3. Gloria probably likes the only control she now has with her life and getting others to respond to her every whim or demand makes her forget where she really is.

  4. You got it! . . . Gloria who is now dead, was trying to control the only people she could control, i.e. the volunteers. What/who else can you control when you are dying in an institutional setting such as a county hospital?

  5. And you won't forget her, either! :)

  6. Yes, I consider Gloria to be one of my main teachers . . .