Presence: a soulful mystery

Presence: a soulful mystery

Sande Ramage

17 February 2012

 

You'd think that the health system was in contention for an Oscar the way we keep worrying about its performance.
 
Chasing health targets is meant to keep the system focused but the Medical Association says the emphasis on targets is flawed because other things that effect health, like disparities in housing and education, are not being addressed too. They might be right but for other reasons.
 
Mind you I've never heard a patient worry about health targets and why would they bother.  In hospital or a rest home the world is reduced to a bed or a small room.  Sleeping matters, getting to the toilet matters, being listened to and being told the truth about your situation matters a great deal.
 
Healthcare assistants and carers are often the people who matter most at those crucial times.  They will get your nana to the toilet or shower, hold your dad's hand in the night when he's crying in frustration because his body is failing, make a cuppa for the person who's just got bad news and try to sit beside your dying mum because you can't get there in time.  
 
This is called presence, the ability to sit alongside people in trouble with nothing to offer other than your compassionate, patient self.  To take enough time to hear someone's concerns as they tumble out, an essential part of the meaning making process that vulnerability demands.  
 
Presence is not a performance and it's unlikely to be rewarded with an Oscar. Instead, it's a bit nebulous, vague and somewhat incomprehensible to the people who create measurable targets.  For those who benefit from presence, it's a soulful mystery and can seem as though an angel has touched them.
 
Strangely enough this divine offering often comes through some of the lowest paid people in any heath system.