Published on: December 16, 2014

If it is beneath you to fetch a pitcher of ice water for a thirsty patient, so is the practice of medicine. 
– Mark Reid, M.D.

This quote reminds us of a story told by Dr Richard Lamerton, who was Dr Cicely Saunders’ first assistant and the World’s second palliative care physician, in his book, East End Doctor. Richard was called to see a patient in the middle of the night. He arrived to find that the patient had vomited all over the living room floor. She was now apparently all right, and resting comfortably. There was little medical attention that was needed at that time. Richard got a bucket and a mop and cleaned up the living room floor, and left.

Maybe, Mark Reid and Richard Lamerton teach a lesson to every one of us who ask, “Is that the duty of a doctor?” or “Is that the duty of a social worker?” They remind us that more than a doctor or a nurse or a social worker, each one of us is a human being and, if we are unable to do what is most needed at that time, we are failing, both as human beings and professionals.

This train of thought leads us to congratulate nurses in palliative care to whom this sort of thing seems to come so naturally. Like the time when our nurse Jaya and colleagues found an elderly person in a home, very unclean and with ants crawling over the foot. The wife, partially blind, was staggering around, doing essential chores. Jaya and colleagues left their nursing and medicine kits, fetched some water and towels, and cleaned up the man and the bed, before they left.

Jaya and all nurses in palliative care, with Max Reid and Richard Lamerton, you also teach us the value and dignity of our profession and the true meaning of health care.

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