Published on: January 29, 2019

Anne Wallace, a nurse from New Zealand, through a series of serendipitous events, came to volunteer with Pallium India this January. She was accompanied by her husband Ian, whose area of expertise lay in forestry and gardening – on a seemingly different tangent from health care. While it was pretty clear that Anne had plenty to do – home visits, rounds of the in-patient unit and other clinical work – where would Ian fit in, we wondered.

But fit in, he did. And how! He came across Shriya (who is interning with us for a month), tilling the soil in the meagre flowerpots outside with a little stick she had found lying about. Thrilled at their mutual interest, they teamed up and decided to put their love for gardening to use.

Their attention was immediately drawn to the rather neglected backyard – an eyesore cluttered with rubble, weeds and rocky surfaces that immediately repelled people. Ian drew upon his vast experience, and with Shriya assisting him, began the rather gargantuan task of clearing up the mess. People began to gather – first out of curiosity, then to help.

A patient caregiver, Rama, pitched in and helped create a composter. Other patients and caregivers also came – this unusual activity in a hospital backyard giving them respite from the wards. A shade tent went up, so that people wouldn’t be chased back inside by the sharp sun, and potted plants could be sheltered.

This wonderful, spontaneous and unprompted coming together of people has been steadily transforming the erstwhile dump yard into a place of joy. A place that Ian and Shriya have named – “The Healing Garden”. There couldn’t be a more apt name.

But exponentially more beautiful than the change in scenery has been the visible change on the faces of people visiting this Healing Garden.

One evening, Ashla rode in on her wheelchair (something that would have been impossible for her or any other wheelchair user to do a week before) and watched her first sunset in many years, accompanied by her friend Seema*, another patient in our unit. We asked Ashla what was it precisely that made her happy. “Being out in the open is such a treat. My conversations with Seema were definitely more enjoyable in the garden than in the ward! For the longest time, she could see plants and flowers only in photographs as she has been confined to hospitals. And look at Mr Antony* from our half-way home. He has spent hours painting the pots and just enjoying life.”

In palliative care we talk about total pain and total care. We talk about the adverse influence of psycho-socio-spiritual factors on physical suffering and quality of life.

In just over ten days, we have witnessed the barren and broken brought back to life. And it’s not just the garden we are speaking of.

Ian – your garden is love made visible. Thank you.
And thank you everyone who helped.

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*names changed

(Photos: courtesy: Ian Wallace)

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