Thursday, June 8, 2017

My NYC Field Trip

Yesterday, I took my own field trip into NYC yesterday for a conference on palliative care and the arts at Fordham University.  I hadn't been into NYC by myself in years; it's been more than twelve since I commuted regularly.  Because of my sensitive back and anxious tummy, I was nervous about going in for the day, but I also really wanted to go not only for the conference but to prove I could do it.  And it all came back to me.

I was on a pretty early train, earlier than I ever left when I worked in the city, and I fell asleep in my favorite window seat almost immediately and woke up at 125th Street.  Getting from GCT to Times Square on the shuttle and then to 59th on the 1 train (I want to say 1/9, but there isn't a 9 train there anymore.)  I could almost do it with my eyes closed.  Because it isn't hot yet, it thankfully didn't have that subway smell; nor did I see any rats on the track!  Otherwise, it felt like going home.

The conference itself was okay.  I loved the topic of "palliative arts" but they could have done so much more with it.  The conference was mostly for people in the field--social workers, palliative and hospice specialists, chaplains, and volunteers like me--but the talks were just incredibly introductory, as if for the general public.  Like "poetry is good for sick people" or "movement is good for sick people" with a lot of "I did this and it was wonderfully effective" or "I wrote this article to prove how effective my specialty is."  The music therapist really underlined this--she repeatedly contrasted music (like "the music your grandmother likes") with music therapy ("I match specific rhythms to physical or emotional aspects of the client"), emphasizing that only music therapists could do this.  So why tell us?  None of us were music therapists.  And I'd expand on that by saying that patients are much more likely to come across social workers, chaplains, and volunteers than the rare music therapist, so why not give us some tools that we CAN use?  Give us a music activity or a writing activity.  I'm happy with learning about and celebrating their successes, but I also wanted to know how to adapt their best practices to my work.  And in that respect, I was disappointed.

Still, I did glean a few things (just not as much as I wanted):
  • One of the keynote speakers was very influenced by Buddhism philosophy, specifically the Japanese therapist Itami's Meaningful Life Therapy (see local Todo Institute), plus Morita (which I don't quite have a handle on) and also Naikan, which delves into gratitude.  She repeatedly used words like constructive or creative living, meaningful living, and the like.  She believed that palliative care should be introduced within the first day or two of diagnosis.  I can see where that would be really helpful.  Just like starting hospice earlier than the last few weeks is really helpful.  It allows patients to utilize resources, consider their own needs, and implement some new habits or practices--like Morita and Naikan--to help get them through.  
  • Music therapy--"it doesn't always have to be harps."  She's had success with drums for a woman from the Virgin Islands too.  But don't try this, YOU are not a music therapist (yes, I was a bit annoyed.)
  • Dance or movement therapy--she had us do a breath meditation (with a bit of a body scan) and then mirror, or more specifically, respond to the movements of our partner by watching them for awhile and then joining in.  The pause is very important; it's about respect and letting go of control.  I liked that movement therapy is non-judgemental and focuses on what the body can still do.
  • I really liked the woman who talked about comic books and palliative care, or "graphic medicine."  There is apparently a whole genre of graphic novels dealing with medical issues--books by the patients themselves, not the practioners.  She noted that comics could touch deep emotions and clarify feelings about difficult topics.  I just don't know if I've had hospice patients with the fine motor skills to do any drawing; I tried Zentangle once and the patient couldn't really hold a crayon.
  • The poet shared many of the poems written by his patients.  Of course, poetry, like graphic novels, clarifies feelings and brings on self-awareness and transformation.  Both reading and writing poetry can be valuable.
  • Lastly, a filmmaker introduced a new documentary on dying in America, entitled Defining Hope.  I like the bits we saw and welcome the chance to see the whole thing--it's screening on Nov. 1, in Palliative Care and Hospice month, on the Day of the Dead/All Souls Day!
I loved being in the city.  Mercy, I walked more in a day than I ever do here at home.  And it's much more interesting walking, not just looking at yards and houses.  I grabbed a snack at Hale and Hearty soup, one of my old favorites--a tasty pennette vodka soup, plus a chocolate croissant.  No Junior's there anymore though.  But I did enjoy perusing the newsstand.  I miss it all.  But I also realized that now I can take the kids in on my own this summer.  They're independent and I am capable.  Let's see when we go and what we do.

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