About the Authors
Wells was born in 1953, in
PROLOGUE (Part Sample)
A patient occupies Room 27. He is a man of great intelligence, and great wisdom. For over eighty years, his life – his remarkable ability to teach and serve – has benefited countless people, near and far. He is revered by his professional colleagues, and loved by his family. His accomplishments are many and varied. We could justly say: “There lies a fortunate man.”
And yet, he finds himself in a hospital ward, in Room 27, unable to leave his bed.
Room 27 is small. The walls and ceiling are coloured off-white. A large photograph, depicting a mountaineer suspended from a sheer rock face, hangs on the wall to the left of the bed. The accompanying caption encourages onlookers to take life-threatening risks, in the pursuit of Success. This may be the hospital motto.
A window on the opposite wall frames a length of roofing iron and, beyond that, some fragments of cloud and sky. A raven might drift across the windowpane, from time to time; or else, a seagull, whose familiar cry – which we can only imagine – stirs a memory of the man’s spiritual home, away to the south-west, beside the quiet ocean.
Here, in a small, off-white room, our patient must make his home.
It is not, however, an entirely sterile space, because his family and friends believe in the notion of healing. They believe that healing is a right, whatever the age of the patient, and whatever the prognosis. Indeed, they believe that the idea of a ‘prognosis’ is flawed.
On the northern wall, directly in front of the bed, they have assembled prints and photographs, of boats and birds and landscapes, which the man can gaze upon whenever he pleases. The images provide, as it were, a glimpse into those other worlds about which he continues to dream day and night – worlds he has helped to create with hand and heart, over many years, for those he loves. It is a healing wall; and it establishes a setting in which friends and family – with permission from the specialist – can go about the business of healing according to the needs of the patient, and the dictates of their own collective intuition. Let hospital staff administer the prescribed medications and management; but those who are closest to Room 27 hope to generate the one element that is lacking – nourishment; nourishment, and we should add, a level of respect that addresses the whole man – mind, body, emotions and spirit.
While the hospital staff come and go, we can take note of those few who are able to extend themselves beyond a brisk courtesy, beyond their professional brief of competent, physical care; who actually listen to the patient, and respond in kind – quietly, with compassion and good humour, and in a way that inspires confidence and hope. They do not speak loudly, because they know that the man has excellent hearing. They do not speak as if to a child, because they can sense a dignity, a wisdom, an understanding, which must have grown out of long experience. They are especially attentive, because the man is vulnerable. From their growing relationship with him, the nurses are exploring that fundamental element of respect already mentioned. They are learning from the patient.
The specialists, too, must make a contribution according to temperament and understanding, albeit within the strict limitations of their medical training. They have delivered an unsolicited Prognosis, which is poor: they do not believe the patient will survive his disorder, or his treatment. They cannot explain precisely how they have glimpsed the future with such impressive clarity, nor in what fashion their omniscience will benefit the patient in Room 27, or his family. Even so, they each make their pronouncement in a kindly way, and then move on to details of medication.
As a matter of fact, the prognosis has already triggered a welcome development for the patient and his family: they have received permission to use natural therapies in Room 27 – under the circumstances, why not? Hence the prints and photos; the regime of ‘nourishment’ based on familiar symbols, familiar treatments, familiar routines. His prognosis may be poor, but the man in Room 27 intends to pursue a path of healing, because that is his right, and his need. For him, and for his friends and family, there is no other worthwhile option.
Most of the rooms in this hospital ward resemble Room 27. They are designed to provide efficient medical care. Large photographs, with yet more captions promoting risk, grace this wall or that. The patients lie, or sit, or stand. In one bare room, an elderly man stares at the ceiling. He is alone. Perhaps it is the end of his journey – it is surely the end of nourishment, of life; and that is a matter of deep concern to us.
But for the moment we are dealing with our patient in Room 27, where endings are not considered relevant.
A familiar regime, involving regular massage, meditation, gentle exercises, music, reading and aromatherapy, has been established and maintained over many weeks, by his family. The nurses have remarked on the unusual quality of silence in Room 27. They have remarked, too, on the sounds of Chopin and Schubert, which drift from the room like a subtle incense, into the heart of the ward. It seems that the value of healing extends beyond the man, to touch the lives of those who must attend to his physical needs. Our patient, we could say, has become the healer.
The regime has a further value which justifies its use in Room 27 – it is a symbol of the patient’s home; a symbol of that security which, at least for many older people, is daily and yearly under threat. It conveys a potent message of reassurance, and commitment, from those he loves. And so with the flowers by the window – real flowers plucked from their own garden, which they bring every morning, to brighten the man’s room, and his life. These are flowers he can understand. He knows which flower belongs to which bush, and where in the garden they have blossomed. The colour and smell and shape of them define a landscape, his landscape, with an eloquence that transcends words. They restore some meaning to a room that has not been designed for nourishment, or for renewal.
But perhaps the most powerful symbols in Room 27 are those few books placed beside the patient’s bed. They have always been at hand, adjacent to his bed, wherever he might be living; and their potential for reassurance can hardly be overstated. Each page is remembered, to the letter. Each book is never-ending, in the sense that the last page becomes the first, time and again. When read out loud, as in Room 27, the words seem to generate a settling quality, rather like the gentle massage administered every morning and afternoon. They surely go to the heart of the patient, and the reader; and to the heart of nourishment.
Visitors pass into a different universe, when they enter Room 27. A simple gesture, a quiet word from the man – or his guest – has the potential to transform relationships, and transform lives. That is why Room 27 can truly be called a healing room. It seems that the cherished regime is able to engender a certain power, or silence, which informs every thought, and every action. How else could our patient so effectively draw on his underlying resilience; and how else could he transcend a prognosis that hangs above his head like Damocles’ Sword?
Of his regular visitors, those who have mastered the art of Listening – a great and rare art – have the most to contribute. Their listening enriches the silence in Room 27. They listen with care; and the man is therefore able to speak without fear or favour, of past and present and future; and in a framework structured to promote his sense of wholeness. This is what we mean by ‘respect’.
Others, of course, do more speaking than listening. Many of the staff carry on a conversation without including the patient; and one specialist has never pursued any sort of conversation at all. He prefers to study the notes and blood tests on file at the ward station. And we observe yet another specialist, a Geriatrician, who has been summoned to the ward, in order to assess various elderly patients.
Perhaps we should subject him to an assessment of our own.
He is, we can say, young and confident, and extremely busy. His brisk pronouncements may alter lives, for better or worse, within the hour. He carries a black briefcase, in which men and women are defined by sobering averages and statistics. We hope he has mastered the art of listening. We hope he can learn from Room 27.
His first charge, however, is the man in the bare room, who appears to have been abandoned (but we have not abandoned him). Our young specialist does not linger, because there is nothing to say and nothing to observe. All the relevant details are housed in his briefcase. He proceeds to Room 27, where a strange fellow is listening to Mozart. Here is a challenge. The conversation proves to be short, one-sided and revealing: this specialist does not know how to listen; nor does he possess that gift of imagination which can lead to understanding. He departs soon enough, armed with his case and his laptop, in order to deliver an unsolicited verdict – which will be ignored. The patient is not remotely interested in assessments, and neither is his family. They do not care if nurses and specialists consider their charge to be beyond hope or help. So it goes. Let the staff pursue the job according to their brief, and think what they please – nothing will alter the task of nourishment and healing in Room 27.
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