Illness brings up in everyone a feeling of vulnerability. We lose strength, and may lose control of body functions.
Questions come up: “What will help me overcome this?” And if it lasts long enough we begin to ask “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why this particular illness?”
And if it is a serious illness: “Will I ever recover?”
Beyond the practical things, a sense of mystery exists around illness. We can’t answer the “why” questions easily. We know from experience the impact illness has on lives. Often after an illness a child will take a developmental step forward. An executive with a heart attack may question his/her priorities and change his/her lifestyle thereafter. As Bernie Siegal says, a cancer patient is given “a wake-up call” and a chance to look at priorities in his/her life.
Illness is a means for transformation. In creating a healing environment in the home, we want to make space for both the practical and the mysterious to work out. This means
- looking at the individual whose illness this is,
- working with change in an orderly way (supporting transformation), and
- understanding warmth.
Looking at the individual
The first step for the caregiver is to take a good look in order to see the sick individual for who (s)he is. What does this illness mean to her/him?
A calm, receptive emotional tone on the part of the caregiver will create the environment which lets the sick person begin to express the experience or the needs (s)he has. Sometimes sickness brings oversensitivity and a demanding mood. Try to recognize this as part of the illness and not take it personally.
Quiet talk, for instance with a child suffering from feverish miseries, lets the sick one hear a struggle (s)he couldn’t put into words yet, and feels relieved at being understood. When the caregiver is able to have respect for the sick person’s dignity and growth in the process of the illness, and have faith in her/his recovery, then that person becomes medicine. A sick child doesn’t care about remedies, but just wants the presence of the loving parent.
The sick person goes through vulnerability to recovery and knows from experience the strength of his body. The sick person also has a deepened human bond from trusting the caregiver.
Part of this close look at the individual requires attention to the physical details. Can s/he reach the table at the bedside? Is the light too bright? Is a picture of pink elephants aggravating the spaciness of a patient with a fever? A dripping tap, a squeaky hinge, even the strong smell of flowers too close can be large annoyances to a sick person.
Quiet overall contributes to healing, and so TV and technically produced sounds do not contribute to creating a healing environment. Sleep should be protected so even the administering of remedies is held if the patient is in a sound sleep. All the recommendations here need to be individualized for the person who is sick.
Change: Order and Rhythm….Fresh, Inside and Out
Because illness is a time of change, healing is supported if we can keep things fresh in a room and have forethought and preparation for any treatment carried out. In a time of vulnerability, the caregiver protects the patient from a sense of chaos by having as much as possible a sure hand and all the material things in readiness. That said, life often places us in new experiences as caregivers, so we are often beginners doing our best.
Order and rhythm go hand in hand. While we do not, in our homes, have the controlled professional technique of experienced nurses, we can take a deep breath, become still inside for a moment, and think, “What do I need to carry this out?” and end with a well-received treatment such as compress or enema, instead of a chilled or frightened child because we didn’t have on hand what we hoped.
The physiology of the body follows precise and elegant rhythms in secreting hormones and enzymes in synchronicity with the changing time of day or year around us. When our treatments are given with regularity (though not so frequently we can’t humanly keep up with the schedule) the body gains support and security from the meal or remedy or treatment far more than if it were given irregularly. If a bath is given regularly on Thursday night, when the times comes to take a break in the treatment schedule, the body will still feel and receive the support of that treatment of Thursday nights because it was carried out in a rhythmic fashion for a period of time.
In particular for growing children, rhythm in life provides a strong foundation in their physiology, so that later as adults when schedules are erratic, the body function is secure from years of rhythmic living. For the sick person, use of rhythm is a return to that healthful time of childhood living, and brings health more quickly to the sufferer.
Keeping the external environment fresh is difficult, given the many other demands of life besides the sick person. But even doing one thing, like changing the water glass for a clean one, brings a sense of freshness.
Fresh air is helpful and safe if not a draft and the sick person is well covered. For respiratory illnesses in particular, fresh air should be part of a daily routine.
Fresh bedclothes are like a new start when a lot of time has been spent in these.
Internal cleansing is fundamental to healing. The physical effect of an illness is to bring about a body cleansing, and if we co-operate with that effort, the body can finish its work quickly and effectively. At the onset of illness with inflammation or fever, a sick person should be helped to empty bowels thoroughly first, with an enema if one is comfortable with this, or with Dulcolax (bisacodyl) suppository for adults. If bowel cramps are an issue, the milder glycerin suppository can be substituted. The bowel cleansing should be continued for several days by following up with milk of magnesia, Smooth Move tea, prunes, or whatever works for that person in order to have one more than the person’s usual number of bowel movements per day.
Uriel Horsetail tea (1 tsp. per cup of water, boiled 3-5 minutes) helps flush the kidneys which are responsible for eliminating toxins we eliminate from our bodies.
Uriel Dandelion yarrow tea (1/4-1/2 tsp herb mix per cup of boiling water) supports liver detox efforts. Best benefit from therapeutic teas comes when the person drinks at least two cups.
Hot lemonade (honey, fresh lemon and hot water), miso soup (organic, non-GMO), vegetable broth (organic, no MSG please), and herb teas can be drunk warm and hot in large quantities (up to 2 gallons per day for an adult).
Urinary output is an important measure of hydration, and when a person has no urine output for 12 hours, or significantly diminished urine output in the presence of fever, it is imperative that the doctor be notified quickly.
Fluids can carry healing properties. The warm mist vaporizer with eucalyptus oil assists relief of congestion in most respiratory conditions, the exception being croup and some patients who have asthma or allergies. Eucalyptus should be used cautiously or not at all in these situations. See Chamomile inhalation for instructions in bringing concentrated humidity for quick relief of mucous and soothing of irritated passageways. Always be a good observer and stay with the sick person. With asthma, it is important to use caution with inhalations.
Warmth is of such prime importance in healing it stands alone. Lack of warmth underlies chronic illness more often than we realize. The addition of warmth maintains health in a well person, and supports healing in a sick one.
Warmth exists on many levels. Emotional warmth is the foundation of children’s total growth, and though not quite as critical in adult survival, it is essential for adult well-being.
Sincere interest in the sick person, willingness to listen and grow in understanding of her/his particular situation and make-up, are the caregiver’s gifts of warmth to the sick person. They may be delivered with objectivity, as by a health professional, or with great attachment, as by a parent. But in either case, the support of companionship and human warmth during illness promotes healing.
The body creates physical warmth in the form of fever in an effort to arouse the immune system to action and bring the illness process to completion. The presence of fever is a signal of a competent immune system, and an action of the organizing forces of the sick person trying to take charge in the illness situation. Fever has been known to cure illnesses, including some cancers. Currently hyperthermia research is based on these observations. See Fever for specific remedy recommendations.
If an adult is ill and NOT running a fever, it can be helpful to coax a fever. Some of the benefits of fever can be obtained by use of a gradually rising temperature overwarming bath, working with your practitioner.
Diet during fever and illness should be light, with no protein if fever is present. For those individuals who are fairly healthy, a liquid fast can be undertaken under a doctor’s supervision. It is better to eat lightly than do a full fast if you have a schedule which you absolutely must keep.
When an illness occurs, it is the voice of your body speaking its wisdom. Surrender to the illness and don’t try to keep a schedule. This allows you to get through the illness quickly and completely, and gain the benefit of the illness.
Clothing protects us from loss of body heat. Natural fibers allow the body to breathe, and may be used even during a fever.
A growing child who is ill should be dressed with two layers on the bottom half and three layers on the top, and shoes and socks. There should be no gaps, and clothes should be tucked in at the waistline so the liver heat is not lost.
Sick adults can follow similar guidelines, and all persons wishing to keep well should dress this way in cold weather or poorly insulated buildings. Americans are notoriously casual about dressing warmly, to our disadvantage in the long-term.
For fever, feel the skin temperature, and keep cotton layers on the body. If the skin is cool on the fingers, toes or limbs, it can mean the fever is still going up. There is an art to working with fever. We want to invite it in fully, so it can exit quickly and fully. We know it is in fully when fingers and toes are as warm as the warmest part of the body. Foot rubs and wool socks and hot water bottles at the feet are helpful to get the feet fully warmed. Rubbing the skin to pinkness and dressing warmly in cotton layers helps keep the skin blood vessels dilated so the excess blood can come to the surface and heat be released. See Lemon calf compress, Fever.
Putting it together
As caregiver to a sick person, you are trusted by that person when s/he is most vulnerable. You are the agent of guidance through a tough time, through a transformation. The sick person often bonds with the caregiver. On the other side of the illness, freedom and new strength are experienced. These human gifts of the experience of illness are discounted in the rushed life of the 21st century. (There are commonly immune system strengthening benefits as well.) The caregiver takes up the task of both the mysterious and the practical in being willing to see and to help. Shared human warmth is the sometimes wordless answer to the big questions that illness raises.Print This Post
The wise loving home healing environment complements sound diagnosis and guidance from a trained healthcare professional.Print This Post