Crossing paths – curiosity leading to a surprise invitation
It is our last day of a 3-week bicycle tour through Kerala in South India. Riding our bikes down a small street in Cochin, my husband and I see a van with the sign: “Palliative Home Care Team”. We have plenty of time and decide to slow down to postpone the end of a joyful experience in this colorful province full of spices, flowers, great food and very kind and hospitable people. Two nurses watch us taking a picture of the van and introduce themselves. They had seen us cycling in the streets and are very surprised the van is of interest to us. I share that I am volunteering in a hospice in The Netherlands and that I am interested to learn how palliative care is organized in Kerala. The nurses invite me to join their team on their home visits. I accept the invitation with gratitude and I make an appointment for the next morning so that I can shift my energy from being a bicyclist to joining them as a colleague holding space for people at the end of their lives.

Paying attention to the experience of deep connection with the Thaluk Hospital Palliative Home Care Team

Dutch cyclist and members of a Palliative Homecare team in Kerala

a Dutch cyclist and members of a Palliative Homecare team in Kerala

Common understanding and clarity: Professionals meeting with similar professional frames

In the morning, the palliative care team welcomes me in their office in the morning at the Thaluk Hospital. All members introduce themselves briefly. The team consists of nurses, volunteers and drivers. The members split into two teams who use the two vans available for homecare visits in town. I join the team in which the services are provided by a nurse and a volunteer. This is where the first crucial seed for success finds its roots: there is a very clear understanding of roles. We have an equal understanding of the purpose of the visits: serving people-at-the-end-of their-life. And there is an understanding of the difference between medical and non-medical activities. We know that the focus of non-medical end-of-

life care lies on holistic support and comport to the person dying and their family, which may include education and guidance as well as emotional, spiritual or practical care.

Before we even get started we share the collective wisdom and views on our professional mission, professional tasks and relationships. In other words, we have similar professional frames.

We also meet out of mutual curiosity and willingness to step into exploration of how we can operate during the home visits. The palliative care team members speak English very well. Once with the patients, they shift to their local language Malayam.

Deep listening

We visit a total of 4 patients at their homes. When we arrive, I am introduced as a colleague from the Netherlands. Every patient is requested to give permission for me to join the team members while offering their services.

Since I am not able to speak the language with the patient and their family – I choose to be fully present focusing on listening deeply and breathing with the patient, family members and my colleagues.

Deep listening skills go beyond listening with my ears, since I obviously cannot speak or understand the language. It includes presence, focus, compassion, wholeheartedness and embracing what is happening in the very moment. I am sensing with my whole self and believe this is how we can experience being in resonance with each other. I love how the Chinese language expresses listening in this way:

Chinese character for

Chinese word “Listening”

During the home visits, I observe how the team members collaborate during medical interventions and while empowering family members. I feel their compassion and care when regular medication is not available and instead ayurvedic medicine is offered to the family. I sense the passion all members of the team have for the work they are doing. They listen patiently and lovingly give firm instructions to the family members/the social network on how to care and hold space for the patient. And let’s remember the driver, whose important role it is to be the informant for family members not present in the patient’s room.

Sharing feedforward which comes from deep listening

When we return to the hospital, the team invites me to share a home cooked lunch as a part of the daily ritual of the team. On our way, we meet the superintendent of the Thaluk hospital and her nursing staff. She asks what I experienced while being with the team.

I share my gratitude for the great opportunity to see the outreach services provided by the hospital’s Palliative Home Care teams. In my role as observer, I am impressed by the teamwork I saw between the nurse and the volunteer. Not only did they care for the patients, they also included and empowered the patient’s social network who care for them. I share how I felt the passion and compassion, respect and

wholeheartedness. The whole experience feels like a gift. I love being curious. It touches all my senses and my roots in anthropology and cross-cultural learning. I hope both the superintendent and the team

receive this reflection as feedforward.

When I am asked what I will take home from the experience. I share how I felt deep connection and mutual respect, and how it made me realise the experience of deep listening is not merely about the art of listening to others, but also an opportunity to listen to myself and listen to the future. I return home with new questions concerning my professional identity:

  • How can I contribute to the collaboration between medical and non-medical staff at the hospice where I work? How do I show up?
  •  How can I offer more non-medical support to guests and contribute to empower their families/social network?
  • How can I use this experience to contribute to create a listening movement and be an advocate for these deeper listening skills?

Little did I know how crossing paths with curiosity on a bicycle would lead to a new perspectives on deep listening.

Amsterdam, February 2018

Patricia Koster, Corporate Anthropologist & Listening Ambassador

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