“Say that he loved old ships, write nothing more upon the stone above his resting place. And they who read will know that he loved the roar
Of breakers white as starlight, shadow lace
Of purple twilight on a quiet sea.”
– Daniel Whitehead Hickey
The Asilo is a government nursing home in Bocas del Toro and was one of the facilities that Floating Doctors had first been invited to Panama to assist. There are about 30 patients ranging from fully mobile to completely bedridden. Some are without sight or limbs; many suffer from psychoses or dementia—and they all have to be fed, bathed and changed, their meals prepared and the patients and facility kept clean and repaired, by less than 5 permanent staff.
Floating Doctors assists the small permanent staff coordinating health care for the residents and improvement projects for the facility, as well as helping provide end-of-life care and advocating for the patients who have no one else standing with them. Our volunteers help with everything from foot care to wound care to physiotherapy to simple kindness and compassion. During our Asilo visits, we encourage our volunteers to spend time talking and interacting with the patients, adding companionship and human contact to the medical care and material improvements we provide.
It is here at the Asilo that our volunteers (especially our healthcare students) learn the true therapeutic value of kindness and attention, which is too often neglected in ‘modern’ care of the elderly. A resource-limited setting means that an acutely agitated patient with dementia can’t just be dosed with antipsychotic meds or sedatives; instead, someone needs to sit with the patient, hold their hand, and talk softly to them for a while. It is the exact opposite of the way most elderly care is practiced in developed regions, but it is almost unbelievable what this approach can deliver for our patients. We intend that this approach be exported home with our volunteers to influence the way geriatrics and palliative care are approached elsewhere in the world.
Our commitment is not only to the morning and daytime of our patients’ lives, but also to their twilight and to the last crossing we all make only once. Any ship, no matter what storms it has weathered and what battle scars it has sustained through almost a century navigating life’s uncharted waters, wants to look its best when it pulls into harbor for the last time. There should be dignity when the docklines are cast off for the final voyage of our lives, and at least someone standing on the dock to wish them fair on their last voyage.
If you are visiting Bocas and would like to add a service component to your vacation by helping at the Asilo, or would like to know more about supporting Friends of Asilo, please visit their Facebook page.