Note: Patients names were changed for this post
On June 11, 2012, Eileen and I had the privilege of attending the graduation of
one of Terence Cardinal Cooke’s residents, Aaron Palmer, a 21-year-old young man who
suffers from anoxic brain damage sustained in an accident six years ago. Aaron is almost
completely immobile and has no ability to respond except by way of an occasional tear
from his left eye. This small celebration on the Pediatrics Unit of the facility was to
mark the end of Aaron’s studies with the New York City Department of Education, as he
has turned 21 and will no longer be having classes with the teachers who come to TCC to
work with the children residents. It was a time to celebrate the care Aaron’s parents have
provided throughout his life and the care facility staff have provided during Aaron’s one
year in the facility. During the celebration a few short speeches were made by Aaron’s
teacher and other staff members, as well as by his parents who tearfully accepted the
diploma on Aaron’s behalf. After the speeches a rose was given to every one of the
women present to thank them for their devotion to Aaron.
Two days later we were able to see Aaron’s teacher in action with his students:
reading to them, singing to them, allowing them to touch different kinds of objects to
stimulate their brains. Mr. Elliot, Aaron’s teacher, comes in everyday to meet with “his
boys”. All are young men in their late teens. None of them are capable of response.
We discovered later on in this visit that fewer than half of the parents visit the children
residents. But the staff takes on the role of caring with gusto. They realize that while
these children may not be able to express themselves, they can still recognize voices and
understand love and care. The nurses beam as they talk about the children and say which
ones are real gossips, flirts, or sweethearts.
The experience of seeing this unit in action brought to mind a quote from Mother
Theresa that I read recently: “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.”
Does Aaron learn in the two hours that his teacher spends with him daily? Does he hear?
Does he understand? All of these questions are important, but perhaps not fundamental.
Even if no progress is made and no change is noted, these teachers are still committed to
faithfully come daily and stimulate these student’s minds, to show them love and care.
Grappling with the difficulty of accepting this kind of lack of response and progress is
one of our most difficult and valuable lessons at TCC and we are constantly challenged
by the commitment and devotion of these staff.