Last week I went on my first patient visit with the GP to see an elderly lady. She had recurrence of a throat cancer for which she had had a larygnectomy twenty years ago, leaving her unable to speak.It was saddening and fascinating to communicate with her: she made use of gestures effectively, and began by mouthing words, then writing on a pad. She also used a vibrating device against her throat which amplified the speech movements. I was able to understand a small amount of her speech, and fortunately the GP can understand her completely (and is the only one in the practice who can do so) but I felt best connected with her when she took my hand.
She had a mischevious sense of humour, telling jokes and buzzing her device to check if I was paying attention! (Her cat was pleased to receive guests and was rubbing around our ankles)
When she broke down I felt glad that simply touching was of comfort: there was little else I could say or do to make the situation any better.
The whole experience reminded me strongly of a piece by Deidre Scherer, who works in fabric and thread. It depicts an emaciated woman and her cat, and strongly signifies chronic disease and old age:
Some other pieces I noticed from the artist's website are The Last Year and Surrounded By Family which are also extremely thought-provoking.