The Healing Power of Presence: A simple act of sitting beside a patient

Categories: Care and People & Places.


In a place where time seems to stand still, where life and death dance in a delicate balance, the presence of a physician can make a world of difference for the patient and their caregivers. I believe that medicine has the power to heal not just the body, but also the spirit, and it is during the ward rounds that I have the opportunity to connect with my patients. Beyond the medical jargon and clinical procedures, I have come to understand the tremendous impact a human connection can have on their well-being.

As a palliative care physician working in a hospice, I have witnessed countless stories of pain, suffering, and loss. However, amidst the sorrow, there is one aspect of my job that continues to reaffirm my faith in the healing process – the simple act of sitting beside a patient during my regular ward rounds.

Let me narrate to you one such memory / interaction stands out vividly in my memory.


During my routine rounds one day, I entered the room of Ms Shubha (name changed), who was a frail woman battling advanced cancer. When I saw her, I noticed that her eyes were filled with both exhaustion and apprehension. I immediately sat down beside her and took a moment to truly see her as an individual and not just as a patient who I had to meet during my rounds.

As I began discussing her treatment plan, I noticed a subtle change in Shubha’s demeanor. She sat up a little straighter and her eyes then met mine with a glimmer of hope. It was as if the weight of her suffering had momentarily lifted, and was replaced with the comfort of human presence. I realised at that very instant, that my role as a physician extended far beyond just prescribing medications and monitoring one’s vital signs. I realised that I had the opportunity and power to provide solace and reassurance to my patients and their caregivers who are usually distressed, through the simplest of gestures – just being there.

Over time, I developed a routine during my ward rounds. I began to sit beside each patient, even if only for a few minutes. I would listen to their concerns, fears, and hopes, offering words of encouragement or empathy. Sometimes, we would discuss life beyond the walls of the hospice – memories, dreams, and the little things that brought them joy. These conversations provided them a semblance of normalcy and a brief respite from their pain, amidst their chaotic world of illness.

During each of these interactions and in witnessing the impact of my presence, I also became aware of the healing it brought to me as a physician. It was in these moments that I saw the beauty of the human spirit, the resilience and the courage we all have when faced with adversity. Our patients then take on a hoger role as they became more than just medical cases. They became teachers who impart invaluable life lessons about gratitude, strength, and also about the fragility of life.

The journey wasn’t however always easy. There were heart wrenching moments when I sat beside my patients as they took their last breaths, while their families clung on to hope and grappled with grief. Yet, even in those darkest moments, I realised and understood the importance of my physical presence. I had the opportunity to offer a comforting touch, say a few kind and supporting word, or simply be a witness to their journey.

As I reflect upon my experiences, I am reminded that medicine transcends science and technology. It is an Art of compassion and connection. The regular ward rounds have taught me that a simple act of sitting beside a patient can have a profound impact on the quality of life of my patients and their caregivers.

You see, in each of those moments, I am not just a physician. I am a light of hope, a source of strength, and a witness to the resilience of the human spirit.

With this narration, I hope that I am able urge each of you to invest time with your patients and watch the wonders of resilience that unfold thereafter.



About the Author:

Dr Kamalakar is a Palliative Care Physician at the Sparsh Hospice in Hyderabad, who demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the wellbeing of his patients and their caregivers.

Dr Kamalakar’s journey in palliative care began with him joining a palliative care unit in Telangana as a social worker, after completing his Masters in Social Work. After two years of working as a social worker, he was driven by his relentless passion to pursue his long-standing dream of becoming a physician. He then enrolled to be trained as an MBBS doctor. Post completion of this training, he joined the Sparsh Hospice as a palliative care physician.



Note: This article is a republication from the September edition of the Indian Association of Palliative Care‘s free monthly e-newsletter.


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