In the beginning, the idea of visiting a hospice was exciting yet incomprehensible to me. As an individual who has never experienced a significant loss of a loved one, I have never been placed in a situation where an impending death was constantly on the radar. Hence, when I was accepted into the Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program, I had no idea what to expect. However, I did find the concept of hospice care very promising because it offered both patients and their families a form of healing that was beyond the tangible. Although I was anxious at first to visit a hospice back in October 2016, since then, my apprehension has slowly but surely diminished. After spending some time every week with the patients, nurses, aides, staff members, and other volunteers at the hospice, I realized that as human beings, we are still capable of both caring for one another and striving for virtue in life, even though we may not be able to fix or change things that are inevitable.
My volunteer experience at the hospice inpatient unit has strengthened my passion for providing holistic, compassionate service to those in need. Taking the time to foster rapport with both the dying and their families has revealed to me the epitome of good medicine. I remember one particular encounter I had with a patient named Ronna, who had been admitted three days ago (from the day I met her). Her diagnosis revealed that she had less than a week to live. When I went into Ronna’s room with the aide to bathe her, Ronna asked us if she could share stories about her family with us, even before I asked her myself. As she was describing a visit from her three daughters and grandchildren a couple days back, her energy and positive vibe from her excitement gradually filled up the entire room. Though she was blind, I still saw life in her eyes; they sparkled as she continued reminiscing about the good times. Simply being there next to Ronna during the last few moments of her life was such an enlightening experience because not only was I able to help her uphold her dignity before her passing, but also I was able to make sure she knew that I cared about her. Although I was not physically there when she let out her last breath, I know that the dedicated nurses and hospice staff members helped Ronna die well with no regrets. I think it is such a wonderful feeling to know that the person you had to let go was able to die in a comfortable, peaceful, and painless manner. This experience was able to open the doors to a new aspect of medicine for me: the holistic approach to patient care.
I came out of the visit that day with a change in attitude regarding death and dying and hospice care. I can definitely say that without doubt, this experience was a life-changer because I started to view death in a new light: it is not something to be afraid of or avoid. Thus, I am much more comfortable with the subject. I could not help but think to myself, “I would love to come here if I ever get diagnosed with a terminal illness.” I feel quite relieved to know that such high quality of care is an option for those nearing death. When I become a physician in the near future, I hope that I will be just as passionate about my job as the hospice nurses, aides, and staff members, and also work towards a whole-person approach to medical care with a collaborative team. I would like to integrate my new experiences from my visits to the Healthcare@Home hospice with those that I have accumulated thus far. Medicine truly is merely a microcosm of life that constitutes different facets of a person. With this idea in mind, I am going to re-shape my own philosophy about both death and medicine so that it reflects the holistic, dignified type of care that all patients deserve to have.