A New Perspective

Upon first arriving at the care center, I was a bit apprehensive. Although I had received training in how to interact with the patients, the idea of actually engaging a real patient face-to-face suddenly seemed rather daunting. After all, what could I really do that would make any difference in the life of someone at the end of their journey?
These inhibitions changed as I got to know Mrs. Patel. When I first walked into her room, I remember being shocked by her physical state; Mrs. Patel’s whole body was about 5 feet long, and her frame was so gaunt that I wouldn’t have been surprised if you told me there was actually just a skeleton beneath the sheets. When she saw me, though, she looked past my apparent shock and greeted me like an old friend. As the weeks went by, I came to learn just how far my new friend had travelled to be here.
Mrs. Patel was born in southern India at the end of British rule, and she was fortunate enough to study comparative literature in secondary school. After marrying her husband, the couple moved to Nairobi to find work and have children of their own. There, Mrs. Patel became a schoolteacher at a local elementary school for young Kenyans. Once her own kids were old enough for primary school, though, the Patel family relocated yet again, this time to the heart of London. Mrs. Patel remained there with her husband even after her kids began work in America, and it was only once her husband passed away that she moved to New Jersey. The steady decline of her health in recent years, however, had left her unable to care for herself, landing her in hospice care.
As Mrs. Patel’s latest and perhaps last student, I have come to cherish one moment in particular. On a December afternoon, after an insightful discussion on the political history of the royal family, Mrs. Patel paused. Recognizing that her mood had changed, I asked her what was wrong. She quickly explained that she had never feared death – that is, the end of life itself. Rather, she feared a painful death, one in which her last moments would be desperate and agonizing. All I could do was hold her hand, but somehow that seemed like enough.
I’ve come to realize that Ascend exists to address Mrs. Patel’s fear. By volunteering with Ascend, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to receive the wisdom of another generation while offering the encouragement and hope that, as Mrs. Patel often expressed, makes such a difference. The experience has also immersed me in some of the most vulnerable and meaningful patient interactions imaginable. As I continue to prepare for medical school, I am grateful for all Ascend has taught me about the beauty of life, the acceptance of death, and the ever-widening scope of medical care.