One of the most impactful relationships I have had through this hospice program was one that was very unexpected. I was asked to sit vigil by a nursing home for a patient who was deteriorating and was expected to pass away very soon. When I was called and asked to do this I was immediately very nervous. I did not know what I was supposed to talk to her about or how to appropriately interact with someone who knows they are going to die very soon. I also had never met the patient before and was hoping we would be able to get along.
The patient ended up being so ill that she was on a respirator and was unconscious for the six hours I was sitting vigil with her. When I first walked into her room it was very scary, because even looking at her you could tell she was going to pass away very soon. The first half hour of my visit was unnerving and sad. I felt badly for this woman who literally had no friends or family to be with her during her last hours on earth. Dying is something that can be very scary and to have no love or support while you are dying must make it even scarier. I really hope and believe that even though she was not conscious or orientated, she knew she was not alone while I was there. I began to view my visit as a positive thing, the fact that someone was able to be sit with her and provide companionship, even though she may not know I was there. The staff at the nursing home also made a point to check on her throughout the day and were very appreciative and grateful that I was there sitting with her. It was nice knowing that they too cared for her and wanted to make sure she had companionship before her death.
This one visit made me realize how important and impactful our volunteering has been. To simply just be with someone or visit with patients each week really does impact the patients and those around them. I think it was comforting to the nursing home staff especially because they had formed a relationship with the patient that I was able to sit with her for her last hours on earth. Before starting this program, I never realized that the friends, family or even acquaintances of the patients would also be positively impacted by our volunteering.
This program also made me realize how as a practicing physician I would interact with patients differently than I would have normally. One part of this program that really impacted me was watching the television special about how doctors wished that they would have told the patients earlier that there was nothing left to be done. It never really occurred to me that it might be better for the patients and their families to stop treatment and instead spend their last time on earth not heavily medicated or undergoing treatment. I think I will definitely take this knowledge and keep it in mind when I am treating my own patients.