I have volunteered in hospitals in the past, completing tasks such as making beds, moving patients around in wheelchairs, and running blood samples to the lab across the hospital. My experience in the hospice unit this year has been different than this, in the best way possible. Instead of sitting and waiting for a task to be assigned to me, I had the freedom to walk around the unit and sit in with a patient for a little while, or for hours if we found ourselves in conversation. I felt that I was really making a difference in the care that these patients were being given. I was a source of energy and excitement for people who had little left ahead of them, and I could tell that they were grateful for the companionship.
I learned a lot about death during my time volunteering at the hospice unit.
Up until this experience, I had not dealt with death many times in my life. I had been to several funerals and lost several grandparents as a kid, but I never came face to face with the final struggles of life. This has changed. Every time I went into the hospice unit, I knew that I would more than likely be helping several people who were at 10-20%, as the nurses scale it, meaning that they were just clinging on to life and likely had little time remaining. These were not the most emotional encounters for me, though. Instead, it was those that were still had social abilities, those who I was able to talk to and listen to their thoughts. I remember one woman continually telling me how she was not ready to die, how she wanted more time to travel and spend with her children, and this really resonated with me. I’m not ready to die either, of course, but I don’t have that issue facing me at the moment. What if I did though? What would I do if I knew I’d only be here for another week, at the most? That is not a question that I am prepared to answer; despite having helped many people in this position, it’s not a question I can confront, nor do I want to at this point in my life. In other words, though I have certainly matured on the issue of others’ passing, I am still fearful of my own mortality. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, though.
In terms of medicine and my career as a doctor, I think this experience has dealt me nothing but positives. I have come to learn to really show compassion to these patients. There is a difference between feeling compassionate and really showing it – I believe most doctors are truly concerned for their patients, but making it clear to the patient that this is the case is what some may lack. I promise, as a future doctor, to be as caring and respectful to my patients as I can. They will be looking up to me as a voice of clarity and knowledge, and it’s so important to me that they feel comforted. I don’t see myself going into palliative care; nonetheless, this experience has been truly unique and wonderful in expanding my experience in the medical world, and in teaching me how to cope with death as a real thing.