Accepted Deaths

My experiences in hospice care can be characterized as challenging and rewarding. Although I have been in Ascend Hospice for a short few months, I have created deep relationships with a patient and observed others pass on. Before entering the field, my presumption of hospice ominous. Recognizing an individual is approaching death and still familiarizing ourselves with her brings the imminent feeling of loss. However, after my first few hospice visits, I discerned that these hospice patients accepted and sometimes welcomed death. Watching fellow companions and loved ones pass on is a gloomy experience that allowed these patients to accept death. The person avoiding death was only myself. This experience allowed me to become more knowledgable about the cycle of life and death, learning that dying is not always followed by apprehension.

My first hospice patient that drastically changed my impression on the field is Dollie. I visited her at the Wayne Center, often with fellow peers, on a weekly basis. Dollie was a jolly, pleasant person that welcomed my presence during my visits. Although her cardiac conflicts prohibited her from talking much, she would always enthusiastically listen to my stories and experiences of my life. I also slowly learned more about her life which she was never shy to discuss. She was a former nurse from the south with no children. Her only family was her sister who lived in a nearby town, but was unable to visit much do to her old age. This is why Dollie always welcomed company. After accepting forthcoming death, one wants to be surrounded by familiar faces, being the receiver of care and love; not strapped to many contraptions in a gloomy room with a very bland food selection. In Dollie’s case, she did not have much family and most of her visitors consisted of members of a church she attended. Regardless, Dollie maintained an enthusiastic outlook on life, making me desire to shower her with company. During almost all of my visits, I would watch her brighten the gloomy room with her smile. Then I knew that she had already accepted dying and was making the most of the rest of her life. Though Dollie revolutionized my impression of hospice care, she was also cause of my first suffering. Dollie was released from hospice care by the end of the year for good health. Although I was happy that she left hospice care alive, I was depressed because I have lost the ability to visit a friend that would brighten my day every time I visited. I was trained not to become attached to these patients because of their foreboding deaths, but I couldn’t restrict myself from loving the convivial Dollie. Dollie served as an important milestone in my hospice experience, introducing me to the feeling of loss. Although I learned what it meant to lose someone, my next experience of loss would approach faster than I could solidify my understanding.

The next patients I visited were Peggy and Ellen in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Their location was quite a distance from Villanova, so my peers and I carpooled there. On our first visit, we were not given any briefing on the patients from our social worker at all. We were simply introduced to them and needed to infer their well-beings ourselves. Peggy was a lovely old woman that was quite sociable. She talked in coherent sentences and conferred experiences from her life during our first visit. We learned about her previous occupation, family, and other general knowledge. Peggy had no living family members and many of her friend have already passed. Instead of fearing death, she desperately questioned God about why she was living. It was a bit heartbreaking to witness her frustration, but frustration, I presumed, was better than fear. Ellen, on the other hand, rapidly conferred incoherent stories that would make no sense. We quickly caught on that she was suffering from dementia. Although we could not understand what she was trying to convey, we understood that her intentions were genuine and she enjoyed company very much. For three hours, we inquired on Peggy and Ellen before it was time to depart. However, little did I realize that I would be unable to meet them ever again. We were emailed two weeks later that Peggy’s health was exponentially diminishing. The email lined up with a week that I had all my math and science tests, so I was not able to visit until the end of the week. However, it was too late, for Peggy had already passed away. Soon after, Ellen had also passed away.

Although these hospice patients really lost their lives, the impact was less severe than losing Dollie. It was because my relationship with Dollie was built from months of visits and conversations, while my relationship with Peggy and Ellen was built in a day. It was also because Peggy expressed her willingness to die and Ellen was helpless in perceiving reality. Still, the impact was swift and decisive. A loss was still a loss at the end of the day, but with loss, there is room for growth. In the future, as a doctor, I will experience more death but instead I will have a meaningful role of preventing it. Hospice was beneficial in that it introduced me to the concept of death, but something that I have yet to experience, something that I dread experiencing, is the death of someone who has not accepted dying. These hospice patients have already accepted dying and actually welcomed it. But in a hospital environment, I will witness deaths of those who are not willing to pass on yet. This is my next stepping stone in my journey.