I decided to apply to be a volunteer with Seasons Hospice because my mother was a hospice nurse for many years when I was a child, and I thought that it would give me some insight into the important work she did. What I did not anticipate about my experience as a volunteer was learning about death as an inevitable part of life, and how as health care professionals, we need to learn to work with death instead of always against it. When you decide to become a pre-med student and pursue a career in medicine, all of the signs and symbols representing medicine are centered on one theme: warding off death. While I agree that if there is a way to prolong somebody’s life and it is in his/her best interest, by all means we should do our part in ensuring that we find it, I have also learned through this experience that ultimately death is certain and is something that should be approached with comfort and quality of life in mind first.
During my experience with Seasons Hospice, I only had one patient. He remains lucid, coherent, and able to easily convey his thoughts and ideas. We spent almost all of every session talking about his past; something that I have learned is often very therapeutic for hospice patients. While I can tell there are signs of decline, as there is with any person reaching the end of their life, his spirit remains high and his mental capacity is remarkable. My experiences with him taught me that providing help for other people does not necessarily need to be an active role. Throughout all my visits, I never said more than ten words at a time, yet each time I arrived and left, my patient always expressed how grateful he was for volunteers like me. I realize that as a health care provider, sometimes the best thing for a patient is to make sure they feel heard and understood.
Another important lesson I learned from my experiences at Seasons Hospice was that everyone experiences their end of life journey differently. While some accepted their position along their journey of life with peace, others were clearly in constant pain and struggling with their situation. This was difficult for me to encounter, but taught me an important lesson as someone with a future in health care. Each patient is an individual and deserves to be treated as such. Treatment for every patient, even in terms of how to speak with them during a volunteer visit can vary vastly. I am grateful for this experience because I know I can take the lessons I’ve learned from those at the nursing home and apply them not only to future patients who are elderly or at the end of their life, but to all patients I will come in contact with.
My experience with Seasons Hospice was wonderful and informative. I enjoyed hearing form other volunteers at reflection meetings and learning about what their experiences were like. I am excited to take my next steps as a medical student with all that I have learned in mind.