This program affected me more than I could have ever expected when I first applied. I remember being really anxious about if the nurses would be mean, fitting it into my schedule, and mostly about being around patients on the verge of death, as I had never seen a dead body before. I was unsure of how I was supposed to act or talk to people and family members in the unit. I soon learned that providing company is one of the best things that you can give to someone when they are alone and awaiting their death.
I specifically remember one night in the unit when there was a patient with chronic COPD. He wasn’t there to stay until the end of his life, it was more of an in between stage for him, so he was very alert and constantly pacing around his room. He would make these exhaustive exhales as his lungs failed to push the air out of his body and they were audible from anywhere in the unit. I overheard the nurses talking and saying that it was mostly from anxiety because he hadn’t had any visitors and his difficulty breathing scared him. Seeing as I had only had very few patient contacts at that point, I offered myself to go in and sit with him.
From the start, he warned me that he wouldn’t be able to talk very much because of his inability to catch his breath, but I just told him that was all right because I was lonely sitting out by myself and just wanted company. He immediately started to attempt to make conversation and we talked about his life and family and he asked me some questions as well. As soon as we got involved in the conversation, his loud outbursts when breathing subsided and he began to relax in his bed. We talked about the alligator hunting show that was on his TV, his fond memories of a big family barbecue that his family held every year, and that his daughter was getting married in the coming fall. We kept talking until he gradually fell asleep. Finally, he could breathe peacefully without stress and worry lines overtaking his face.
After 20 minutes of rest, he jolted awake and looked surprised to see me sitting there. He began the conversation again, asking me my name and what I did in hospice. It was then when I realized that he had memory loss and could not remember any of the conversation we had. In that moment, I decided that it didn’t matter what he could or could not remember, because I still noticed the calm that came over him as he saw me. I realized how lucky I was that I was the one who heard this man’s life story. I have undoubtedly obtained a larger appreciation for human life and the characteristics that make every patient you meet unique through this program. If I am lucky enough to accomplish my dream of becoming a doctor, I will never again see a patient as simply a body that needs fixing, but a human being who feels and needs explanations. I will also forever appreciate nurses and aides for all of the hard work they do, and I cannot explain how thankful I am to them for their patience and willingness to help and teach us. This program has truly been one of the most enlightening experiences of my life.