I have had experience with hospice prior to volunteering my own time with Holisticare. My mother was admitted to hospice December 17, 2011 and she passed away 10 days later, only 2 days after Christmas surrounded by her family. She was 48 years old. “Hospice” was a word that haunted me, a word that became the coffin for my mom and my last memory of her lying on the bed in her cozy room which was still decorated for Christmas. I never thought of hospice care the same after seeing my own mom die in a facility. My idea of hospice was a place where people went to die comfortably, and that standard was lived up to in my case, as much as I didn’t want it to.
When I first heard about the pre-med hospice program I shuddered and brushed it off as a sophomore in college, as I was currently volunteering at the local hospital anyway. I figured I was already volunteering my time, and why bother doing something that would trigger unwanted memories anyway? By the time I was a junior, I still had not entertained the thought of volunteering for hospice. It wasn’t until the summer before my senior year, when I woke up at my brother’s home in Colorado 3 hours before sunrise due to jet lag when it dawned on me. I felt ready to give back to a wonderful program that actually provided so much more for me, and my family, than I realized. That morning I applied.
Due to my previous experience with hospice I did my best to not go into the experience as a jaded, grieving person, but truly with an open mind. During my time I had two patients, one of which passed away, one who is still very much alive. I also learned that hospice is typically not like what my mom did, where she stayed in a nice facility, but rather hospice comes to the patient. In my visits, my patients, who were around double the age of my mom when she was in hospice, provided a catalyst for change that enabled me to see hospice in a completely different light. In essence, hospice was not a place that one would go to die, but rather, they were there to live. These patients were very much alive and had a whole lot of personality to accompany them.
Due to the hospice program, I was able to learn how to listen fully to what my patients were saying, rather than glaze over. Realizing that the human in front of me lived an entire life and to consider them “dying” was now an archaic notion. Rather these patients are living, breathing, soul possessing entities that deserve respect as much as anyone else. Working with the dying was my awakening. The hospice volunteer program was my awakening to a new side of health care that I will carry with me throughout my career. As I begin my gap year as a medical assistant, I carry with me empathy and a better ability to listen to what the patient has to say. This awakening is just the beginning.