Being a Hospice Volunteer – Combining Youth and Old

Throughout my year volunteering at Hospice, my character and personhood have grown in unique ways because of my experiences and interactions with the patients. Almost every Friday, I visit PCC for a couple of hours, and the aging clients that I have met have turned into inspiring compassions. They have grown on me so much that I have started to treat them more as friends than anything else, and I find myself excited to visit not only because of what I get out of it personally, but because I truly care about what they have been up to throughout the last week.
When I first walked into PCC, and all of the Hospice clients were sleeping at the time, I decided to socialize with some of the other clients in the building, and my encounter at first was scary, but extremely memorable. I recall sitting down next to a confused and lonely woman, and then I started to ask her about herself, and her response to me was, “Who am I? Am I safe? What am I doing here?”. She unconsciously stared into my eyes asking these massive life questions, and I immediately became scared because I could see in her eyes that she herself was truly scared and confused about what the status of her life was. With time I came to accept the unfortunate reality of her brain’s dismal condition and her terrible memory, but I was pleasantly surprised when she remembered some things such as every single detail about her parent’s jobs when she was growing up, but what tore at me was she couldn’t even remember what occupation she took up herself for the majority of her life.
This was my first encounter as a Hospice volunteer, and it was a sad wake up call for me about the reality of what the end of life stage can be about. Over the next weeks and months I hung out with new clients, and I found myself drawn to a few of the women in the building who could remember my name and hold a decent conversation. Outside of these few ladies, the fact of my visits became that every time I showed up, most of the clients forgot whom I was and we basically had to meet again for the first time. In another depressing example, one man internally believed that his wife forgot of him and just left him at the facility, and that he was destined to die alone there. It turns out that the wife in reality visits him 6 days a week and tries to express daily her love for him despite going through the difficult end of life stages. These experiences tear at my heartstrings, but I find that as I continue with my life I now carry with me a much broader sense of perspective and blessing.
From a medical perspective, my time in the program has shown me in new light the inherent limitations of the human body and the everlasting need for original passionate doctors dedicated to combatting these limitations in creative ways. Anyone who is seeing a doctor nowadays tends to hold negative anxious precautions due to the serious concerns about their health and the unknowns that come with the future. They may feel as if they do not deserve their situation, that they simply got unlucky, or that they don’t have any hope of getting better. I have learned through my time with Hospice some innovative ways to deal with these emotional states that often accompany the client, and my time around end-of-life patients has forced me to seriously develop my compassionate side. I know that these skills will be called upon in the future when I am working towards becoming a full time physician.
What is so great about the Hospice program is that it allows us to get out what we put in. If a student is not committed to making a visit or holding challenging conversations with clients, then they will struggle to develop themselves as intended. However, since the Hospice program has been good about creating a weekly schedule, there has been accountability within the program that keeps a solid group of students together in our visits. I do feel that sometimes we reached a limit as to how much we can learn from the Hospice clients. After visiting and learning about the life stories from the same clients for 2 months, it at times became difficult to find new moments to learn from. However, I have found that through our discussions between fellow volunteers, I have been able to still find new avenues to challenge each other, and I have been able to discover new perspectives on how to view my visits. Overall, the hospice program has been extremely resourceful to me as I learn more about myself and life in general around me, and I want to thank the organizers of the program for granting me this opportunity!