Creating Connections and Accepting Death as a Hospice Volunteer

Thanks to the Athena Institute Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program, I have been able to foster a nourishing and supportive relationship with my hospice patient. My patient is nonverbal, therefore, I bond with them through physical touch, engaging in behavior, such as holding their hand, brushing their hair, or changing them into a clean shirt after meals. Additionally, I build our relationship by talking to my patient as much as I can, asking them how they are doing, if they are comfortable, and if they enjoy the activity we are doing together. While their replies are sometimes short or undecipherable, talking to them is very comforting, and spending time with my patient provides me with feelings of serenity and happiness. I hope they enjoy the role I fulfill, as the presence of someone other than their caretakers and fellow residents.
By participating in the program, I grew regarding my comfortableness working alongside full-time care workers. From the beginning, I felt like my presence was disrespectful to people who worked so hard taking care of dementia residents. Through talking to my chaplain at group meetings, I realized that I am providing a resource that not many others can give. As a volunteer, I gave many residents my full attention, something that employees don’t always have the time or strength to do. I changed my mindset so that instead of impeding on their workspace, I coexisted with them to hopefully better the patient’s overall health.
Now after participating in the Athena Institute Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program and visiting a hospice patient weekly, I have gained even more insight about myself. I have never worked with someone who is nonverbal and it wasn’t hard for me to connect with my patient, which gave me even more confidence when volunteering. During our program meetings, we talked about learning about our patients through their possessions. By looking around my patient’s room, I pieced together what they used to find delight in such as a Victor Borge compilation CD, pictures of her family members, jewelry, licorice candy, and bright-colored shirts. While most students might feel sadness, seeing their small amount of untouched possessions, I found it enjoyable to discover what my patient’s interests are and try different ways of connecting by using them.
The program has shown me that my outgoing, inquisitive, and analytical personality helped me build a connection with my patient by using the tools around me. If anything, this work has strengthened my confidence and my love for caretaking and companionship. It has deepened my curiosity surrounding dementia and the ways in which hospice can bring peace to dementia patients’ lives. This program has taught me that life isn’t permanent and when health professionals apply this idea, their patients’ suffering decreases. Most importantly I learned what it means to be a good healthcare professional. Good doctors must be equipped to have difficult and honest conversations and act based on their patients’ fears and priorities. They also must understand that some treatments are unnecessary and that technology and medicine should be used as a tool and not a solution. This approach allows patients to continue living instead of avoiding death at all costs. Overall, the program strengthened my vocation to enter the health profession and for this I am very grateful.