My first visit under the Ascend Hospice volunteer program was to Brookdale Hamilton, a senior living community that provides end-of-life care to individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I distinctly remember one patient, a woman in her mid-80s with late stage Alzheimer’s. She wholeheartedly believed that she knew who I was and began thanking me for helping her, even though I had never met her before. At first, she was very shy and quiet, but she slowly began to open up as I tried to engage in conversation with her. We ended up talking for a little over an hour as she shared with me these incredible stories from her youth. I wasn’t able to determine whether they were real or not, but that didn’t matter. At the end, she gave me a hug and said to me, “I feel alive again. I am so happy right now.”
It was a humbling experience for me to see this woman smile even after all she had gone through. Many patients admitted into hospice struggle to cope with the reality that they are nearing the end of their life. Furthermore, many of these same patients are often alone with no one there to support them. Therefore, the opportunity to interact with other people, even if they may be strangers, goes a long way in making them feel more happy and comfortable. More often then not, people like these are cast aside and left to live out their days alone until they pass away. However, something as simple as a conversation can remind them that they are still alive and that there are people that still care about them.
Overall, my experience with hospice has helped me better cope with death and has made me much more comfortable interacting with patients near the end of their lives. Although I had experiences with death prior to Hospice, I was never able to talk about it and accept it without first feeling a bit of fear or anger. However, spending time with patients near the end of their life has taught me that death is a natural part of everyone’s life and that it should not be something you try to run away from.
Wanting to be a doctor in the future, the Hospice program has taught me the importance of communication in the medical profession. Volunteering showed me that being a doctor is more than just about treating a patient; it requires an individual who is able to provide solace and support to patients and their families. A good doctor should be able to speak with patients and their family about difficult and sometimes risky procedures with empathy and compassion. Understandably, a hospital can be a stressful environment for many people. Therefore, it’s a doctor’s responsibility to ensure that patients remain calm and relaxed while treating them. As a doctor, I hope to continue to bring smiles to those who need it, cause like the old saying goes: laughter is the best medicine.