Hospice: The Caregiver and the Patient

Since attending a Catholic high school, I have had the importance of social justice engrained in me. I see service to my fellow man as a way to express my compassion and decency. When signing up to join this hospice program this year, I saw this as a new experience to add to my previous plethora of volunteer work like working at a nursing home, caring for the physically disabled, and tutoring underprivileged high school students. I see my experience visiting with my hospice patient, who I will call Mr. R, in connection with my other experiences. While I signed up to work with my patient because I am interested in medicine and possibly becoming a doctor, I saw this program as an opportunity to connect my interest in social justice with my possible future career path. Through working with Mr. R, I have learned more about the difference between a home care environment versus a nursing facility, and how better interact with someone is dying.
Since starting the hospice program back in the fall, I have visited the same patient several times a month, Mr. R. Back in high school, I worked in a nursing facility for elderly religious sisters for over a year. While the facility provided quality care for the most part, I have noticed the stark contrast between a facility and a home care environment. While my own grandparents were in a home care environment for part of their elderly care, I have had mixed experiences about the quality of care. Sometimes nurse aids in both situations did not give the care that the patient needed, and often just resented having to do this job to make a living in the first place. Having been a caregiver for a man with Friedreich’s ataxia myself, I know firsthand how exhausting and depressing it is taking care of someone who needs around the clock care and monitoring. While working with Mr. R as a simply a visitor and not a caregiver, I was impressed with the quality of his care and how kind his several nurse aids were. While his one son makes sure his father and health staff has everything they need at the home, the nurse aids may be exhausted at times but are never unkind or fail to provide quality care. Mr. R has a very nice living environment, his physical grooming is always up to par, and he eats better than I do most days. Mr. R has taught me the importance of a quality home care environment for both the patient and the caregiver, so that patient is happy and the caregiver is not resentful or too exhausted.
Another important lesson instilled in me is the importance of being able to live in the moment for someone whose life is like a ticking time bomb. Mr. R has obviously had many health problems, and has been in hospice for several years. I have no idea how much longer he will be alive, but the importance is not his quantity, but his quality of life. When I spent time with him, I always made sure to interact with him in a way that was genuine and honest. Whether I was playing checkers with him, talking about family life, or showing him pictures of place we have both visited, I always wanted to live in the moment with him. When I visited with him, he was always very friendly and welcoming. He never failed to make me smile, so I always wanted to provide him with meaningful social interaction outside of his family or nurses. The biggest lesson I learned from Mr. R is that someone does not stop living just because they are in hospice. Having days filled with happiness and laughter are important when someone’s days are numbered. Through my work with Mr. R, I learned that I able to speak about death in a way that acknowledges the person still have a lot of life to live. Through my visits with Mr. R, I learned how to enhance someone’s quality of life in their last days by simply being present with them and acknowledging their humanity.