Before entering this program, I experienced the death of two grandparents within six months of each other. The deaths each had their own impacts on me but when I look back at them in comparison to each other, I saw how meaningful the final steps before passing are. Having the opportunity to be part of an end-of-life-care team has reinforced my love for medicine and the support that medical professionals provide beyond the diagnosis and medication. My experience as a pre-medical student at a liberal arts institution has taught me that there is far more to medicine than the nitty-gritty science and I believe that healthcare is finally moving more towards seeing the patient as a whole; like Holisticare does. Our country needs more healthcare providers like Holisticare and more compassionate and warm-hearted people like Cyndi and Reverend Graham.
I am so fortunate to have been able to learn from them and I hope to exemplify their values in my future occupation. As a volunteer with no formal medical training or privileges, we learned how to care for the individual, which is quite a change in mindset from focusing on fixing the body. The first few visits with my patient were hard because I felt like I should be doing more for her than just siting there and talking, but over time, I saw how important it was to simply be there.
The patient that I saw the entire year had been mentally prepared to pass away for years, and frankly, she didn’t know why she was still here. Much of what Cyndi had taught us about helping patients cope with impending death was pointless for her and I found that she rather just needed company. She enjoyed talking about her life and her hometown, we looked at history books and she would tell me about the buildings and landmarks. She had far more life left in her than I initially realized and we spent our time together crafting, talking about religion, politics, clothes or fashion, and family. I feel that I will take away just as many life lessons from her as I have from Cyndi and Graham. But at the same time, she was still my patient and I watched her struggle through a broken ankle and a nasty cold. There were times when I wished I could do more for her and times when she’s felt too despondent to talk with me when I visited. Our relationship has had its ups and downs but I still came back every week and I could see that she appreciated it in the way that she greeted me with a smile and bright eyes and asked me how I had been or about my family to show that she remembered things I’ve told her.
Besides my patient, my favorite part of the program was the reflection meetings throughout the year. It gave us a chance to learn from each other and share our experiences with people who can connect and empathize with them. Collaboration and discourse are essential in medicine, but above all, it was important for us to acknowledge and express what we were feeling during the experience. Being a doctor may require us to be restrained and solemn but that doesn’t mean we aren’t human and we won’t experience emotions in response to our work. Rev. Graham encouraged us to embrace the emotions and provided exercises and literature to help us work through, analyze, and digest our experiences. Because of my time as a hospice volunteer, I know I will be a more capable and understanding doctor someday.