In The Face of Loss: Where Little Wins Make The Biggest Difference

When I first joined this program, I had been learning how to cope with my grandfather’s transition into a nursing home. His dementia had been rapidly progressing and I watched his mental decline grow worse alongside my family with each subsequent visit. Coming into this program, I had some prior experience with patients in nursing home settings. Because of my
familiarity in these settings I thought I was already a pro with this kind of stuff. I was wrong.
My time being a hospice volunteer opened my eyes in a completely new light. Being assigned to patients at the beginning of the year who I did not know, who I would later develop meaningful bonds with was an experience much different to that of my grandfather who I have known my entire life. I remember meeting them for the first time during my orientation and being so eager to come back to hear more about their stories. Throughout this year, I have been inspired by the strength, perspective, and fulfillment that has come from hearing the stories of the patients.
One thing that I knew I could always count on was leaving Daylesford Crossing with a smile on my face. The patients are people who feel like they have been forgotten, who are at their most vulnerable and are looking for a source of light in their lives. They also showed me how much light they gave to mine. Walking into the facility and seeing someone’s face light up was such a fulfilling interaction, as my face matched the positivity radiating from theirs. Every time I came to Daylesford, the same man said “Thank you for coming” multiple times to me, and this told me the importance of making hospice patients feel valued and remembered. I knew that my job was to provide support for each patient, but I didn’t truly understand how much of an impact our interactions as volunteers have with the patient until I joined this program. I believe I was able to grow into my own and hone in the skill of bedside manner and communication. Serving this patient population impacted me tremendously and has added to the many reasons why volunteering in nursing homes have been so crucial to my understanding of healthcare professions. One key takeaway was that I learned something new every day– whether it was about a patient, me, or the world in general. Having an attitude of wanting to learn about yourself and others everyday enriched my interactions and the amount that I gained as well.
While there were many positives and glamorous moments, there were a fair share of moments that were emotionally heavy and led to reflection and perspective. For example, one of the patients who I saw earlier in the year suddenly passed away. While I knew this was likely in a hospice setting, no preparation was enough to simulate the feelings of the real thing. The death of
someone you cared for and had meaningful connections with is something that made me reflect a lot on the time I spent with them, how I delivered the emotional support, and even questioned if I did enough. I learned that these are normal thoughts to have, but also appreciated that I was able to enhance their life during the final chapter of their life. That is the essence of hospice care, and
even though this lesson came from loss, I gained valuable insight on the goal of palliative care, which is not to count the days, but make the days count. My experience as a hospice volunteer has allowed me to realize that things will never go perfect or even as planned, but the little wins make the biggest difference. At the end of the day, the accumulation of these little wins add up to
make something special, and I am taking with me countless memories and laughs sprinkled in with some emotionally challenging times and lessons, all of which I will cherish and utilize to further my journey as a physician.