Introduction to Palliative Care and Meaningful Experiences

Volunteering with Ascend Hospice this year has given me both a new outlook on my future career and on my personal life. By interacting with some very special end-of-life patients, I have been able to reflect more carefully on my role in the comfort of others and how I, in my life, can be helpful to those who may be struggling with some of their bodily circumstances. I have also been able to reflect more carefully on my own life, thinking about what is important to me on a day-to-day basis and how I want to maximize my time spent on Earth.
One of my most meaningful relationships during this experience has been with a woman named Bertha. I always look forward to seeing Bertha. From a selfish perspective, I enjoy her company—she always has something interesting to say. Sometimes she will talk about her family, her favorite sports teams, or how she used to cook, and if she is in a good mood, sometimes she will start singing. Listening to Bertha sing has by far been my favorite part of my Hospice volunteering experience. Even when it is difficult to understand exactly what Bertha is saying, I can share the emotional experience. Sometimes Bertha is feeling down, and her songs are slow and sad, and other times she is joyful, and she loudly sings Romanian folk songs. I have enjoyed every moment spent with Bertha, and I think she enjoyed her moments spent with me.
Spending time with end-of-life patients has shown me the importance of palliative care. Interacting with the patients who may or may not be in some level of pain has directly impacted my outlook on the importance of this kind of care. Before, I may have thought of end-of-life patients as unimportant, or at least less-pressing than other kinds of patients. However, after my experiences, it will be a top-priority in my medical career to address both the mental and physical well-being of end-of-life patients and their families. Some patients may find it easy to come to terms with their situation, and others may find it incredibly difficult, and respectfully finding the appropriate treatment for each of these kinds of patients will be an important part of my medical career. End-of-life patients deserve compassionate, customized care.
Engaging with end-of-life patients has also made me think more about my own life. Listening to people reflect on their entire lives has taught me to strive for happiness rather than success, patience rather than speed, and quality personal interactions rather than vapid engagement. It was refreshing and sometimes eye-opening to leave campus during very busy semesters to simply sit with a patient and maybe have a pleasant conversation. After, I often left feeling a little quieter but also more calm and centered.
I thought the program was well-organized. I felt like we had an appropriate amount of training and I enjoyed the reflection meetings as a way to unpack some of the heavy emotions I may have felt during some of my visits.