Lessons of a Hospice Volunteer

During my time in this Pre-Med Hospice Program, I have been lucky enough to make four wonderful friends to people who have entered the final stage of their lives. However, one of these relationships had a deeper impact on me than the others. Part of the reason why I think I had a deeper relationship with Ashley was because I could see her physically declining with every visit, and this really made me aware of the role that medicine can take in the end of a person’s life and seeing for myself a person going through death.
When I first met Ashley, I had interesting conversations with her about her life, my life, and anything else that would just come up. Despite her circumstances, she was still the same charismatic person who deeply cared about her family and making anyone fit in and feel comfortable that she had been throughout her entire life. As I continued to visit her, I got to meet various members of her family, and these would be some of my favorite times with her. She would always be happy visiting with me, but when one of her children or grandchildren walked into her room, she would practically jump out of bed with excitement. With her family, it seemed like we were transported out of the hospice and back to her old apartment. But one day I arrived for a visit, and Ashley was feeling considerably worse than the last time I saw her. I heard the nurses talking that they had given her pain medication, but she was still in severe pain. From this point, she would have more of her family there when I visited which meant that I was not able to talk to her one on one, but I was comforted by the amount of care and compassion her family took to make sure she was as comfortable as she could be.

My adventure with Ashley culminated in one final visit, where she knew it would most likely be the last time we would visit. On that day I walked into her room not knowing what to expect, and she was just lying on her bed all by herself. When she saw me, she was more thrilled to see me than ever before and requiring every muscle in her body told me that she was dying. She did not have the energy to talk and had trouble hearing, so I simply sat on her bed and held her hand to show her I was there for her. I could see she was suffering and I felt helpless not knowing what to do, but I understood that it was simply her time. Eventually, one of her sons came and comforted her, and then I said goodbye for the final time knowing that she was not alone.
My experience in the hospice program  through spending time with Ashley and the other patients, I have come to learn lessons that I hope will stay with me when I become a doctor. One of the biggest lessons is that quality of life at the end of a person’s life is an important factor that should not be overlooked when deciding to run that extra test or subjecting the patient to even more pain. Care, comfort, and presence of family members or someone supporting a patient are some of the key aspects to a good end of life. While I do not plan on entering the field of geriatrics, I am thankful to have had this experience working with death and I think it truly is a factor that every doctor should be comfortable dealing with.