My experience in the hospice program has been something that will stay with me throughout my career and throughout my life. I have had experience with death in my life, but never to this extent. I have had friends pass from drug overdoses and loved ones die peacefully in their sleep, but never within this context. This experience has drastically changed my view of medicine and of palliative care.
Over the course of the year I have met and seen many patients. Each patient was suffering from a different form of aliment, and in different stages in the process of death. Some of the patients have been alert and calm, while others have been generally unaware of what was occurring. It has been very interesting, moving, and educating to meet all of these people in the process. There are a few patients that have stuck out to me over my time in the unit.
One patient I saw for many weeks, a very sweet older woman who was ninety-five years old. Remarkably, she was unafraid of her fate. Alert, lucid and speaking she told me about her life over the course of the few weeks that she was in the unit. She was a nurse, and loved the work that she did, had three sons with multiple grandchildren, and still had many close friends that she would talk to on a regular basis. I learned a lot from her in the process of aiding in her medical stability, but speaking to her taught me so much more. She helped me to see that other than the medical aid she was receiving, she mainly needed someone to talk to. She wanted someone to listen to and to share experiences with. She was not only a patient, but became a friend as we got to know each other and talked over the course of a few weeks. It was extremely saddening when I found that she had passed, but I gained solace in the fact that she had accepted what was to come, and that she had been in a facility where she felt completely taken care of, respected, and liked. This to me is what medicine is about.
In addition to working with, speaking to, and aiding the patients, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to many family members as well. Although in a hard and emotionally tumultuous part of their lives, these people taught me a lot. I found it very hard in the beginning to talk to family members because I didn’t know what to say. As I spent more time in the unit, I learned that they too just needed someone to be supportive and to be an ear for them. There were a few times when I sat with the family members and allowed them to just talk about their loved ones. Remembering their accomplishments and the good memories that they have of them. Through that I learned that there is nothing that I can say that will make the situation any better for them. Instead, my role was to be a supportive ear for them as they learn to accept what is occurring and know that their loved one will be at peace.
This experience is like no other that I have experienced. I worked with death up close, and was able to understand a different aspect of humanity and of medicine. As medical professionals our main goal is to treat and to care for the patient. In this instance treatment was no longer an option, but care was. This unit does an amazing service to care for the patient and loved ones, and has taught me a lot about what it means to work in the medical profession.