Before I began my hospice experience, I rarely thought about dying and the aging process. Even when I applied to the program, I thought about hospice care as a relatively stagnant experience. Everyone I talked to about hospice had a sad reaction, as if being placed in hospice care were one of the worst things that could be happening in someone’s life. During and throughout the program, I learned that hospice is palliative care oriented around treating symptoms and improving comfort, rather than trying to cure a disease. After watching “Being Mortal” in the beginning of the semester, I began to understand that quality of life matters in old age as well as thoughtful care and consideration when dealing with the topic of death.
I have been lucky enough to have had the same patient, I will call her Rose, throughout this entire year. Rose has been an absolute joy to spend time with, and she has also given me first-hand experience with elderly care, particularly related to memory loss. Rose has dementia so her memories have been scrambled throughout the year, yet she seems to remember me a little every time I visit. Throughout the year, Rose’s feelings about being away from her home and family fluctuated. When feeling frustrated one day, she said something to the effect of “I mean, what do you know? You’re just a college student.” This was the first time Rose indicated that I may be annoying her in some way, but it made me think about my role in her life. I felt bad that I couldn’t do more for her.
Sunita Pura’s writing resonated with me about my relationship with my patient: “By accepting my patients’ circumstances, rather than fixating on their inherent tragedy, I could focus instead on changing what I could.” I couldn’t change anything about Rose’s circumstances, but I could do my best to help improve her mood. While I often wish I could do more for her, I have learned to accept her situation in life, so I just try to comfort her to the best of my ability.
Talking about death can be an awkward conversation. Doctors must be aware of how important it is to clearly explain to a patient and their family when death is imminent. Before this program, I didn’t realize that addressing death was such an issue in the medical field today. After this experience, I understand that honesty about the reality of a situation and its outlook is essential. Quality of life in the later years is often more important than extension of life. I am very grateful for this experience and everything it has taught me about dying and the medical field as a whole.