I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a hospice volunteer these past few months. Being a volunteer provided me with valuable experience and a better understanding of the cycle of life and the process of working with those who are nearing the end of life. I have had three patients during my time as a volunteer and I cherish each of those relationships. Throughout my time as a volunteer, I have had one of the hardest experiences of my life as well as some of the most touching and heart warming experiences.
One particular patient truly touched me. I visited him for about 3 months and during that time he taught me what it means to live life to the fullest. He served in WWII and was a honorary member of the US military. One of my favorite memories of him was when Seasons planned a pinning ceremony in honor of his service. He was able to talk at the end and share some of his memories of the war. To see him get so emotional when speaking about the war showed how selfless he was and how his service was done to protect others. He was an extremely open person and would speak words of wisdom. He always had a smile on his face and even though he was legally blind he always greeted people with a warm and upbeat “Hey there, what’s up?!”
I have opened myself up to the reality of life and how precious it is as well as the fact that death is natural and should not be scary. Being able to talk during our reflection meetings provided for an outlet to let out my emotions, feelings, and experiences.
The hardest experience I have had as a hospice volunteer was a one time visit to be present for a patient who was nearing death and did not have any family members to be with her. I have never experienced death so close and the fact that I could have been sitting next to her while she passed was the most terrifying experience of my life. I believe this experience will make me a better physician in the future because I know what is most important for an individual nearing death and that is to make him or her feel comfortable, loved, and safe. Being there for a patient during their last minutes is a moving experience.
I believe that all physicians should have an experience like the one I had because it makes them more aware and mindful of the cycle of life. Health care physicians are there to heal and prevent death; however, death is inevitable and a physician accepting that can impact how a patient feels about death. Through the good and the bad, being a hospice volunteer has been one of the best experiences of my life and I would not trade the experience for anything.