Throughout the past nine months, my experience as a hospice volunteer has taught me some of the most valuable lessons and equipped me with a better understanding of the balance between medical care and the beauty of human life. My weekly visits with patients allowed me to experience many aspects of end-of-life care and to learn about what is essential to create a comfortable environment for those who are terminally ill. Being a hospice volunteer has been fulfilling, rewarding, and has also showed me the importance of reflection. I also feel that with each visit, I am able to develop and build upon my abilities as a hospice volunteer.
Each patient visit was a new opportunity for me learn more about my patient, myself, and medicine. One of the lessons I have learned throughout my time as a volunteer is reflected in The New York Times article, “The Lesson of Impermanence” by Sunita Puri. Puri learned from his parents that “understanding death as inevitable is necessary to appreciate the meaning and beauty of life.” It is impossible to escape change. Throughout life, we are constantly confronted with new circumstances, whether they are expected or unforeseen. The Bhagavad Gita also states that change is the law of the universe. Thus, suffering can stem from wanting things to be permanent when they are not. Considering these ideas has helped me gain a clearer understanding of my role as a hospice volunteer. For a patient who is terminally ill, it is no longer a question of how can we reverse their illness or disease. Rather, I learned to focus on the aspects of my patients’ life that I can change through providing a comforting presence and companionship.
The connections with my hospice patients have added to both of our understanding of what’s important in life. Dhruv Khullar writes about two actions that have positive affects on hospice care in the article “We’re Bad at Death. Can We Talk?”, including “earlier conversations about their goals and greater use of palliative care services, which emphasize symptom control and greater psychological and spiritual well-being- and which recognize that longer survival is only part of what patients want.” Hospice care allows patients to enter a space that’s focused on their mental and emotional well-being, rather than just medical treatment. As a volunteer, I strived to create an environment that is peaceful and reflective, and specifically, one that is conducive to attending to their emotions. With every visit, I hope to help give my patients a comfortable and compassionate end-of-life experience.
I have developed a meaningful relationship with a patient for nine months now. Every week, I strive to provide this patient with a space that is focused on her mental and spiritual well-being. As I learned more about my patient, I was able to find simple activities that we could do together. Some days we will listen to music on my phone. Other days, I will paint her nails. Sometimes we will talk about our families or about meaningful memories. With experience, I have become better at assessing how my patient is feeling on the days that I visit, and thus I have a better idea of what my role should be during each visit. Some days, she complains about being tired and expresses that she just wants to rest. On these days, I know that my presence is still supportive, even though she may not seem as willing to interact. With each visit, I make it my goal to provide meaningful companionship to this patient and as a result, I have deepened my own appreciation for life and how my interactions with others can be impactful.
Volunteering in a hospice program has been a challenging yet beautiful experience that helped me grow as a person and gain a deeper understanding of how we can accept the inevitable in life. Even challenging experience lead to self-growth and learning. As I pursue a career in medicine, I will hold onto my hospice experiences as a reminder of the importance of respecting the beauty in life. I’ll remember that medicine is not solely about the treatments, surgeries, and procedures. Behind every human body is a spirit that deserves to remain fulfilled in the end of life, and hospice plays an instrumental role in creating that state of being.