I have grown in a significant way over the course of my Hospice experience. I came into it nervous and somewhat unconfident. A situation where I encountered dying and death has never happened to me before, but it was a challenge that I was willing to take head on. The part that was so nerve-wracking was the lack of personal and professional experience that I had. A college-student did not seem to be the type of person that should be in this position as a caregiver to someone so old and so used to life itself. But as my time with my patients grew, I understood that I might have been the perfect age to provide companionship to the residents.
Although the other college students and I had significant training for our positions, I still felt unprepared the first time I went in to see my patient. It seemed like I was plopped in the deep end with no floatation device. The first time initially, I went in and just sat there. With my body visibly uneasy, I attempted to make small talk with my patient as she lay in her bed writhing in pain from her condition. She did not speak. I sat for a few more minutes just staring at her, unsure with what I should do. I, again, presented her with my presence and she once again did not respond. I then proceeded to sit there for 50 more minutes in silence while she cried and cried. I left feeling like a failure. What was I supposed to do in that situation? I did not help her at all and she was visibly in distress. It wasn’t a good way to start off the program and it definitely did not help my confidence. I left the residence and got a new patient in the next week, seeing that I could not do anything to help her.
My next hospice relationship was much more meaningful. I realized that my last patient was not someone who could have benefitted from my presence because of her condition, so I came to terms that not everyone can be comforted through companionship, and that is fine. It only helped me grow as I finished the program. But before that, I went to the residence to meet with my new patient. He was sleeping in front of a puzzle, but I waited until he awoke. When I introduced myself, he seemed confused but then grew to understood what I was there for. He couldn’t really communicate verbally, but we learned to communicate through facial expressions and his friends there. Every time I went to see him, I would sit with him quietly and watch the television and then we would go and eat lunch with his friends. During those times, I would talk to him and his friends and we would all share our stories, make jokes, and laugh together, although my patient couldn’t verbally communicate. I would often look over and see him staring at me with a huge smile on his face. Each time, before I left, he would muster up all of his strength and with a raspy voice say, “Come back soon.” I would always say yes and leave. He died a few weeks later.
I had two very different experiences and relationships with these patients, but they taught me a few things. First, no one experiences death the same way. Sometimes it is fast and extremely painful and sometimes it is quiet and slow. This showed me that everyone needs a different type of comfort and healing and that I can’t come into each situation with the same plan or mindset. I came into my second patient with the same mindset as the first, but I shouldn’t have. I needed to assess the person and then adapt to how to make them feel the happiest or the best. And although, I couldn’t communicate well with my second patient, just being there made his day brighten, and I could tell through his body language constantly.
Going off that, I learned that hospice is not really about being a medical professional, but a human being. I thought I would need more training to effectively interact with the patients, but all it really required was that you form a relationship with these people, show their worth, and just be a presence that shows that you care and are willing to be there for them. I did not really do much with my second patient besides sit with him, laugh at the jokes his friends made, and try to communicate. It is not a lot, but I knew that it made a difference by the joy I saw in his face.