“She is queen!” exclaimed a staff member of Sunrise of Westtown. My patient sends a large, beautiful grin to her and claps as I play “Got To Get You Into My Life” on the violin. It’s as if we are not in a bedroom of a hospice facility, waiting for the Sunday dinner call. No, our minds transported us somewhere else, where we are enjoying each other’s company at a park where it’s 80 degrees out. We have potato salad and the grill is going. 70’s music is playing. We don’t have a care in the world.
Believe me, whenever I visit Daisy, she always has the energy and enthusiasm of a Fourth of July afternoon. Before I had my first visit, I mentally prepared myself to confront emotionally overwhelming and distressing situations. I expected that every week, my hospice work would remind me of the harsh reality that life is short and life will throw in obstacles that impede on one’s happiness — being terminally ill as one. Especially after my volunteer training on how to help people cope with the idea of death and dying, I expected to meet a patient full of apathy or pessimism. I imagined that my role this year would be holding the hands of patients who need small, yet significant, reminders about how special and wonderful they are and that there is still more life to live. I was nervous. A silly little twenty-year-old, I was quite anxious about taking on the role of emotional support for Sunrise residents. Some are over a century old, so who am I to provide rapport? Where will I even be able to derive the empathy and understanding to comfort them? How can I have a positive purpose in the closing chapters of a stranger’s life?
A minute into my introduction to Daisy, her welcoming smile instantly dissolved all my anxieties and concern. I had doubts that her excitement to see me was merely due to the novelty of my presence. However, I was wrong, because months of my visits later, she still greets me with her lovely smile and overflowing joy in her eyes. I have often played violin covers of her favorite Beatles songs, and her happiness due to my performances is infectious. And I can’t help but sit down and listen in awe whenever she tells her stories of her travels during her 20’s and shows her old wedding photographs. I witness how loving and considerate her children are to this day; as a matter of fact, I never finish a visit without her offering me one of many candies and chocolates, which are consistently provided by her children and grandchildren. It is also very meaningful to me that whenever I mention an upcoming exam or school event, she would always ask about how they went during my next visit.
So much love, so much joy, so much inspiration. Through my friendship with Daisy, I found myself receiving as much as (probably receiving more than) providing such things. As a year of hospice work concludes, I realize that the Holisticare Hospice program is a personal affirmation that I am capable of and have the full desire to serve the population experiencing neurodegenerative illnesses as a physician and as a researcher. For now, I have been only able to serve with my violin playing, but I am so excited to do and be so much more for my future patients. Daisy is my inspiration to confront difficult clinical and life situations with infectious smiles and love. She taught me that death shouldn’t stop one from living; while we’re all here, let’s be together and enjoy music together. I hope to carry even an ounce of her optimism with me as a physician-scientist.