Silent Company

Throughout my time at hospice, there were a couple patients that really stood out to me. One of these was an elderly woman with whom I was never able to have a real conversation. She always was in a wheelchair, pedaling her way between her room and the end of the hall. Toward the beginning of the year, I approached her with questions, such as “How are you?” or “What’s new this week with you?” She often responded angrily or dismissively, saying that she did not know me. I never was able to change her responses to these questions, but I changed my approach instead by deciding I would walk silently alongside her and just keep her company for a few minutes. I will never know for sure if she enjoyed the company, but I did feel that she trusted me more after these walks and I think she may have benefitted from the silent company.

The second patient relationship that stood out to me was one that involved significantly more conversations. The woman was the most vocal of the patients I met and our discussions often encompassed memories of her childhood and the scandalous adventures that she and her friends embarked upon. She measured her relationships by the number of laughs she had with different people in her life and she seemed to really appreciate the experiences she could remember.

In learning to engage more with this patient, I think I was most impacted by prompt 9, and especially enjoyed the tips from the TEDTALK that was referenced. The explanation of M. Scott Peck’s quote, “true listening requires a setting aside of oneself,” was enlightening and inspired me to engage patients (especially the woman mentioned above) in a new way. As discussed in the talk, there have been so many times that I have held onto a question and ignored the conversation in order to ask the question a minute or two later. By letting thoughts flow in and out of my mind in correspondence with the conversation, I have found dialogs to be more profound and engaging, rather than a series of preset questions and responses.

On a separate note, hospice has played a large part in my depiction of the process of death and dying, alongside my own experiences. During freshman year of college, my Aunt Peggy developed cancer. When I went home for break, I went to visit her with my brother (Andrew) and my dad. She was asleep when we got there and her breathing was becoming shallower by the minute. When breaths became distant, it was difficult to tell if she had passed, but Andrew was able to explain this to my uncle and when the time came, declare that she was gone. This allowed my Uncle Joe to mourn her properly and take a shot of Jameson with everyone in the room upon her passing, as Aunt Peggy had requested.

I think the hospice experience will help me in my career in the medical professions for events outside the hospital as much as events within. I have learned so much from my time with hospice, and I look forward to growing as a person through the next decade as I share in the lives of so many people, both healthy and ill.