Growing up, death was something that never really crossed my mind. Due to my youth, it felt like an abstract concept and not something I would ever see. However, as someone who plans on entering the medical profession, I knew that I would come face to face with it sooner or later. Thanks to the Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program, I was able to see a part of medicine that’s linked to every to other branch, and gain insight into palliative care.
Going into the program, I was instructed to watch Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, and I believe that this documentary really gave me a baseline from which to work with. After watching it, the take-home message that I got out of it was that death is inevitable, but there are things that can be done to alleviate the process and help make the patient as comfortable as possible. At times, this might mean not pursuing aggressive treatment options that might lengthen the patient’s life, which might be difficult for the family to accept.
Throughout the course of this program, I was able to meet three individuals. Oftentimes during my visits, the patients were asleep or resting. During those moments, I just tried to be there for them if they woke up and provide company as needed. In some cases, the patient’s family was very involved in the care. They would stop by often, bring flowers, and just hold the patient’s hands. Other patients were not so lucky. During a visit with Mr. Jackson, my partner and I walked in while he was in the process of moving on. All we could do was stand by him and try to be there as he left this life. When my partner and I finally left Mr. Jackson’s room, we were both sincerely hoping that his family would be there by his side during his final moments.
It is at moments like this that I’m glad the Pre-Med Hospice Program exists. Through it, we’re able to be with people when they need human support and contact. Even with the help of dedicated staff members and other patients, it seems like these individuals can get lonely at times. However, by just having a simple conversation, or even sitting next to their bed, I feel like we’re able to make a difference, no matter how small, in their final moments.
Through this program, I’ve been able to get a sense of what lies in my future. Granted, I may not end up doing palliative care, but getting a better understanding about the concept of death is something I know will be essential to my path as a physician. People say doctors are healers. This is true. But beneath it all, death is something that every physician should be aware of and try their best to understand. This experience has brought me closer to death than I’ve ever been before, and I’m honored to have been a part of the lives of the patients who were in my care.