After starting the Hospice program and telling my friends and family about this new opportunity, I received responses such as, “That sounds depressing” and “Are you sure you want to do that?”. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do because I plan on being a medical professional one day, and I’m going to encounter death and difficult situations. I wanted to make sure that I could handle it and at the same time, practice dealing with it. I’ve learned that you can never be fully prepared for difficult experiences, but the more experience that you have definitely allows you to be more comfortable in each situation.
I went into my first visit with my patient extremely nervous. I was expecting the worst, and I was worried that I would say the wrong things. Little did I know, I would learn so much more from these visits than any volunteering that I have done in the past. My patient was not on her “death bed” when I arrived. She was sassy and too busy for me, she had a lunch date that day and was dressed better than I was! As the visits went on, I saw her physical abilities decline and her outlook on life remain. It was something that I admire and hope to carry with me. She enjoyed every second of life, and would always say that when she stopped laughing she was ready to die.
It was so interesting, especially as a college student, to hear someone talk about something that often seemed so scary, death, with such comfort. I learned a lot through my visits with my patient. For one, I learned my role as a volunteer or even a doctor, is not to fix the patient. Sometimes, all I wanted was for the patients to feel better, but often, seeing what they needed was more important than trying to come in and attempt to fix everything. I learned that the patients that are the most ill and need us the most are the ones we often want to shield ourselves from. The negative connotation that Hospice had to my family and friends made them want to shield me from this experience, but they didn’t realize how much I was going to learn and grow and how much the simple things that I could do for a patient would mean so much. I will carry these lessons with me in whatever aspect of the field I enter in the future.
I learned what Hospice is and was it is not, and I know that each patient has their own needs. Of course, some cases were much more difficult than the one I experienced, but each patient can teach you a lot. Finally, I learned that silence is okay. There is not always the right answer or the right thing to say in every situation. I’ve had emotional conversations with my patient where reflecting on the past would become emotional, but it was best to just let her talk without trying to comfort every word. I think that everyone interested in healthcare needs an experience like this because although you may not ever be prepared for death, the patients can provide you with a different outlook. I know that I will carry this experience with me forever, and it will definitely make me a better health care professional.