Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hospice....the life of a volunteer

By nature, I tend to be a person who wants her value to be measured by how much I am paid per hour for the work I do. This clearly doesn't apply when one volunteers, something I have done since my early 20's when I received food stamps to help me get through college and feed my children and me. I felt that if tax payers could help me, I should give back in some way. So, I have always, at the very least, given to the local food banks and also have served on their boards and raised money and worked their events. Giving back is part of who I am.

And so, in my "retirement" I have upped the number of hours I give to my community and this past year, I have become very involved in the local Hope Hospice organization. Funny. I am finding that I am given so much more than I donate or give. I will share a few stories but the people's names, due to HIPPA regulations and to be considerate, will not be shared.

I was sitting with an elderly man, who was sleeping soundly and whose wife needed to go run some errands. The phone rang and I took a message and when I returned to the patient, he pointed to the sky and asked, "Was that Him that called?" I pointed and said, "Him? No, it was the pharmacy." My patient smiled and quietly stated, "When He calls, you have to go." I assured my patient that I knew this. And he told me, as he closed his eyes, that, "He would be calling soon." My patient died the next day.

And there was the situation when I was asked to pick up an adolescent patient at his middle school, take him to pick up his Spanish speaking grandma and take them both to the young man's neurologist. We walked into the doctor's office and he announced that we were late for our 3:00 appointment and he didn't have time to speak with us. I assured him the appointment was for 3:45 and we were early. He disagreed and began questioning me and the grandma about the issues confronting the young man, as if he weren't even in the room. The doctor immediately decided to increase the boy's meds and announced what he would prescribe. Grandma was very shaken because she was giving him two meds per day and what he was going to prescribe was less per dose than what she was currently giving.

Grandma checked to make sure I was translating well and that I understood...I had no doubt that she knew what she was giving her grandson, but the doctor disagreed, writing a prescription and shooing us out of the office without once speaking to the patient. We were almost to the pharmacy when I noticed that the prescription grandma held was made out to a "Gillian...." a woman's name!

This doctor, who had no time for us, thought us late, and talked about med dosages which were incorrect, made out a prescription for a person who was NOT in the office. He did not know who his patient was. I called the social worker but I was sooo angry and so was grandma. I told the Hospice people that if this Dr. Fox was treating any member of my family, I would report him to every medical oversite group that I could.

And then, I met a woman who is riddled with bone cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer at her first chemo treatment. I sat with her. Held her hand. Laughed with her and waited while bag after bag of drugs were deposited, drip by drip into her body. I had to leave her while she was asleep because we had no idea that her first treatment would take over five hours. I witnessed the most caring of doctors. Dr. Rodriguez, her oncologist, checked her oozing incision on her stomach, calling her surgeon to co-ordinate care. He held her hand, answered her questions and assured her that he was there for her...a week after the horrific experience with Dr. Fox, Dr. Rodriguez reminded me what a caring profession the medical one can and should be.

I sat with a woman who should be considering her death and yet, she was considering how she could rediscover her love of art and how that could be worked into her very busy medical appointment schedule. I left this patient energized and reminded of what is truly important in life...that is living every moment of it fully. This woman, a Hospice patient, had meticulously applied her make-up, was considerate of my time, and careful to document everything she was told...and her list even included the names of the nurses who were kind to her. She expects to thank them one day.

Live every moment as if it were your last.

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