Bridging The Gap in the Hospice Unit

This last Sunday was my final training day in the hospice unit at the hospital. We had to do three classroom and three hospital training days. Nothing you learn in the classroom will really ever prepare you for what really happens “on the unit.” It was the best day ever, but I’d like to tell you a little about what hospice volunteers do.

Most people are there at the end of their life, living as comfortably as they can. Some are there for a short time to give their families a break. You never know who you might be helping when you get there. I learned a lot about how to make coffee and do laundry. Things that really help keep the families comfortable and help the staff have what they need. This was not exactly what I expected when I signed up to be a volunteer. My mission was to sit with people whether they didn’t have anyone to sit with, or they were unresponsive. I wanted to use Reiki to provide additional comfort, and I wanted to see if I could use my intuition to communicate with those who could not.

My first day was a busy one. I noticed as I walked down the hall that there were little blue lights hanging from three of the doors. That meant that the person in that room had passed away. The nurses hang the light and then ring a chime at the end of the hallway so everyone can stop for a moment in honor of that person. It’s very nice actually.

Volunteers don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. If you only want to bake brownies, by all means, get in the kitchen and bake brownies. I told my mentor that I probably wouldn’t want to help prepare any bodies, being my first day and all. But, when it came time, I don’t know why, but I said I would be OK to be part of that. I had the expectation that everyone in hospice would be older, nearing the end of their natural life anyway. When I walked into the room, putting on my gloves and gown, I saw that this newly departed was younger than I am. It was surprising and quite sad. The nurses are very caring and thoughtful in the process; I liked that she still called this person “sweetheart” all the while removing tubes and zipping up the body bag. It was a nice moment and I felt honored to have been a part of it. I’ve helped with this a few times and it does not bother me at all.

I can’t say the same thing about bodily fluids though. If there is diarrhea, I have to leave the room. I feel bad about that, but honestly, I just can’t take it. I will get in there and help turn patients, order their lunch, open their soda, wipe their faces…anything but diarrhea.

Last week I was determined to do more sitting and less laundry. There was a gentleman watching baseball in his room. I told him how we caught the foul ball at Angels Stadium while we were on vacation and we chatted a little bit. I asked if I could get him anything. He said “Milk. Just this much.” holding up his thumb and index finger. So I went to the kitchen and poured just that much into his cup and brought it back. He looked at it and said “What’s this?” I said it was the milk he wanted. He said “Where’s the coffee?” Well, he didn’t mention the coffee part the first time so I took his cup and went back to the kitchen. I poured coffee in but it still looked like milk, so I poured it out and started over, adding some half and half, bringing back with me two of those little half and half cups in case it wasn’t light enough. He said “I hate that stuff.” So I took it all back to the kitchen, poured it out, got more coffee and brought a little carton of milk back with me. He added the whole carton into his coffee and seemed satisfied.

I was able to provide Reiki to two unresponsive patients. Both were sleeping very soundly, but I was afraid they would suddenly wake up and see me hovering over them and start screaming. If you’re not around the patients frequently, you don’t know how unresponsive they might or might not be.

But the best part of my day was when I entered a room where a daughter was sitting with her mom. The mom was in her late 80s or early 90s and had a stroke or something a few weeks earlier. I asked the daughter if I could give Reiki to her mom and she said yes. She knew what it was, so I didn’t have to explain anything. As I laid my hands on this woman, I felt tingling from my head to my toes. It was amazing. As I worked, I asked the daughter if her mom had been coming to her in her dreams. She looked at me a little surprised, put her hands together and said “Thank God. Yes.” Like no one had believed her and I had just validated her experience. A few minutes later I asked if there was a son. She said yes, but he died at six months old. As I held this woman’s arm, I asked the daughter if her mom had a garden. Well, she was a Master Gardner and was very involved in her hometown community garden as well.

After I left I was so emotional, I wanted to cry. This was exactly what I wanted to do. I was a link between that mom and daughter for just a moment and it was so touching. The reward for me is being able to give of myself. I can’t even tell you what the reward might have been for her.

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