I wrote this post a few weeks ago after I visited my first patient as a Hospice Volunteer. I had been restless for years and missed my nursing although its been about 20 years. I had tried being a Big Sister at Big Brothers and Big Sisters but nothing every worked out. I think they sincerely looked for a match but just couldn't find one.
I prayed and searched for something to do to help others. My Mom has been a Hospice Volunteer for over 10 years and she suggested maybe I could look into it. I was hesitant but eventually I went to an inservice. During the presentations I became excited and thought this may be the answer. There are so many ways to volunteer and they didn't seem to be pushy and overwhelming. The Volunteer Coordinator is such a sweetheart. Everyone I've met has been welcoming and warm.
After a few months of waiting I was finally assigned to my new patient. I ok'd this post with my volunteer coordinator. As long as I don't use names or specifics I am okay I can share my experience.
A frail white-haired elderly lady (She will be called Sweetie) was sitting up in a hospital bed unsteadily holding an emesis basin to her chin. Her oxygen cannula was dangling out of one nostril. Her breathing was labored. Tears were flowing down her cheeks from bloodshot eyes. Her skin was pale and her emaciated body was covered with a red and white flowered comforter.
My nursing instincts kicked in. I increased my step to her bedside. I offered to help her hold the emesis basin. She looked at me curiously as she shakily pushed the emesis basin to me. I found a tissue and dabbed at her tears.
The nausea seemed to have passed after a few minutes. I then introduced myself as a volunteer from the local Hospice. After telling her I was there for her, I asked her if she wanted me to stay. A nurse walked in at that moment as Sweetie said no. But the nurse reiterated what I said. Sweetie's eyes got big as it registered and said breathlessly, "Oh, okay." I guess she did not understand me the first time, which is nothing new.
She offered me to sit on the bed with her. She was having trouble talking and seemed anxious. I helped her put her nasal cannula back on.
For those who don't know what a nasal cannula is. It is an oxygen mask but there are only two prongs for the nostrils instead of a mask covering most of the face.
I gently told her she did not have to say a word. I just wanted to be there for her. I wanted her to be comfortable. But if she needed anything to just say so.
She smiled. I could tell she was uncomfortable physically but I did not want to make her talk asking her questions. I reminded myself that silence is golden and I'm there just to be present if nothing else, what I was taught in training.
I wanted to wrap her in my arms and hold her. My heart became heavy.
I told her to nod yes or no if was okay if I held her hand. She nodded yes.
I held her hand. I rubbed it gently with my other. There was a comfortable silence between us.
She was restless. Her eyes would flutter shut like she was going to fall asleep but then it seemed she was fighting sleep and her eyes would fly open.
She started sharing a little bit about her family dozing between. She also moaned as she held her stomach. She said she was hurting so bad the night before that she didn't fall asleep before 4 am. We chatted a little.
I felt so helpless. I do not like that feeling.
I rubbed her hand and softly instructed her to close her eyes. I told her I would be here when she woke up.
I continued to rub her hand. I saw her breathing slow down and her whole body relaxed. She was asleep still holding my hand.
I had this big lump in my chest. I so very much wanted to cry. I don't know why.
As she slept I looked at her face from time to time relieved that she was getting some sleep and her pain had eased some. I had so many thoughts.
--I could be looking at my parents.
--She could be my mother-in-law.
--Why do I want to cry?
--Keep it together, Lisa!
--There are millions of elderly like Sweetie and no one cares.
--Our government takes care of the illegal aliens but they take away from our elderly, who deserves it more.
--I remembered some of my geriatric patients I took care of through the years as a nurse.
--Is this what we have to look forward to when we age?
--Looking at the oxygen tank I thought this could be me in the future. It probably will be.
--I thought about when God takes Sweetie home, how peaceful she will be. She will be pain free.
--I prayed. A LOT
--I also angrily asked God why such suffering for so many people including this Sweet Lady and my cousin Payton. He has heard similar questions from me through the years. He must be tired of it by now!
--What could I do to make her feel more comfortable?
I know I can't make her feel comfortable physically. All I can do is be there for her. That is a main goal being a Hospice Volunteer. She slept for about 45 minutes. She woke up and smiled. I could tell she was going back to sleep so I said goodbye.
A couple of days later I returned for another visit and she was more comfortable. Because Hospice was called I know Sweetie is at the end of her journey on earth. But I am honored to be included in her journey.
God s graciously given me this opportunity. Nearly every day I miss my nursing, some days more than others. Being a Hospice Volunteer is a little different but it gives the same reward.