Giving time and love to those in need

VOLUNTEERING

In the July/August 2015 issue of Student Pharmacist, APhA–ASP President Lucy West posed the following questions: “What experiences have you had that have made you who you are today? What do you give to those around you? What gives your life a sense of purpose?” She said that when you look at your past experiences, there is likely a theme you live by every day. 


After some self-reflection, I have come to realize my theme is to make others happy and smile. If I can create a smile on a face and heart each day, I have succeeded. This is why I volunteer with Hospice of the Red River Valley.


Inspired by patient’s kindness


My journey began in winter 2014 when I made a home medication delivery to a gentleman who was in hospice. I was determined to share my smile and love in hopes to create a smile within the sad gentleman I was expecting. However, I was greeted with the very opposite, as his grin matched my own. He said, “Thank you, I wish you a beautiful day.” I was incredibly moved by this encounter and vowed to look into volunteering for hospice. A couple of months later, I was paired with “Jane,” my first patient through Hospice of the Red River Valley. 


Hospice patients generally have a prognosis of 6 months or less to live. The goal of hospice is to provide comfort care and aid the patient in how they would like to spend the rest of their life. Since Jane could no longer read to herself, my volunteer work would consist of reading and providing compassion every week. This seemed simple to me and I did not expect the impact it would have on Jane and myself. 


Companionship is crucial


I quickly became accustomed to her mannerisms, cognitive state, and functional level. This awareness allowed me to recognize gradual changes. After a couple of months of visits, I observed and reported her anxiety because it had acutely increased over a period of a few weeks. A following visit showed me how important volunteers are in hospice. Her anxiety was improved and I learned that her medication therapy had been changed. 


Every encounter with a hospice patient, including volunteers’ visits, are crucial to create an accurate view of the overall patient. Volunteers can recognize changes and assist in bettering patients’ medical care. I am pleased that my background knowledge as a student pharmacist empowered me to recognize changes in her symptoms. 


Though bad days are inevitable, her wonderful days are just as humbling. She uses her few strong breaths to muster a “yes, please,” when asked if she would like me to read to her. Followed by, “that is very nice,” and “thank you,” every couple stories. It is those days that have made every visit worth it. I am happy to know that I am providing companionship and comfort with something as simple as reading a book. 


The importance of time


As a student, I do not have the funds to donate to organizations. However, something I do have and can donate, is my time. At the end of every visit, I am absolutely honored and feel privileged to be able to donate my time. Hospice patients have very little time left. I am amazed that the hospice patients I have met are not envious of those who have time. Instead, they are interested in spending their precious time in meaningful ways. I love seeing the joy and happiness that sharing a simple hour a week of my time can bring to patients who want the simplest of things: companionship. 


I know that every week I have the chance to create a smile within another person through my volunteer work. I do this because of that first encounter I had with a hospice patient. When I delivered his medications, I saw his joy and happiness as he wished me a beautiful day in a time that I thought would be his darkest of moments. These moments for a hospice patient are for remembrance, happiness, and enjoyment.