Could Be Traumatic, But It’s Only Once A Week

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

I’ve now been volunteering at the Marie Curie Hospice for 6 weeks, and while I looked with worry at first of dealing with people that are dying, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how honestly many of the patients face their declining health.
On my first day, I went in to this one lady’s room just to ask if she wanted tea or coffee. She said neither, but asked if I’d just like to sit and talk. She was 81, I’d learn later, and had been in for two weeks. The only things noticeably wrong with her were a very swollen foot, and a tendency to get lost in the middle of a sentence when she was talking. Otherwise, a lovely person who was also a retired doctor, and I wound up having to reluctantly excuse myself after about 20 minutes, remembering there were other patients on the ward as well.
I saw her again before I left that day, and a friend had come by, so the three of us chatted for a bit. My accent seemed to be the main topic, as it frequently is among the patients that I talk to. When I came back the following Thursday, she was much more frail, and was being read to by a friend, so she didn’t need my assistance as much. She still remembered me, but vaguely. I returned again the next Thursday, which was Boxing Day, and she was still there and being attended to by a lifelong friend, but clearly showing more signs of deterioration.
It was shortly after I saw her that one of the few staff on duty that day showed me a chart which detailed all the patients, what form of cancer they had, and a T beside their name if they were Terminal. I almost cried to see that this lovely lady Sheila had a T, but I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising. What got me the most was when I went back to her room and had a long conversation with her friend. We both saw Sheila stir, and the friend said to her, “Sheila, Brian is here. Remember the American?” In a voice barely above a whisper, she managed to say, “Ah yes, The American,” and give a brief smile before falling back to sleep. When I returned the next Thursday, January 2nd, I was told she had died an hour before midnight on New Years Eve.
This is probably going to be a common occurrence, and in the last few weeks, I have seen other patients clearly with hours to live, surrounded by grieving relatives, and me suddenly becoming a guidance counselor. I’ve composed my own basic spiel, which I’m kinda proud of, that goes, “My deepest condolences go out to you, and at least he/she is going in the presence of those that love him/her.” Two weeks ago, I said that as I arrived into a room minutes after the patient had died. The patient had only arrived a day before, so I had no rapport like I’d established with Sheila. My intrusion on their moment of grief could have been very awkward, but reciting that little mantra seemed to ease things. Ultimately, seeing the woman lifeless was one of those sights that stays with you, just as I’ll never forget the sight of Eileen breathing her last.
Three weeks ago I ran into a woman who was going outside for a cigarette, even though her husband, who was 79 and had been smoking since he was ELEVEN, was struggling just to breathe. I resisted every temptation to give a lecture, though the words, “Geez lady, what more of a sign do you NEED” were being forcefully held back. I instead chose to tell her about my own battles with smoking, and how admittedly it was drugs and a tiny bit of will power that helped me quit. She seemed curious, but I would say the chances of her quitting were about the same as those of her husband walking out of the hospice. Even that was enlightening in its own way, because the woman herself seemed to feel no guilt about feeding the addiction that was killing her husband of over 40 years, and as long as she felt none, then who was I to impose it on her?
On the other side, there have been non-terminal patients I’ve also bonded with, especially a 73-year-old woman named Gladys, who had breast cancer. During the three weeks she was there, I sometimes found myself ignoring almost the entire rest of the ward, occasionally reminding her and myself that there were others that might need some attention too. It seemed though, that in every free moment, I was in Gladys’s room, chatting about my show biz and American past, about her family, and how we’re not big fans of Christmas. I heard that she went home on Wednesday the 8th, the day before my next shift, but had told the staff to tell Brian goodbye and thank you. Well, Shit Howdy!
As I had mentioned in the blog when I first began working there, I am mostly doing it because I felt like giving something back to an institution that is doing such noble and wonderful work, doing their best to make people cope with the inevitable. Gladys probably doesn’t have long to live either, but she reiterated many times how happy she was to be there, as opposed to a big hospital where she could easily be forgotten. For me, I continue to look at it as karma, and somehow good things will happen to me as a result. There’s already one interesting thing about to happen, but I want to keep it quiet until it’s absolutely certain, so I’ll save it for the next blog.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.