Friday, August 19, 2011

Rhapsody in Blue

She seemed more excited than usual to see me and her first words were: "Did you bring the book?" I replied, "yes."
The book of course was "This I Believe"  a series of NPR essays by famous and not so famous people spanning several decades.
She was happy knowing I would read to her again.  This time she wanted me to start reading right time for small talk.  The first topic was Jazz.  I asked if she like music; she said yes she did.
So, in the story was a reference to the song Rhapsody in Blue, and when I finished the story she couldn't wait to tell me about when she heard this piece played live by twenty pianists at the New York World's Fair in the 1960's.
Oh, she went on and on.  After twenty minutes or so she said, "thank you for the happy tears.  Read me another."  ...and so it went for two hours; then she fell fast asleep.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

She Graduated from Hospice

I've have been visiting with, well let's call her Sue, for almost six months. She is one of the younger patients that I have seen in the program at 53. She is missing her left leg and a good portion of her right foot is gone too. They keep saying the right leg has to come off, but Sue keeps saying: "no way"! There is hair growing on that leg, so it is still good. Of course she is wheelchair bound, but that doesn't stop her.

She knows everyone in the rehab center where she stays. Since she is a hopelessly addicted smoker, she has become a bird lover and has arranged for the folks that run the facility to fill the feeders all around the smoking area so she, and a lot of the other patients, can watch the birds. She really has a heart of gold given her life story and her condition.

Last week she told me that they were taking her off of Hospice. That is really great news since the doctors believe she will continue living longer than expected...beyond the six months that is the qualifier for Hospice. These are rare occurrences and I thought that we should celebrate, not in a great big way; just between the two of us. We did walk this path together for the last six months.

So I went to our local bakery on the last day of my visit (yes, once she is out of Hospice, I can no longer visit her) and got a little something for the special occasion

I hope her new life keeps getting better and better!

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Most Unusual

I've been working with Hospice patients for almost a full year now and yesterday I got to enjoy my second patient who "graduated out of Hospice". This (I think) is most unusual, since people are admitted to Hospice when it is no longer feasible to continue medical therapy since death is presumed to occur within six months.

My first graduate is 97 and had been in hospice for almost six months. Not only did she graduate but she decided since she was apparently going to live a little longer, she may as well learn to walk again. The last time I visited, I was shocked to see her walking down the hallway (with the aid of a walker) wearing jeans and a big smile. Looks like she may make 100!

My second graduate was also in Hospice for almost 6 months. She is much younger but has only one leg and may lose the other to gangrene. But her spirits are high and her determination is strong. There is a lot of life left in her too!

I brought two gourmet cupcakes to celebrate. We shared each and ate in silence. We will miss theses times together.

As a volunteer, once they have "graduated" I can no longer visit with them. It is sad, but it is a rule I must live with. I still pray for them and wish them a full life; I just can't visit them anymore.

I sometimes wonder, if and when, they come back to Hospice, will I be assigned as their volunteer visitor again.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Old Movies

I was channel surfing the other day and stopped for a few moments on Ellen. She was talking about old black and white movies and how the people talked so fast. She imitated them and I snickered; I didn't remember them talking fast and figured she was just exaggerating for a laugh or two.

And last night I dug through my two month old pile of DVD's from Netflix and found one that fit the time slot I was trying to fill: and hour and a half..Title: Brief Encounter. I scratched my head after I read the description, wondering how I ever ended up with this in my watch list. Ah, yes it all comes back to me now, this was recommended by AW, a hospice patient of mine..months ago!

The movie was released in 1945, is black and white and takes place in England or some place similar. It is about the accidental meeting and subsequent whirlwind ' almost' affair of two previously happily married people. It was very moving and well portrayed.

I am so sorry I did not watch this movie immediately when I ordered it, when AW was still functioning and able to share her dreams and insights. She is almost vegetable now and I will never know if suggesting this film was the beginning of a deeper sharing of her life experience. She always had some very personal and interesting stories to tell and none of them were ever of regret. I guess that is what made it special. So now I can only hope for a moment of lucidity and that she can fill me in on the details that will otherwise remain a mystery to me.

And YES, they talk very fast in the old movies!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Do You Want to Hear a Story?

The first time I went to visit with her, she was laying rigidly with arms straight under a blanket pulled up to her chin. She looked straight up at the ceiling and would only talk when asked a question and then would say only yes or no after some hesitation. Her eyes never moved from the ceiling and she never moved her body. Her son was there trying to talk with her but got these short responses. It looked like it was going to be a difficult 'visit' for me.

I tried asking some questions like how is the food? Nothing. Is it good? Pause...Pause...yes. It went on like that until I ran out of questions (very quickly). So I chatted a bit about the weather, the facility and the folks who work here; she seemed to listen intently. So I took a chance...I asked if she would like a story read to her. Yes.

I carry around several books from the Chicken Soup for series; I pulled one out of my bag and scanned the index for a topic that might somehow fit the situation...I couldn't find anything. So I went with what my gut and heart told me, they usually never fail.

The title of the short story was "Amy Graham" by Mark V Hansen. It is the story of a young lady diagnosed with terminal leukemia...she had three days left. As part of Make-a-Wish foundation she wanted to attend this healing service held in Denver, Colorado. Mark Hansen is a motivational speaker who was to conduct three services and one prosperity consciousness workshop. He was surprised that a 17 year old wanted to spend her last time doing this instead of some fun visit to Disney.

He was so moved by her desire that he asked the full house if they wanted to learn a healing process that may serve them for life; it seemed every hand raised. He explained the process, they did it and aimed their healing energies toward Amy. She returned home and two weeks later called to inform him that she had been discharged and was in total remission.

I finished the story and looked her right in the eye, she seemed to have a little spark there. I took the instruction from the process in the book...rub hands together vigorously and direct them toward the patient with loving thoughts. I held my hands several inches above her body and waved them from her head to her toes and back again. The little glint was still there. She said thank you.

I will pray for you tonight I said as I left. See you next Saturday. Yes.

Next Saturday when I got there I perused the chart that lists patients. It indicates the most recent changes in their condition whether it be up or down or if they have passed. I was shocked to see that she had moved from the worst classification to a full step higher...she is functioning much better! She may be relocating to a rehabilitation center and away from the Hospice House.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's the Little things

One of the things that I like best about volunteer visiting for Hospice is that when I least expect it, I come away with something that affects me profoundly. Now, you are probably thinking that it is something that I say or do that impacts my patients life but you would be wrong. It is something that my patients say to me that makes those bells go off in my head.

Guess it would be best to give you an example of what I'm talking about. Lately I have been doing a lot of chores around the house; just maintenance sort of stuff, nothing esoteric or exotic! So, while I am visiting my folks the conversation will inevitably turn to the question " so what have you been doing lately?"

I always make it a point to avoid talking about myself and my interests, but sometimes it's better to just answer the question. It often leads to another story or remembrance that they feel like sharing. I found myself in just that predicament today. " What have you been doing lately?"

I replied:

I've been treating my fence with a waterproofing application and then as if that is not enough I tell them that I am refinishing the chairs from my dining room set. Usually discussion about either of these two things would result in a comment like: "that's nice...what else is new?"

But not so with these folks. They invariably say:

" I wish I could do that!"

Gratitude for even the mundane things in life is real.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's Called Respect

One of the folks I visit weekly has Parkinson's Disease...this is a nasty one that gradually (sometimes not so gradually) takes away one's ability to do anything. One of the obvious signs is an uncontrollable shaking of the limbs; but the symptoms go much further than that, eventually they will inhibit the ability to walk, eat, talk...well, I think you get the picture.

Anyway, this lady has moved along, as this disease has assaulted her dignity in so many ways, accepting whatever it hands her and making the best of it. I noticed that she had an adult potty standing against the wall in her bedroom; it was a new fixture. I asked about it and she said "It just appeared. I didn't ask for it and I don't want it but there it is."

Here is what one looks like

She went on to ask what she was supposed to do with it. She can still manage to get up, with help and the REAL toilet is only about four steps further that this portable thing. Is she honestly supposed to get help to get to the adult potty so she can then smell the after-effects for the rest of the night (or day as the case may be)? She is rather adamant about it. She wants it gone. It is not only a matter of pride and decency but using it (in her mind) means...the end. Don't they get it?

I heard her lament and down inside somewhere I was cheering for her. Good for you I was saying. You are still a person that deserves respect. You've got mine. Then the conversation moved on to other things. This was even more distressing.

She doesn't get many visitors; when she does is it her children (just a few years younger than me) and it seems that with each visit she gets more and more upset. They come for the obligatory visit and spend time in her living room with her. So what is the problem, I ask. They come with their computers and hand-held gadgets. They are physically here but they spend all their time on those blasted gizmos. So I let her go on about it. I know what she means; I see people out for dinner and everyone at the table is pushing some buttons or yakking into a cell phone...everybody wants to make a connection, but not with each other. I had to confront someone on the way to visit with her. They were obviously texting while driving, swerving all over the road. I decided that it was safer to stay behind them at 55mph in a 70 mph zone than to be in front of them.

So, you're feeling that they are rude and being insensitive toward you? Yes, that's is exactly it. Well, I know what you mean but I am afraid I don't have any answers for you.

Oh, by the way, I won't be here next week I am taking a little trip. She says, while you are at it see if you can find someone in need of the potty...I want it out of here!