INTEGRIS Health Hospice OKC

A Hospice Volunteer's Reflections

The following is actual hospice volunteer documentation of a visit with the patient and family. The names and any identifying information has been changed to protect patient and family confidentiality.

When first we meet, we meet as strangers meet, unknowing if the fit of personalities is sufficient for us to become friends within the framework of the final days of a life, and I know I must act prudently, reach carefully, speak thoughtfully, and love greatly. The flow of developing relationships can be seen in the initial contacts narrated below.

I identified myself to the wife; Darius the Doberman stares at me through the screen door, tail motionless. Warned he is an attack dog, I prepare myself for the first visit by playing with my dogs to get their scent on me and by bringing dog biscuits. I believe my informant; while Darius is a bit overweight, there is nothing wrong with his jaws and teeth. Wife opens door. Darius and I keep staring at each other; I make no move nor does he; wife admonishes him, and he moves back slightly. I slide carefully in the door and halt as Darius advances to check me out; he sniffs thoroughly around my legs and shoes, looks up and studies me intently at some length, then slowly wags tail to tell me he has tentatively decided in my favor; I extend biscuit to him; he examines it carefully, takes it. I sit down on couch and begin to talk with wife. I feel a wet mouth on my hand, I give the mouth a biscuit and listen to wife; moments later, a head rests itself on my knees, I give the head a biscuit and continue listening; seventy pounds of Doberman then climbs onto the couch and sprawls across my lap. I pat his head, and he settles down. Wife laughs and relaxes. Darius likes me. I have been accepted.

Husband lets me in. We introduce ourselves. Couple on couch gets up, identify themselves as cousins and tell me their name, S., which is different from the husband’s name. I comment their name is a bit unusual and the only time I ever heard it before was in reference to a United States Deputy Marshal with the same last name who was killed in a gunfight at El Paso in the 1880’s. The man grins and says, “He was grandpa’s brother.” Lively discussion ensues. We review gunfight and its background, talk about S’s early life and how he came west from Tennessee after fighting for the Confederacy, wind up having covered his entire career, with regrets he was killed in his prime. We are now on a first name basis. I have been accepted. I know about “grandpa’s brother.”

I go in to see patient; she is lying in bed, eyes closed. I sit down by bed; she opens her eyes, tries to smile. I tell her who I am and ask if I can help her in any way. She shakes her head. I ask if I can read to her. She looks at me for a minute; I take that for a maybe. I ask what would she like – Bible? Fiction? Poetry? Her eyes light up. “Do you like poetry?” she asks, voice very weak. I recite Kipling: “I have eaten your bread and salt, and the lives that ye led were mine.” She points. “I have a poetry book; please read to me.” I get it and read “Annabelle Lee,” there are tears in her eyes when I finish. I read for another quarter hour and I see she is tiring. I pat her hand and tell her I will be back tomorrow. “Please do come back,’ she whispers, grasping at my hand; “please, please do; no one else has read any poetry to me since I have been sick.”

Respectfully, Hospice Volunteer