January 1, 2020

Volunteers - The Special Ingredient

I sat across from a sweet woman I had come to know and genuinely care for. I sat with her husband Dan many times while he was on hospice care, talking about baseball and one of his main passions, grilling. We chatted for a few minutes, and then she handed me a small package. I opened it, and what I saw almost brought tears to my eyes...

How it Began 

As a pre-med student at UCSD, I always knew I wanted to go into the field of medicine but had not defined a specialty. I attended a conference held by BJ Miller, who had survived being electrocuted but lost three of his limbs. Having gone through a near-death experience, Dr. Miller became an advocate of palliative and hospice care. His story was so compelling, I knew, after hearing it, the field of hospice and palliative medicine would be a part of my future practice. I wanted to experience firsthand the impact of bringing this type of care to patients. I did some research and found I could work directly with patients as a volunteer through LightBridge Hospice. Since completing my training, I have had the privilege of working with two to three patients three times a month. Each visit is as different and unique as the patients themselves. These experiences have profoundly impacted me, but one patient, Dan, comes to mind when I think of my time as a LightBridge volunteer.  

The Relationship

Dan lived in an assisted living facility and was not receptive to my visits. He would only state how he wanted to go home and see his wife. Hospice patients can be in a difficult transition and like Dan, can often seem reluctant or unapproachable when they are introduced to an unfamiliar face. This reaction is normal, but as a volunteer, if you come with preconceived expectations, it can be off-putting or even feel discouraging. 

I ended up reaching out to his wife, and after having conversations with her, we were able to create a safe space where Dan felt more comfortable with my visits. Over time, he warmed up to me, and as it turns out, we had a lot of hobbies and interests in common. We sat for hours talking about baseball as we were both avid fans. We also talked about his other passion, which was grilling for his family — something I also enjoy doing. After finding common ground, our relationship grew from cordial to friendly. 

The Impact 

Dan's condition began to decline quite rapidly and having also built a relationship with his wife; I was able to be there to support her and his family during that difficult time. After Dan passed, his wife reached out to me. We sat together and she handed me that small gift. As I opened it, she explained it was Dan's secret family recipe. She was entrusting me with the recipe that Dan had held so very dear to himself. Looking at that recipe, I realized relationships don't die; they live on in our hearts and memories. Every time I mix those ingredients, I will remember my time with Dan, the stories we shared, and how much of an impact he had on me. 

As I’ve spent time as a LightBridge volunteer, it has become clear to me how vital both hospice and palliative care are in affecting the quality of life at the end of one's journey for both the patient and their families. This type of care is patient-focused and defines the patient's preferences while supporting the patient's goals and emotional well-being. I want to be able to give patients and their families hope and a chance to improve their quality of life. I hope to do this in my medical career by providing a better understanding of the benefits of both palliative and hospice care.

For me and many others, contributing time, support, and attention to both palliative and hospice care is not a hobby, but a real life-altering experience and calling. The small amounts of time and the conversations we have with others are the real acts of love and kindness that will touch you and stay with you forever. 

To learn how you can become a volunteer and enjoy opportunities to make a significant impact, visit our volunteer opportunites page.