Jul 24th 2008

What I don’t like about hospice work

Posted in Hospice Volunteers, Izzy, Marion, Mary


Izzy, in a nursing home yesterday visiting a hospice patient,  always gets the girls

  July 24, 2008 – What I don’t like about hospice is when I show up at a house or a nursing home, and the patient is gone. Sometimes there are people standing around, a gathering that suggests death. Sometimes, as happened Friday it’s an empty bed and a nurse shaking her head,  telling me somebody I have connected with on the edge of life is gone, or has been rushed to the hospital. This bothers me more than sickness or death, and I can’t say I really know why. 
  Mary is not officially in hospice. We met her at a nursing home while visiting a hospice patient. I’m not sure I ever saw anybody connect with me or with Izzy so quickly. She grew up on a farm, from an old farm family, and especially loved and remembered her border collies. She was an Alzheimer’s patient, and was confused, repeating some words and phrases, but she was not confused about Izzy. But she has the broadest smile and the most beautiful and penetrating blue eyes.
   Mary glowed at the sight of Izzy, taking his head in her hands – and saying “what a wonderful dog,” and telling me how much she loved him, how much she wanted to give him a treat. Izzy drinks up this kind of attention, and returned it with interest and the two of them just lit up the room flirting with one another, loving each other, hugging.
 Izzy can really turn it on when somebody loves him. She turned to me and clasped my hand, and she was so gracious and generous, and said. “why, how can I thank you for coming to see me and bringing this wonderful dog and reminding me of my border collie, so long ago?” And I was overwhelmed a bit by that, and then she looked at me a bit vacantly, and then turned to Izzy and stroked his head.
  And I told her I would be back, and I meant it, and today I stopped to get some flowers and brought them to her room at the nursing home, and when I came in the room I knew instantly that something was wrong, as almost all of Mary’s things were gone, and I put the flowers down, and Izzy looked all around the room and then we walked quickly out into the hallway and found a nurse, and asked where Mary was, and I know that look by now, and she shrugged and said she had just been taken to the hospital, and she didn’t know when she would be back or if she would be back.
  So Izzy and I visited our hospice patient, who was also glad to see him, and then we drove to Glens Falls Hospital, where we were told that Mary was not able to receive visitors, and perhaps we could come back tomorrow. I hope we get to see her.
   Mary got to me, and I connected with the warm and love in her spirit, and so did Izzy, for sure.
  I took photos of Mary and she and her daughter both gave me permission to use them (one partial photo is above) and I have debating all week whether or not to use them, but her daughter is comfortable with it and I actually think it’s important to bring some fuller identities to the people we meet when possible. It makes them more real.
  But I will wait to see.
  It’s odd, really, because I have seen illness, some suffering and death in hospice work, and I am okay with it. But I don’t like showing up to see people we know and finding their rooms and beds empty. Volunteers are not, and shouldn’t be, the first people called when somebody is sick or dying. People have other things to worry about. But I’ll never get used to it.
  I may post a photo of Mary over the weekend, but I want to see how she is first, and whether or not we can visit her.