My First Patient

Posted by dwallace on February 16, 2010 in Hospice, Volunteering |

I’m a volunteer writer at a local hospital. I work with hospice patients by writing down their stories. I write anything from essays to letters to their family, to life lessons they’d like to pass on to their kids and grandkids.

People go into hospice every day, but with the amount of paperwork and other things on people’s minds, they rarely ask for me.

I haven’t been doing this for very long, only a couple of months now. The other day I got my first assignment. My director called and said that there was a gentleman who lived in the same area that I worked in and could I call him. She said that he has pancreatic cancer and probably wasn’t going to make it too long. Then she said, “He has a son in prison and I think he wants you to write him a letter.” She knew I had worked for the Department of Corrections.

I called the family and talked to the wife of the patient. I explained what I do and asked if her husband would be interested in talking with me. She said, “Let me call you back.” She didn’t, so I called her back the next day. She said it nicely, but in point was received, “I’ll call you if we need you.”

So I left the family alone and after two days, my first patient died. When my director called to give me the news, I tried to explain myself, “Well I called. Twice. I mean the lady didn’t call me back. So I called again and then she said she’d call me if they needed me, but she never called back.”

Gently my director said, “It’s ok. Not everyone wants help. I just wanted you to know.”
“Oh, ok,” I said.

After I hung up the phone, I looked out the window. Snow covered the courtyard. The red brick walls surrounding it made me think of my first patient’s son sitting in prison. He’d probably be finding out the news about the same time as me. Would he be placed on a suicide watch? Having to be stripped of his clothes and dignity, and placed in a “coffee filter” suit. That’s what we used to call the white paper “suicide” suit. The material’s so thin you can see through it, but this way the prisoner can’t hang themselves with it. Necessary, but not comfortable.

I thought of how ironic it would have been, to receive your last letter from your dad written by a Corrections Officer. Would it have mattered? I’m sure it wouldn’t have. The letter would have been more invaluable than any amount of money you could have put on his commissary sheet. It could have helped heal old wounds, put old dogs to rest, and gave forgiveness. But none of that happened, because not everyone wants help. I just wanted you to know.

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