catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 18 :: 2006.10.06 — 2006.10.20


Why Hospice

“It takes a special person,” is often the reaction I get from folks when they find out that I am working on my Masters of Social Work to be a Hospice social worker.  I never know how to respond because I am so passionate about the work of Hospice that I cannot imagine my life without it.  For me it is a higher calling that I have felt for many years.  I am elated to be close to the end of my graduate program because I am eager to work full-time with patients and their families. 

I have been a part-time graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh for two years.  I will be graduating in fourteen months.  Part of the masters program involves doing two field placements.  My first was with Forbes Hospice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and my second will begin in January 2007 with Washington Hospital’s Hospice in Washington, Pennsylvania. 

I am drawn to this work because of the patients and their families.  They are a blessing and a gift for me to work with.  Every situation is unique and different and there is always something to learn.  I believe that the patients and families are relieved to have an outside person come in to help.  They are feeling overwhelmed and need a neutral person to talk to and ask questions of.  They need to know that they are dealing with a professional who is going to stick through the hard times.  Both the patients and the families need to know that the family will be taken care of after the patient’s death. The patients need to know that they have the family’s permission to die.  And the families need to be encouraged that they are providing the best care that they can.  Hospice employees do not run from the hard stuff.  That is why we are there.

People often ask, “How can you stand to be around sadness all of the time?”  I simply do not view it that way.  Yes, it is a sad, hard time for folks, but there is still laughter and joy in the midst of dying, and I see it as an honor to step into situations and just offer what I can.  That may mean being a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or an offer to make a phone call to someone.

I have seen a family cared for in the middle of winter when their heat was about to be turned off.  Their Hospice social worker advocated for the family as the mother was dying of cancer in their home.

I have seen a nurse pronounce a man dead in his dining room while his entire family waited in the kitchen to hear what they already knew.

I have sat with a restless man as his girlfriend, my supervisor and I held the man in bed because he wanted to get up, but he was so frail and fragile that he would have caused himself far more pain had he succeeded.

I held a woman's hand in her own home as she quickly told me, when her family members stepped out of the room, that she did not want to get in and out of bed anymore, and asked if I would please advocate for her with her family to make her request heard.

I tear up just writing about these moments because I think back to the real people who were in need of real help.  It is my strongest desire to do what I can in those moments.  And those moments are teaching me to take advantage of the time that I have with people in my everyday life.  I want to be more kind to the people with whom I interact.  I cringe when I leave at the end of a workday and see people throw a fit because the cashier accidentally dropped their change.  There are bigger concerns in life.  There are all kinds of families experiencing both joyful and heart-wrenching moments with a loved one whom they may or may not see tomorrow.  If I am learning anything from my work in Hospice care, it is that life is much greater than I ever estimated.  It is a greater challenge, and a greater gift.  And this is the best lesson any education could have taught me.

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