How Hospice Volunteering Changes Lives

Submitted by Larry Dicks, Hospice Northwest volunteer

I have prepared this story for use by Hospice Northwest because I want to give readers an appreciation of how my personal life has been enhanced by volunteering with Hospice Northwest.

I met my current client in August 2015. “Drew” was a 45 year old man with an end stage brain tumour, living in an apartment that was in absolute disarray and in desperate need of cleaning. The windows were covered with blankets pinned to the wall, blocking all natural light. The only air movement came from a ceiling fan that chattered away incessantly. The stench of dirty clothes and rotting food filled the room.

You may wonder what on earth his living conditions have to do with his disease process. I’ll tell you. Drew lost his vision as a result of his brain tumour and by the time I met him, had gone completely blind.

I grew to love and respect Drew and was determined to help him achieve a safe and good quality of life in his remaining time. Drew has no family in Ontario and his friendships were not sustained during his debilitating illness. He literally has no-one else.

Advocacy with many community resources was necessary, including his landlord, the Ontario Disability Support Program, Meals on Wheels. Personally, I accessed CNIB resources to learn how to communicate with him. I even learned the art of moving about my house blindfolded, with a walking stick, which allowed me to empathize even more with Drew’s situation.

Next steps included cancelling unneeded services, selling his vehicle, sorting through mounds of mail, opening a line of communication with his bank to monitor anything unusual, and most importantly, rescheduling missed doctor’s appointments. Drew’s contact with the outside world was basically non-existent as he was incapable of using a phone except to answer it if he was awake and could reach it in time.

On one of Drew’s last visits to his doctor in late November he was confronted with the harsh reality of his tumour in a manner I thought, at the time, was extremely blunt. Drew asked if he could have another operation to make him normal again. There was a pause that seemed to last an eternity. The doctor’s answer was short and blunt: “Unfortunately I can’t give you 2 new eyeballs and a brain. You will live to see Christmas no problem, Valentine’s Day just a slight chance, and very unlikely you will be around for Easter”.

Although this exchange was awkward and painful, it allowed Drew to shift his perspective and adjust to the reality of his condition. Then the seizures started, which he survived to the surprise of his physician and the team in ICU. Drew has moved back and forth from home to hospital, and is now residing in the hospice unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital. With each move comes an almost incomprehensible adjustment to new people and surroundings. I can only hope that consistency and dedicated support will allow Drew to die a peaceful death.