Last Best Friend

It is with a heavy heart that I write these words. This week, I lost my friend. I have been dreading this phone call for a long time.

I’ve been with hospice since fall 2008, but this week I lost my first patient. I’d been with my patient for over a year, and it’s unimaginable to me that I will no longer be going to visit every week. I feel like I’m handling my grief fairly well, but I’ve been in a weird place for 24-48 hours. As a hospice companionship volunteer, I get the unique privilege to be someone’s “last best friend”, in order to make every visit the best visit, since it may be the last.

Yesterday was supposed to be an “easy” day. I went into work early to take pictures of my immunohisto slides for the week, planned on leaving early to go donate blood again, and then meet up with David and take him out on the town to celebrate the end of his next-to-last semester of undergrad. The only thing that went to plan was my microscopy session. Around noon, I got the call that my patient was declining rapidly and the facility had requested that I make my final visit. My heart immediately dropped. My patient had been normal the last time I had visited. So I left work early, got lost twice on my way to my blood donor appointment only to find out that there was no blood drive that day (WTH?!), and then raced to the facility.

It warmed my heart to see that my patient had had lots of visitors yesterday. In the 14 months that I’ve been a last best friend, I’ve never once seen a visitor there when I came to make my weekly visit. One of them said to me when I got there, “I should have come more frequently.” This was the worst I had seen my patient. I did get several minutes alone, and I looked at all of the pictures in the room. The patient in the bed did not look anything like the person in the pictures. I wonder who this person was before I came into the picture. I only know the version of this person over the past year, and there was so much more to know. But I am glad I have had the opportunity to be there in that last year, and saw the last birthday, and those last smiles.

These memories will always stick with me:

On one of my first visits, I was still a little awkward on how to talk to this person I barely knew. My patient had a favorite hat that was so worn, it wouldn’t open all the way; the back flap kept falling over and it wouldn’t go on. So I asked my patient if I could help–we always ask permission for any form of physical contact. I was able to get the hat on and situate it to my patient’s liking. At that point, I had no idea if I was making any real impact by visiting–I wasn’t sure if I was doing a good job at all. I wasn’t even sure if my patient knew my name, even though I always introduced myself. On the next visit, the nurse caught me in the hall just to say that my patient had asked for me by name several times & kept asking when I would come visit again. My heart melted. These small things I was doing actually did make a difference.

Pt: Where do you go to sleep?
Me: Where do I go to sleep?
Pt: Yeah, where do you go to sleep?
Me: At my home.
Pt: So you get to go home but I have to stay here alone?

Me: I’ve got to go home now, but I will see you again next week.
Pt: Is someone coming after you?
Me: What do you mean?
Pt: Is someone else going to come sit with me when you leave?
Me: Your nurse will be here. But I will come see you again next week.
Pt: Next week? Can you come tomorrow?
Me: I will come next week, like always.
Pt: Ok. I trust you.

Some days were better than others. Some days my patient remembered me and even my name; other days, no such luck. But, my patient was a sweetheart, and this experience has been one that I will always hold near and dear to my heart.

It is true what they say, you enter hospice work hoping to bless others and instead your patients bless you more than you could ever imagine. I will miss the stories. I will miss hearing all about the New York Yankees, even though I despise baseball. Having three pass within the past month has been rough on me.

I miss my patient already.

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