In the world of medicine and healthcare there are hundreds, if not thousands of different specialties, aspects, types of care and services.
These, literally, begin with pre-natal care for an unborn child and continue throughout one's life until death.
By definition, hospice is care designed to give supportive care to people in the final phase of a terminal illness, care that focuses on comfort and quality of life rather than a cure.
Donna Brown is a volunteer at Hospice at Memorial and dedicates herself to giving love and friendship to her clients, or patients, when a cure for an illness is not possible.
Calling Sulphur Springs home, Donna said it just took her a while to get here. She has lived in Sulphur Springs for the past 10 years, moving here from Oklahoma.
“I lived in small town Oklahoma, raised my family there,” she said. “I re-married and moved here 10 years ago.”
With a characteristic smile, she says she really doesn't work.
“I feel like I am semi-retired,” she said. “I am just doing substitute teaching but, even before, I was doing some volunteering at hospice as well as at the hospital.”
And volunteer work, she said it is something she has always wanted to do.
“I never worked or lived were I could do it so, I do now,” she said. “And, I am doing it.”
This desire to volunteer, to serve and be a friend to her neighbors led to her association with Hospice at Memorial.
“The desire to volunteer and my neighbor was on hospice for quite some time,” she said. “I just saw the service that they gave to him and I thought it was such an outstanding service that I thought it was something I might could do.”
Perhaps the most unique role in healthcare, she says, is that of the hospice volunteer.
“Because you know that you are going to lose your patient, typically,” she said. “We have those that we say graduate from hospice because their condition improves to the point that they can but, typically, you know that whoever you are working with, you are going to lose them but they are going to get to be home where they want to be.”
Some hospice patients, however, have to go into nursing homes due to their condition, their age or because they don't have a 24-hour caregiver.
“My neighbor that was on hospice, Albert Hughes, was on for quite some time,” Donna says. “His wife was his caregiver and, literally, just lived out our back door and I got very attached to him. I also saw the services that hospice provided for them.”
This experience led Donna to become a hospice volunteer and extend friendship and caring during a patient's final days.
“As a volunteer, what I do is go in and visit,” she said. “Whether it's the patient that needs visiting or the caregiver that needs visiting because we do have many caregivers that don't get to get out and about, they are pretty much tied at home.
“What hospice, I think, does, is let the person be at home if they want to be but it also lets them have a life of dignity,” Donna said.
An integral part of the life of dignity is quality of life.
“Hospice gives them as much quality as they can possibly have to the end of their life,” she said.
Visiting with the hospice patient and his family and helping them to enjoy a quality of life, the volunteer becomes a friend.
She related the story of a young woman, a nail technician, who asked about the role of a hospice volunteer.
“What do you do? Do you have to handle their medication?,” the young woman asked.
“I said, 'No, you do none of that. We are totally lay people, we are visitors,'” Donna explained. “She now volunteers for hospice and goes to our ladies, whether it's at home or nursing home, and does their nails.”
With the arrival of spring, Donna and her fellow volunteers and professionals at Hospice at Memorial found they had their own roses and some of these roses are shared with their patients.
The number of patients a volunteer varies.
“It depends on what our census is, actually,” Donna said. “We might have as many as three that we call 'our patients.' I have actually visited at home and at a nursing home, more, probably, in the nursing home than patients at home.”
Those visits encompass a wide variety of activities.
“They have even had people that loved to play dominos, they wll go sit and play dominos with them for hours, if the patient is up to it and many days they are up to it,” she said.
In spending this much time with a hospice patient, Donna and other hospice patients find that a bond develops.
“You absolutely develop a good relationship with them, a bond,” she said. “It is difficult when you lose them but you know going in that that is going to be the end result.
“I have had so many heart-to-heart talks with everyone I have visited with about their feelings of being on hospice and their feelings of knowing why they are on hospice and they, typically, at peace with it,” Donna said. “We develop a spiritual relationship also.”
When first meeting a new hospice patient, Donna says there can be some tenuous times.
“When you first go in, you let them do the leading,” she said.
Having a hospice volunteer visiting in the home can mean the primary caregiver a brief respite, some time of their own.
Being a hospice volunteer can be a tough job as well as a very rewarding occupation, there are so many wonderful people who simply want someone to be a friend they can talk to.
“You get to develop such a neat relationship even though it sometimes it's short, sometimes it's long,” she said. “You get to develop such a neat relationship with people you would have never run into otherwise and they can open our eyes to many things also.
“We are not walking in there to tell them more about the world, there have been many, many times they have told me about the world.”
For those people who are driven to volunteer, to be of service to their neighbor, find hospice care to be one of the most difficult jobs there is.
“I have had people talk to me about and say, 'I just don't believe I could do that,'” she said. “I say 'Well, maybe that's not the place for you.' There is, however, a place to volunteer somewhere.”
For Donna Brown, being a volunteer is a way of life and something she wants to share with her granddaughters.
“That is something I would like to introduce the children to at some point in time,” she said. “To help them realize what they can do through volunteerism.”
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