As I started with above, I have been born into a very fortunate situation, so I firmly believe in the statement above. It is my responsibility to give back to those who have much less. And when I take the time to consider what the field of medicine encompasses, I often do not dwell on the science side of things. Yes, knowing the science is crucial, but realizing that a doctor’s role is to be truly responsible for the well being of another, is paramount. It is because of this, that I feel that volunteering is so essential – especially for a student in my shoes. For several of the volunteers, this activity is a great way to spend retirement. Or, as it is stated on the foundation website, for some, having survived an illness themselves, they feel as though they have been called to service. But I think both the need to serve and the action thereof should be recognized and acted upon at an early age. And for those planning to pursue medicine, I believe hospice work teaches some of the best lessons. Perhaps this is due to the atmosphere in which I have lived and the education which I have received. At home, we have ever advancing technology. To be admitted to a good medical school, you must almost always conduct lab research. We are taught to look for answers and solutions – tangible things we can do to improve our situations – or for doctors, the situations of their patients. But with hospice work, the scientific side of things is kept to the minimum: to understand the ailment and to be aware of ways to alleviate pain encompasses the bulk. It is this inability to physically fix things that was one of the hardest parts of the last three weeks. As was reviewed during my orientation, I did often feel useless. I had no ointment for bedsores. There weren’t any of the morphine drips that I often see at home. I wasn’t even here long enough to keep up with stories shared during visits. But I soon found my niche – for some it was holding a patient’s hand, playing with the children of the house, or, in some cases, bashfully being offered to meet or marry a Lola’s grandson. In retrospect, I realize that hospice challenged me to reach out and make a connection. Unlike school-required activities, where this is an assigned task or I am clearly introduced as student with a set duty, here, I had to relate to the patients in my own way. And after awhile, I realized that there is simply a universal language that must be practiced – that of patience, genuine respect, and sincere compassion for one another. I found that once this was set in motion, I was able to see the “healing” amidst the dying.
In preparation for these last three weeks, what I feared most was not how severe the cases would be, but rather, being witness to cases that, at home, would otherwise be treated – often regardless of financial status. These would be the cases that would highlight my blessings, but would also cause me to regret that I cannot do more. But someone once told me that, “the greatest gift one can give to another, is one’s time.” Joining you has been an amazing experience, even though I do not believe I have made much of a difference. But, at least for now, this “gift of time” is the best I can do. I hope to become a doctor someday – perhaps I will have the chance to return and provide the medical services that will be deemed more useful. When I return home, I may be able to raise funds to give to the foundation, but all that is either further in the future, or as far as the money goes, very lacking in terms of human connection.
I come from a sterile world. Hospitals are gleaming white. And I, even as an ER volunteer with duties as simple as delivering water and changing beddings, must wear gloves for almost everything. It is in this sterile world where the comfort of a supportive hand is masked by a rubber glove. The answers to a patient’s fears and concerns are clouded by a physician’s medical jargon. At home I volunteer at fundraisers. I donate money to the church. I listen to the stories my family tells me about their lives. And all the while I am separated from the “real thing.” I do not see the people to whom funds are donated. Pictures are the small windows into the situations in which my family grew up. In comparison to many of the patients, I live in a “safe haven,” so to speak. I will not attempt to fool myself, or anyone else. When we visit patients, yes, there is definitely suffering. There is sadness, though often masked by smiles and laughter. But there is also family. Perhaps my demeanor is not strong. Perhaps if I stayed longer, the accumulating number of deaths would slowly chip away at my core. But I can’t help but to conclude that I am able to handle these visits because I am able to see that the patients are supported. There was not one patient that I met who did not have at least one person who cared deeply for them, and even more impressive, was present during our visit. At home, I come in contact with patients whose family is not there to support them. It’s not that they don’t have family, but rather, their family does not have the time to be with their loved one during trying times. It is the familial support that our patients seem to have that presents a double edged sword: it not only provides me momentary comfort – something I can focus on aside from the severity of their respective conditions – but it reinforces my gratefulness of all with which I have been blessed.
So now, nine days, 30 patients, approximately 55 visits, and 4 departed later, I answer your question. Why volunteer? Because I love my family – the one composed of those with whom I share a direct bloodline, and of those with whom I share an ancestry. And I have always been taught that no matter what the situation, family comes first. So here I am with my family. And, as it always seems to go, no matter how much I try to give back to my family, I am always the one who comes out with more. Over the past three weeks, I have learned more than I could have ever expected. I have truly been blessed with much more than I deserve. I came to the Philippines to be with my family. I “volunteer” because I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.
So, Tita Pretzel, there’s my answer to your question. If it hasn’t been satisfying enough, please feel free to ask me anything you’d like. Again, I apologize for the length. Like I said, I’m a science major, not an English major. And like my time, it’s the best I can do.
In His name and all good things,
Kristine L. So
12 August 2009