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"I don't know how you do that. It must be depressing." This is the reaction from some individuals when I tell them I volunteer several hours each week on an inpatient hospice unit. I chose this assignment since it allows me to be involved with the patients and families during an important part of their lives.


For example, the daughters of one of our patients mentioned that they had arranged a holiday tea party for their mother prior to her admission to the unit. One daughter mentioned that they would probably have to cancel the gathering of family and friends since arrangements were made to have the party at a local tearoom on the day after Christmas. One of the hospice volunteers mentioned to the daughter that the hospital has private dining rooms. Since the party was planned for a Sunday afternoon a room would probably be available since other hospital activities would not be scheduled for that day.


The following sequence of events made it possible for 29 family members and friends to come to the hospital's private dining room for the party:


* A volunteer listened to a family member's concern.


* Arrangements were made for the family to use one of the private dining rooms on a Sunday afternoon.


* The caterer agreed to bring the tea sandwiches, scones, desserts, and tea to the hospital.


* A friend purchased china tea cups and saucers rather than use paper items.


* The patient was able to attend her party for a short time in a wheelchair and have a sip of tea.


* After the party, the friend donated the china cups and saucers to another local nonprofit organization that could use them at a later time.


* Two days later, I received a report of the successful party that was made possible through the concern and efforts of numerous individuals, including one of the inpatient hospice volunteers.



Most times, my volunteer responsibilities include assisting the staff with patient care, mouth and skin care, reporting changes in the patient's status to the nurse, giving sips of water or cracked ice, and providing companionship for the patient and family. Sometimes, it includes assisting with postmortum care. I experience rewards, not depression, when I am with a patient who is experiencing a terminal illness and the family members. Other volunteers and I know that we have contributed to the patient's quality of life at this important stage of the patient's illness.

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