Greg was 37 when he was admitted to the hospice program where I was volunteering in New York. He had been found in a downtown alley, dirty, malnourished and very sick. Emergency services took him to the emergency room. He was discharged to a nursing home with hospice care to be provided.
Our hospice staff was able to contact his sister, who lived across the country, and she was grateful for the services provided by hospice. She requested that a hospice volunteer be assigned to visit with her brother, and I was blessed to be assigned the case.
In talking with Greg’s sister, Jennifer, she shared that they were the only surviving family members. Apparently, she and her brother had become alienated some time back and she had actually lost track of him. She appeared very sad about his current status and hoped that we could provide Greg with some comfort in his last few days. She shared that long ago he enjoyed reading the Bible, sports and music, mostly gospel music.
At my first visit with Greg, I found him to be very limited in his responses. He basically stared at the wall and would respond with an occasional monosyllable. There was a deep melancholy and despair in his demeanor. I shared the latest news on college sports and then read sections of the Bible to him. I brought a CD player with me and we listened to music.
On my next visit, I found Greg to be a little bit more responsive and a little more engaged. I continued my routine of sports talk, Bible reading and music. What was wonderful was that he seemed to continue to improve. Every visit seemed to be just a little better that the last. The hospice clinical staff were clearly providing the best medical care and Greg was responding magnificently well. After several weeks of visiting, I was delighted to arrive one day to find him sitting in a wheelchair. I offered to take him for a ride and he was very receptive. With the consent of the nursing home staff, we went outside into the gardens and sat outside for a while.
On my weekly visits, it was thrilling for me to see the improvement in Greg, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. It seemed that a spark had been reignited in his very being. I regularly called his sister and she appeared very pleased and surprised with the progress. In time, she shared that she was coming to the area to visit her brother and we arranged to meet when she came. It turned out to be a delightful occasion. Brother and sister seemed to have much to catch up on. Jennifer shared with me that she hoped this could be a new beginning for them.
Not long after, I arrived for our visit to find Greg walking down the hallway with the aid of a walker and the assistance of a staff member. As we returned to his room, Greg said, “I have good news and I’ve got bad news; which do you want to hear first?” I chose the good news. “The good news is that I am ‘graduating’* off of hospice.” My response was, “And what’s the bad news?” He was quick to share, “I’m ‘graduating’ off of hospice. I’m going to miss all of you so much.”
A little time later, Greg was discharged from hospice. His sister had arranged for a nursing home placement for him near to her home and Greg seemed ready for a new chapter in his life. It was my first encounter with “the Hospice Cure” and I’ll never forget the remarkable transformation in the life of Greg – from minimal responsiveness to walking down the hall – a real "good news” story. It was such a different ending to a story that once seemed headed in a very sad direction.
-by Steven B., Volunteer
*Sometimes, patients' needs change to where they no longer need hospice services. If, however, the illness progresses, they may return to hospice care anytime, with a physician's order.