During the 2013 Allina Health Hospice Benefit, Jack McHugh was honored for his for his service as a hospice volunteer and veteran. Here is an expert from his speech:
I myself, and many of the Allina Health Hospice volunteers do this work because we have been recipients of the very caring and supportive services this organization provides. We have a very personal understanding of these services. - We 'give back' in an attempt to 'pay back'.
I'm a veteran and about half of the patients I have come to know have been veterans. Some of their stories have touched me profoundly. For tonight I've been asked to tell you about one of my veterans in particular. It's a story about how hospice and veteran's services working together can do more than provide palliative care. Sometimes a life can be changed.
This gentleman had retired from the Army after 20 years as a military policeman. His wife, who had been the joy of his life, had passed away two years before our meeting. He had become despondent to the point of having attempted suicide. He was very hard of hearing. He had a hearing aid but it didn't work, and many of the nurses and aides employed at his care facility spoke English as a second language with a notable accent. Because of these issues he couldn't understand them and would become furious when they came into his room. According to him, everyone was either lazy or stupid or both. He was alone, angry, and had no friends. Due to severe back pain, he had a hard time getting around with a walker or even a wheelchair. He was unhappy and so was everyone else.
He received a veterans' retirement checks; but wasn't registered for any other veteran's benefits. All but a few dollars of his income was going to pay for his care. Then he came into hospice, and things began to change. His social worker was able to help him register for veterans benefits at the VA. Right away the hearing aid was repaired. Suddenly he could understand what the nurses and aides were saying. They weren't as lazy or stupid as he had thought. Then the VA began paying for most of his care. He now had several hundred dollars a month to use as he pleased. THEN he got a three wheeled electric scooter.
Now he was set. With money in his pockets and wheels he was a new man. He still had inoperable cancer but he was going to go out his way. He said he felt like a man again. He had his dignity back.
At least once a week he would order a cab to take him to Target or Wal-Mart. Before he went shopping he would check around with other residents of the facility to see if there was anything they wanted. He would bring back treats for everyone. He bought a small lockable refrigerator for his room to keep ice cream (the good stuff) and other treats. Then he bought a computer and printer. He used them to print holiday posters and birthday cards for his new friends at the residence. He went from being a sad, lonely, angry man waiting to die, to a man with many friends that had a reason to get up in the morning. He had things to do; and people to see.
If you have ever considered volunteering as a hospice visitor this may be a good time to give it more thought. The training doesn't take long, yet it is very comprehensive. You will be surprised at how easy and rewarding this work can be. The hardest part is walking through the door of the first patient for the first time. After that, the deep appreciation you receive is far greater than the amount of time you give. And, the people and families you meet will enrich your experience of life.
As I said in the beginning, some of us are hospice volunteers to pay back. All of us do this to make a difference, one person, one family at a time. Again, thank you for helping to make this service possible. Because it's the right thing to do and it feels good.
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Allina Health Hospice
Jennifer Wild, Allina Health Marketing & Communications