Getting Comfortable With Death

I have never believed in coincidences. And after today, I still don’t.

Today, our professors had organized a day of visiting community health centers and learning about more about how the impoverished in Argentina access healthcare. However, after lunch, the days took a turn that I don’t think our professors were expecting. Instead of learning about insurance and healthcare, and comparing the Argentines system to the US’s, we learned about death. We visited the BuenSamaritan hospice, where we learned how they provide palliative care the way palliative care should be provided.

The honest is truth is that I wouldn’t be in Argentina right now without my grandfather’s help. He worked so hard in his career that he ended up being able to provide for the rest of his family, including proceeding generations. He also been very supportive in my life because of this, though he feels like he might have sacrificed some of his quality as a father to do so.

This morning was revolutionary for me, because I realized that the change needed in healthcare, that would alleviate so much pain and suffering, needs to happen within the community, before people come to the hospital. I don’t just want to be in nursing because it’s a reputable career, and because the salary is pretty good. I want to be in healthcare to make a change, and I see that this could be a major target for change. Even though I still want to pursue my specialization in trauma and emergency care, I have a new appreciation for community healthcare and public health policy. These are areas that I definitely want to keep learning about, and probably work to improve.

This afternoon proved to be just as revolutionary. Towards the end of school year, my grandfather was hospitalized and his health suddenly deteriorated. During the week of finals, he was released from rehab to home hospice care, as it was deemed a better use of energy, and effectively, his last days. I moved home from Pittsburgh early, because they didn’t think he would last the week, and in the days while I switched gears to leave once again, I said my goodbyes. I’m not sure if he will still be alive when I get home from Argentina and I’m honestly not sure if I will be told if he passes before I get home. I tend not to feel my emotions, but rather sublimate them, but during our visit to the hospice (and the long bus ride home from it) I have been able to appreciate the sadness I am feeling, with a new perspective on death.

I now know what has been missing in my grandfather’s care. Though he was been made comfortable physically I don’t think he has been made comfortable spiritually and psychologically. The last time I visited him, he was afraid to die. He didn’t want to leave all of his family and friends behind. He also had some regrets about his life and didn’t think he had contributed enough to society. I now understand that that shouldn’t be the norm for those in palliative care. People should pass the way family members at BuenSamaritan do. They should be pain free and feel comfortable and loved. They shouldn’t die in fear of what’s going to happen next or what they’re leaving behind. Through the experience at this hospice visit I have a new appreciation of this somewhat unappealing field of medicine, and my only hope is to be able to deliver a fraction of the compassion that the staff and volunteers at Buen delivers the members of their family.

While this visit was not comfortable, the things needed in life to make you grow as a part aren’t comfortable either. This is experience was life altering, made me grow as a person, and has helped me to heal.

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